Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not just any Plain Jain:Our ascetically pleasing dining experience at Rajdhani

Keep your tubers and roots away.


I had first heard about Rajdhani after reading Jonathan Gold's piece in Counter Intelligence back in 2006, but hadn't had the pleasure to indulge until this past fall.And what an amazing thali experience, just as described in J. Gold's review, a never ending pour of delicious gujarati(all vegetian) dishes that arrive faster than you can eat them. I had read some things about gujarati cuisine before the dinner that night and was curious about the influences of Jainism, an ancient religion practiced in India that establishes non-violence towards all living things.The owners said, "we have a separate Jain thali(multi course served in metal tins)lunch and dinner service."

"Really? Ok, I'll be back" When I told Javier, the Teenage Glutster about this, he nearly flipped.Many others were uninterested in this special experience, but Javier, my friend Joanna and I were down.And after our debauchery in Baja last week, a healthy vegetarian lunch seemed in order.

Jains don't eat root vegetables which leaves out potatoes,onions, carrots, garlic,radishes, or turnips. Nothing is consumed that may disturb or harm any life forms during the harvesting process. We wanted to see how this food would be without the aromatic onion and garlic, so essential to flavoring, and the many root vegetables that are used regularly in Indian cooking.

The cool and refreshing chhas(buttermilk drink).

We started out with the chhas(buttermilk drink), which I just adore. It refreshes and cleanses the palate during course, low in fat, and aids in digestion. Mango and khamand dokla(a bread for dipping into the mango) followed with some crispy papadum(flat crispy bread)

The mango and khamand dokla with papadum(crispy bread).

Then come the dals, of lentil and yogurt, so delicious, and each spiced to perfection.The breads here at Rajdhani are outstanding, rich chibai(tortilla like bread), and tender fried puri(a fried puffy bread).

lentils(dal), and yogurt curry.

Savory breads,chibati and puri.

Moong(mung beans)

The mung beans really brought forth intense flavors of the beans, each plate more powerful than the next.The kachori(savory with mung bean dal)is sturdy enough to be lethal in a food fight, and once you take a bite, the flavors are eye popping.

The explosively flavored kachori.

spicy, bitter, and sweet condiments.

The condiments include a mild jalapeno puree, the bitter pachranga(pickled vegetables), and a tamarind sauce. But, there is lotus root in the pachranga, so today I steered clear of these.

Cabbage, for the Jains.

The earlier items are on the regular thali dinner, which changes daily at Rajdhani, but the cabbage is purely for the Jains that come to Rajdhani. They serve about 5-10 of these dinners each day for the last three years. I believe this is the only place that caters to Jains.

Sweet and spicy okra.

Next came the okra, bold sweet and spicy flavors, these two dishes, the cabbage and the okra were favorites with us.

For dessert, I had the dudhi/loki halwa,shredded squash mixed with milk, cardamom, sugar and saffron, served warm. Balanced and deeply satisfying, a spice festival in your mouth.

I'm no expert in Jainism, but have a deep respect for their practice of non-violence, which had a profound effect on the cuisine of the gujarat region of India and the non-violent philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.We ate during the daylight to experience the austerity of the diet and dining practices of Jains. The result? A delicious meal that lacked for nothing.It was so delicious.I asked if anything different was done to compensate for the absence of garlic and onion. He smiled and replied, "we take them out." OK, dumb question. The point is, there is so much going on with this cooking, onion and garlic aren't missed. All the dishes for the Jain menu are prepared separately from the regular gujarati food.

We all felt healthy and just a little better about ourselves, living and eating in harmony with nature, if only for a day. Give peace a chance, dine Jain style at Rajdhani.

Dessert is served.

Jain friendly tomato sauce at a nearby market in Little India.No onions or garlic!

18525 Pioneer Blvd
Artesia, CA 90701
(562) 402-9102

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