Sampling the local cuisine of a destination is as important an experience as taking in the local sights. The state of Madhya Pradesh, however, does not really have a cuisine of its own. The culinary traditions of MP are largely influenced by the cuisines of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan—all states that share a border with it. Gourmands need not worry though, since the result is an eclectic mix of contrasting tastes and flavours that does not disappoint.
MP is the second largest state in India, and the eating habits of its citizens vary greatly. While the northern and western parts of the state focus on meat and wheat, the southern and eastern regions have rice and fish as a part of the staple diet.
The capital of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal, has a strong Muslim influence, as evinced by the abundance of non-vegetarian food on offer. Visitors can savour flavour-packed dishes such as biryani, korma, keema, kebabs and much more. A visit to this city is also incomplete if you miss out on Bhopali paan. This mildly intoxicating betel-leaf preparation, sweetened with sugared rose petals, is eaten at the end of a meal.
Possibly influenced by Rajasthan’s dal baati, dal bafla is a popular vegetarian dish. The bafla (wheat roll) is a softer, more doughy variation of baati as it is boiled before being baked. Hot baflas, dipped in ghee (clarified butter), are served with spicy cooked lentils, or dal.
A much-loved breakfast staple is poha, a mildly spiced dish made with flattened rice flakes, onions, potatoes and peanuts. A Maharashtrian specialty, poha has gained popularity in MP as well. Locals eat this dish with the universal favourite sweet—jalebi. This sounds like an usual pairing, but is really quite popular. Another famous savoury dish is chakki ki shaak, made from heated dough that has been steamed.
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Indore is known for bhutti ki kees, an Indian-style creamed corn that is had as a snack. While the list of savoury dishes seems endless, there are also plenty of desserts. Apart from the regular sweets available across the country, preparations such as khopra pak (made with coconut), malpua, shrikhand and mawa bati (made with dry fruits) are the local delicacies.
For those looking for the usual fare, all major cities also have the familiar fast food chains such as Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Subway and Dominos.
One of the great pleasures of wandering around the mohallas near Gwalior Fort is the overwhelming scent of freshly made gajak (a dry sweet). While walking, you might see groups of people in a stone courtyard, roasting sesame seeds in huge pots and heating sugar and jaggery. The latter becomes a gluey mixture, which is cooled by repeated stretching (it changes from dark brown to gold to a shining silver mass). It is then mixed with sesame and beaten into thin slabs to be cut up and packed as gajak. Have a go at any one of these brief processes; you’re likely to be as clumsy as a child and will have to ask the workers for help. The gajak is sold to store owners and is readily available in shops in Gwalior. However, it is much more delicious when it is broken off and eaten, still warm from a freshly made batch.