Walking through the bustling old city of Udaipur, where the old havelis and homes dip into Lake Pichola on the one end, and spill out in the narrow alleys packed with curio stores, art galleries and hole-in-the-wall shops selling leather bags and jooties, you don’t realise when you’ve clocked a few kilometers and are feeling ravenous. So, you do the most natural thing, you walk into a nice and cozy restaurant that offers your choice of food—Udaipur is dotted with restaurants that serve everything from the Rajasthani Gatte ki sabzi, to Mediterranean hummus platters.
And so it was on a chilly evening, when the air was rent with melodies of the Aarti being conducted at an ancient temple on one of the ghats of the lake that I walked into Millets of Mewar near Nayi Puliya on Lake Pichola, with an urgent appetite and a fair amount of curiosity about the name of the restaurant.
In Mewar, there is a proverb that says Jaso Ann, Vaso Mann. Translated, it means, ‘We are what we eat’. Millets have been cultivated in this region for hundreds of years, before government schemes and market pressures forced farmers to abandon local foods and grow other more commercially lucrative crops. These millets are not only hardy crops that can sustain low rainfall and dry conditions prevalent in this region, they are also nutritional powerhouses and provide a healthy supply of nutrients. Bajra, Sama, Raagi, Makai, amaranth, and a millet called Maal (from which the original malpua was first made, we’re told) have been commonly used in the kitchens of Mewar. While over the years, traditional millets lost out to commercial crops in the race to produce more, small farmers’ movements and NGOs are working to revive these seeds and crop patterns.
“The idea of ethical food practices appeals to me,” says Sunny Gandharva, co-founder and chef-at-large, whose love for local foods stoked the idea of setting up a restaurant centered around millets. It was a risk, given that it meant quite a few popular items would be not find a place on the menu. The 28-year-old has an admirable story of working his way up from cooking in other people’s homes to support his family as a young boy, to opening a restaurant that is today, one of the top-rated restaurants in this city of lakes.
“I worked in other people’s homes and my friend Manoj, with whom I co-founded Millets of Mewar, would help his father make and sell samosas on a cart. Then we got associated with the NGO Shikshantar, where we met experts visiting from all over the country. We began to cook and experiment, we learnt about ethical and healthy foods and efficient cooking practices, we whipped up gluten-free, vegan and raw food dishes,” says Sunny. The duo then launched tiffin and catering services, set up salad bars at weddings, participated in Dastkaar Mela, and were invited by various resorts and institutes across the country to provide ethical and sustainable solutions for their canteens and kitchens. Once they were confident their idea would work, they decided to launch a venture of their own early last year.
The idea is to strengthen local growers and farmers, says Sunny who is also part of the Slow Food Charter for Udaipur. He hands us a menu which lists healthy soups and salads, gluten-free millet chapattis and millet pizza, cookies and pancakes, vegan shakes and desserts and mildly-spiced curries with minimal use of oil. You have the option of asking for regular options for most of these, but if you’re here, it makes sense to see the interplay of local ingredients and flavours with the millet versions. Local cooking techniques are used, along with plenty of fresh and steamed veggies and fruits, so by the end of a meal, you’re satiated but not stuffed. Bonus, the food is not heavy on the pocket either.
“We’ve trained the chefs, and I am with them in the kitchen, every day, trying to create something new or make something better. It is work in progress, we’re still finding ways to make it better,” says Sunny. Business hours begin at breakfast, with vegan (and dairy) options for porridge and pancakes. The lunch and dinner menu has some interesting items—I recommend the Mixed Veg Salad with Hummus, Sprouted Bean Salad with Peanuts and Tamarind, Homemade Soup like Pumpkin with Coconut Milk and Millet pizza with Mushroom Capsicum, Onion and Olives with Homemade Vegan Cheese. Their millet cookies are flying off the shelves, and Sunny has orders to deliver them to other cities. Also try the Sanwa kheer or pearl millet pudding, and you can let the earthy flavour linger on your palate, as you walk back home or to your Haveli along the lake!
To feed your hunger for more
Want more? Click on the tags below for more videos and stories