Mathaniya Chillies: Here’s How They Reached The Marwari Platter
Image Credit: Laal Maas, Image credit: Sushmita Sengupta

It only took a plate of Laal Maas in Jaipur to put our spice tolerance levels to test, something that we were rather proud of until then. Laal Maas is one of the crown jewels of Rajasthani cuisine. As per legends, Laal Maas was traditionally made with ‘Shikaar’ or ‘game meat’. The Rajputs would hunt down birds and animals and give them to their cooks, but they also put a condition, that it should not smell foul. The task was challenging, as the cooks had their kitchen set up only a few metres away. So they started using copious amounts of spices to marinate the meat to get rid of the smell, which led to the birth of Junglee Maas. So how is it related to Laal Maas? Because Laal Maas was also born in same Mewari kitchens. The instructions were again precise, the only upgrade the royalty now sought was for the meat to taste succulent and the whole dish to be very spicy with a sweet and cool after-effect. And thus, Mathaniya chillies became one of the star ingredients of the dish. 

I was equally surprised to learn about the role of spicy food could keep Marwaris calm and cool? But that is indeed one of the many reasons why most iconic delicacies of the cuisine are so spicy. My little research tells me that eating spicy food increases your internal body temperature to match that outside of your body, making you sweat, and once the sweat evaporates, you are cooled off. Rajasthan is mainly made up of ruthless, harsh and hot deserts. With limited vegetation, their cuisine is ingeniously built with whatever nature has on offer. 

Mathaniya Chillies: The When, Why And How

Mathaniya chillies, hailing from a town called Mathaniya, located about 35 kilometres from Jodhpur, have impressed many food connoisseurs with their spiciness. Moreover, they also add a distinct flavour and colour to the preparation. But did you know Mathaniya wasn’t always cultivating these red-hot variants of chillies? The subcontinent was alien to the concept of red chillies until the Portuguese brought them to the Indian shores. Black pepper or Kali Mirch was popularly used to spice up the food until then. So, when and how did this little town of Mathaniya became associated with chillies that could make almost everyone break into a sweat? 

The chilli cultivation in Mathaniya is only about three centuries, legends dictate. However, another fascinating tale says that the seeds of these chillies were distributed to the farmers by the king of the royal family. Droughts were widespread in this part of the country, so the king, who apparently, obtained these chillies in a conquest, distributed these seeds among farmers to sustain. Thus, these chillies have been in cultivation for seven to eight generations. Now, the chillies are even traded internationally and have earned an enviable global acclaim.

Did you know Mathaniya chillies are akin to fruits? The red pod you see contains seeds obtained from the flowering part of the plants. What makes the chillies so spicy is a component called capsaicin, and other compounds collectively referred to as capsaicinoids. So if at any point you think you cannot fathom the heat, do you know what will be the best means to soothe you? A glass of milk! The chillies are not just spicy, and they are also endowed with many health benefits. Besides keeping you cool and relieving pain, they can also keep tummy troubles at bay, provided they are used in the right amounts. 

Here’s a recipe for ‘Laal Maas’ that you can try at home. Try and use fresh Mathaniya chillies if you can source them.