Eating Through Malwa: Anuradha Joshi Medhora On Pop-ups, Presentation, And Preservation Of A Culinary Heritage

Home chef and owner of Charoli Foods shares her journey and thoughts on preserving the legacy of royal Malwa cuisine
Anuradha Joshi Medhora, founder of Charoli Foods
Anuradha Joshi Medhora, founder of Charoli FoodsRia Gupta

“Many people believe that Malwa is a region limited to cities like Indore, but it’s actually one of the most culturally and geographically diverse regions of India,” said Anuradha Joshi Medhora, founder of Charoli Foods.

Inside Charoli Foods
Inside Charoli FoodsRia Gupta

The self-trained home chef, who started Charoli as a means to feed friends and family, now runs a catering service that teaches people about royal Malwa cuisine through a variety of initiatives. Medhora operates in Mumbai and hosts events across the country, from pop-ups to creating restaurant menus. In an exclusive interview with Outlook Traveller, she discusses her journey of highlighting royal recipes, the effort it takes to revive an age-old cuisine, and how people can connect with culinary heritage.

A look into the food map of Madhya Pradesh at Charoli Foods
A look into the food map of Madhya Pradesh at Charoli FoodsRia Gupta
Q

What inspired the birth of Charoli Foods?

A

I am originally from Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and I have had the opportunity to interact with many royal families from the region. Thanks to our social circles, my family and I had the chance to experience the cuisine of the royals, inspiring my grandfathers to start documenting the recipes they encountered. This is how I grew up with Malwa food. The establishment of Charoli Foods was an unexpected but delightful outcome, born from my passion for cooking. I used to cook every weekend and invite friends and family over. Soon, we started contemplating the idea of hosting community dinners. As Charoli expanded, it became clear that there was a need for such an initiative, as I observed that the term ‘royal food’ often brought to mind thalis, when in reality, there is so much more to it.

Food served at Charoli Foods
Food served at Charoli FoodsRia Gupta
Q

What kind of initiatives do you employ to spotlight the cuisine?

A

Our takeaway menu includes popular dishes that appeal to a large audience and help spread the word about our cuisine. We also use different concepts to highlight dishes and variations that aren't typically eaten every day but are an important part of our culinary tradition. For catering and pop-up events, we create specialised menus focusing on specific subsets of our cuisine. Each dish is carefully chosen with historical understanding and logic in mind. We also take advantage of festivals to showcase Malwa's cultural history. For example, we offer a special feast featuring 21 dishes for Dussehra, as it is one of the biggest festivals in the region. These different presentation styles enable us to reintroduce old recipes into the current narrative.

The sumptuous dessert of Malwa made at Charoli Foods
The sumptuous dessert of Malwa made at Charoli FoodsRia Gupta
Q

What are some myths about Malwa cuisine that you’d like to break?

A

Many people mistakenly believe that Malwa only includes cities like Kolhapur, but in reality, it is a culturally and geographically diverse region covering parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. As a result, Malwa's cuisine is equally diverse. Its culinary history can be traced back to the Delhi Sultanate. As kings conquered new lands and women married and moved to new areas, they brought their culinary heritage with them, resulting in deeply infused influences from each other in Malwa's various subsets.

A

The Malwa cuisine also isn't limited to local influences; it also incorporates global influences. For instance, you might come across dishes with Portuguese influences, dating back to when an American bride brought her personal Goan chef to her new palace. Additionally, European influences are evident from when Indian royalty entertained foreign dignitaries and had dishes prepared to their liking.

A

Furthermore, different social classes in Indian society had distinct cuisines. For example, while dishes like malpua or dal paniya were common in mainstream kitchens throughout the Malwa region, they were not part of the royal diet.

A non-veg dish from Malwa
A non-veg dish from MalwaRia Gupta
Q

How can one learn more about, and try, Malwa cuisine as a novice?

A

There are numerous historical books that provide insight into the cuisine of royal Malwa, such as "Cooking Delights of the Maharajas" and the ancient "Ni'matnama Manuscript of the Sultans of Mandu." Many royal families are now opening their palaces and kitchens to the public for culinary experiences. While only some of the most commercially viable recipes have been shared, richer recipes continue to be prepared in homes across the region. In the past, royal families were more physically active, and their food reflected that. Over time, lifestyles changed and appetites decreased, leading to the loss of many royal recipes. Hopefully, the surviving recipes will continue to be cherished in our kitchens as more people embrace and explore their native cuisine.

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