In this scene from THE HENNA ARTIST, Lakshmi, a woman who paints henna on the bodies of Jaipur’s wealthy women, is asked to meet with the Dowager Maharani for the first time. Malik, Lakshmi’s eight-year-old helper, has been told to wait outside the Maharani’s drawing room, but can’t resist sticking his head inside when the queen’s Alexandrine parakeet shouts “Namaste, Bonjour, Welcome!” Malik’s obvious enchantment with the bird (but not with the queen herself) charms the Maharani, and she asks Malik to name his favorite dessert. After a pause, he replies “rabri.” She orders the Palace Chef to make the dessert immediately, alarming Lakshmi, who knows how long it takes to make the recipe and how much vigilance it requires. But the Maharani assures her: she is punishing the Chef, who would rather cook for a king rather than a queen, and never prepares food the way she likes. The rabri scene is about power—who wields it and how, no matter how large or small the issue.
A popular North Indian dessert, with a few simple ingredients, rabri is creamy, rich, and wholesome. There are many variations of rabri: each chef adds their own ingredients to flavor the dessert. This is the recipe as I remember my mother making it.