Varanasi – From a food lover’s point of view

Jalebi
Varanasi has been one of the most gratifying destinations that I have landed up in recent times. I don’t think I can say anything that has not been said before. However despite whatever that has been written and said before I am sure travelers would find something of their own in this ancient city. For me this place has more character per square feet than any place else I have visited before. For the sake of sanity, I will try to keep this blog about food as much as I can, and  I am sure I can do a good job of it, not because I have confidence in my skills, however I have confidence on the food of the city that it would not allow me to wander much away from itself.
To understand food one needs to understand a bit of city itself, which attracts travelers and tourists from all over the country and world. Technically I would have considered it a North Indian city, however one visit and I can say that there is nothing North Indian about this place. The alleys are full of pilgrims from all over India and South Indian influence is very apparent. So is Bengali, Gujarati and Oriental as well and these are the ones that I could pick in 48 hours I spent there, more exploration would reveal lot more colors for sure.
Talking about local food, Benarsis just love their Milk and its products and description of the city’s food has to start with Milk. There was a time when I was looking for water bottle and all I could find was Lassi all around and more milk products. Coming to Lassi, I tried it at three different places and three different variants, and I was blown off by all three of them. From quality to taste everything was in order. You can see the love of milk in numerous places selling sweet curd, chaina sweets, thandai even they make the Bhalla out of Chhaina-paneer.
Lassi at Blue Lassi, a shop which looks local however is thronged by foreign tourists, so much so that I was the only non-white person in there amongst 20 others. That said, tried the Banana Lassi which in Benarsi tradition was super thick and something you eat instead of drink.
Lassi I had at a random shop, pure magic for Rs.20.
They also sell Malai in those sweet shots, yup.. pure unsweetened malai which they top with a very thin layer of rabri to add some contrast in the flavors.
Lassi I had from a shop that my Auto driver took me to in Mughal Sarai near Benares. Rs.35 odd for this awesomeness loaded with Rabri. Again something you eat with the spoon, still very refreshing.
Ras-malai
Sweetened Curd in kullahd sold for Rs.10. Simple, basic, tasty. Seems like the famous Bengali Mishti Doi is a richer cousin of this curd.
Thandai. They seem to do lot of flavors and variants for this super cooler.
Selling Thandai near Kashi Vishwanath Temple

It came as a surprise that the streets are full of small joint serving Dosas at very fast pace and cheap prices. There are hole in wall joints that would start serving Idli, vada, upma etc very early in the morning cratering to pilgrims and locals both with same fervor. The busy bazaar outside the main entrance of Kashi Vishwanath Mandir or Golden Temple converts into a breakfast hotspot at around 7-8 am in morning with carts all over the place selling delicious South Indian fare. I tried one of the busy ones one of the mornings and had amazing Dosa & Uthapam made in butter which just made them better.

 

Uthapam ready to be served
A Masala Dosa in the making.
A plain dosa being made, they still add some basic vegetables to it and leave them to sizzle in butter a bit, which in turn makes the vegetables taste better 😉
Uthapam being made.
Uthapam sizzling with Butter.
Idli with Coconut Chutney
The cart selling South Indian breakfast. You will find a bunch of them near Golden Temple in morning hours.

The city is also known for its chats, something that you will find in abundance out there and the taste and ingredients are much different from what we get in Delhi. I will not say if they are better or not, however very different for sure and to sample some of  the goodies I landed up at Kaashi Chaat Bhandaar which is like a destination in the city. The rates were reasonable, the quality good and taste awesome. What more can a food lover ask for? Google it up to find the exact location, or if in Benares, just ask around.

The way Gol Gappe are served. Atta Gol Gappa with matra mixed with other stuffed inside, with paani the side. And the Paani has to be the most delicious one I have tasted ever, with kaccha aam in it and other delicate spices in abundance.
Palak Patta Chaat – Something very unusual. Palak leaves batter fried in besan, made crips and then served like a chaat. Here lemme tell you that Chutneys and condiments are not as ‘rich’ as their Delhi counterparts, however the flavors go well together like magic.
Tamatar or Tomato Chaat
Tamatar ki chaat, after stirring it a bit.

 

Aloo Tikki – Tried one, loved it.
Gulab Jamun – Stuffed with mawa, not the best one out there, but can be tried.

Kachoris seem to be their staple breakfast food, atleast for local populace, and they come in all shapes, sizes and qualities. Its attachment to the city can be gauged from the fact that they have a street named after the dish, called the Kachori Gali. However I ventured in that lane early in the morning, around 7-8 am, and I found only one guy selling kachoris, it seems the Kachoris have gone from the Gali of Kachoris now. That said I tasted them at 3-4 places in the city, one thing that was common was that all of them serve it with kale chane ki subzi which again was something new for me. I have had kachoris with kadhi, aloo subzi, kabuli chane, chutney etc, however it was my first taste of it with Kale Chane and I guess I have had enough of it already. Another major difference for me that all of them were stuffed with potatoes in one form or the other, something I have experienced for the first time.

Found these small bite sized kachoris at one of the hawkers, they serve 4-5 of these in a serving, top them off with Kala Chane ki subzi and other condiments.
The shop serving at Kachori Gali.
And this is how it is served at most places.
A shop I was taken to in Thutheri Bazaar, selling stuff made in Desi ghee. The Sunday morning craze for their Bedmi-subzi was crazy, unfortunately was not able to try them.
Samose made in Desi Ghee, one of the best Samosa you will ever have. The potato filling in them was very very nice, full of spices blasting flavors in your mouth here, there and everywhere. At the  ‘Di Ram Bhandar’.
Kachoris at ‘Di Ram Bhandar’, were very nice, but by this time I had an overdose of Kala Chana.
Oh! and Benarsis eat Kala chana like this as well, made a chat out of the spouted ones. This portion was for Rs.7 and I must say made for an awesome snack.
Not sure what its called, but for convenience I will call it Tikona Mathi
And this is how they serve that mathi too, with Chane and other condiments.
Another thing that I gorged on while I was in Benares was Paan, from saada to meetha to zarda, everything that I had there was in a different league. No wonder its the land of paan. From quality of the leaves used, which literally melt in your mouth to other condiments which make you feel what chemicals they serve in Delhi, the Benarsi paan was next level for me. Lived upto its legend and how.
A saada paan in the making.
This is how they pack it up for you, in a leaf with some supari and chuna on the side.
And those streets are full of sweets, with a huge variety of Bengali and Chhaina sweets on display all around the winding network of alleys that is Benares. However I did not try many of  them, something that I have left for my next visits.
The plain old boondi – more juicy (syrupy) than usual, I ate them with sweet curd and man was it a bliss.
Aaah! jalebi, I don’t think I can write anything about this princess of sweets.
Laung lata – from outside just some maida fried and soaked in sugar, but the surprise lies inside. Oh how I loved this one.
Benares is also a major center for tourism in India, which attracts lot of foreign tourists, many of them chose to stay in the city to learn music, dance, arts, languages or simply to absorb the vibe and soak in the spirituality. To cater to them Benares has a huge selection of food options, which can be termed international in true sense. Did not try much of those options, however another thing that I would save for my future visits.
A dish in one of the Korean places run by a Bengali gentleman. Kimchi Egg Ramen. Simple top ramen cooked with lot of kimchi it and two eggs poured in it. If you like spices then this would be SUPER comforting and delicious for you.
Hummus at Shree Cafe, recipe of which has been shared and developed with by an Israeli visitor for them. can you get more authentic than that?
I was staying in an area called Bengali Tola, which I would assume roughly translate into the Area of Bengalis. One of the evenings while walking around I found this guy with a small kadhai by the street side frying stuff up. On checking it turned out to be chops and pakodas, done in Bengali style.
Aloo pakoda and Veg Chop, check the crisps around the chop.
Chop was stuffed with carrots and other vegetables, quite interesting for me atleast.
Mirchi pakodas being fried up.
A place of pakodi I pciked from a random shop for Rs. 5, served with subzi, mooli and chutney.
Phew! coming to the end of it, I realize that it was lot of food to eat for around 48 hours I spent there. Here I must share that most of the dishes served there are very cheap and served in very small portions. A portion good enough to give you a proper taste of it, however is not gonna fill you up for sure. Even the lassis are served in small kullahds unlike the gigantic glasses up north, and yeah its richer than any lassi that I have had before be it Delhi, Amritsar or Vrindavan – Benares beats all of them fair and square. Plus its the nature of the city, as a tourist you can keep walking in those alleys, be lost and everywhere you are lost you will run into a food outlet or the other which would invite you to try it out.
Its a city that for sure is inviting me for many more visits,  because I am sure in 48 hours I have only seen the tip of ice-berg, there is a lot more, a lot deeper to be discovered and more importantly to be eaten. Waiting for winters to come, when hopefully I can travel back to the City of Ganges, with an army of tummies with me for support hopefully.
In the meantime me and my family are enjoying this Incredible Mirchi ka Achar that I got from there. VERY spicey, but I ain’t complaining.

Author: Shashank

CFE – Cheap Food Enthusiast Entrepreneur by birth, hippie by heart he is here just because he loves to eat. This adventurous biker is constantly looking for new avenues to satisfy his insatiable hunger for food & life. Though he loves sugar dense food, there is nothing sugar coated about him- brutally honest with his words, he often ruffles feathers with his stark naked opinions about food, fancy restaurants & orthodox ideas.

5 thoughts on “Varanasi – From a food lover’s point of view”

  1. Thanks Shashank for such a detail description. Loved each and every picture. You have proved your name true. Varanasi was founded by Lord Shiva . Your name (second meaning is Shiva) . So you have founded the food scene very well in Varanasi.

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