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10 Places

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India. Food-Centered Report of the Trip from 2017

dostrovs | Sep 30, 202107:56 AM     2

We have traveled the traditional rout Delhi-Rajastan-Agra-Kajuraho-Varanasi. We are thankful to "Castle and KIngs" for their services during the trip. Before departure I have found a paucity of a valid information regarding the food related traveling in India which led me to compiling this opus.

Some general comments first:

- We very much enjoyed our trip to India.
- We have managed to try some interesting food.
- We had no gastrointestinal issues following some basic precautions.
- Despite that I can see how India may be very intimidating for an unprepared traveler.

- India is not a food paradise. Because the most of the population has rather low standards of living, eating out for average Indian individual is something unusual. The restaurants mostly cater to the foreigners and usually do not exist as a concept outside of bigger cities and common tourist routs. Since most of the Indians have very limited understanding of what the "westerners" like to eat, the food, in establishments geared towards them, is somewhat bizarre. It is neither Indian or "western" and is, as a rule, not what you are looking for.

- Another reason to avoid "safe" food places is a common culture of deception which will certainly irritate you through out the time of traveling in this fascinating country. For the delicious masala chai, which can cost 10-30 rupees for Indian, you will be charged 70 rupees. In one case, for a cup of a tea the Indian person in front of me was charged 40 rupees. I was next and was charged 180(!?!?!) rupees. To my comment about such a differential, my guide replied: "Isn't it how it is elsewhere in the world?". To be honest, none of the numerous people I met in India ever travelled outside of the country. On multiple occasions we were given larger portions or more expensive items than we actually ordered and were charged accordingly. When the problem was acknowledged, the response was usually shoulder shrug or some senseless explanation about how it was "done for our own good". In no case there was an assumption of a responsibility or an attempt to rectify the situation on the part of the restaurant.

- You can state your interests in food and wish to try something specific to your guide/driver. But you should have no doubts that you will be brought to the "tourist joint" with very disappointing food because it will have some underlying benefit for your guides or drivers. This is how they make their living. You should be ready for that and to develop a strategy of dealing with it. In many cases because of the time constrictions we just went along without the argument. Stumbling onto a great place by chance in India is an impossibility.

- Some of the hotels, you will stay in, will have a very good food. Usually there will be a correlate with how fancy your hotel is, but not necessarily. One of the most disgusting meals we had was in grossly overpriced Surayaday Haveli in Varanasi.

This is my humble advice:

1. Do your research in advance.

2. Know what you want precisely.

3. Give a very direct instruction with the name and the address of the place to your guide/ driver. In many cases they will try dissuade you. Keep your course!

4. Please be aware that many places deserving your attention are only open for the part of the day - please investigate it before going there.

5. Forget "American" green salads - danger!!! Avoid uncooked vegetables, fruits, ice in restaurants. You can always buy some fruits and vegetables in the numerous street markets. Please clean them yourself and eat in your hotel. We found them to be very good in quality and strictly seasonal.

6. While in the restaurants, enjoy delicious breads and curries. If it does not look safe - please do not eat it!

7. Eat meat at your own risk. We tried to avoid it, unless in high end restarts. In any case it is only chicken or goat (deceivingly called "mutton") with an occasional lamb.

8. Carry the napkins and the fork (You will thank me for this advice!).

9. Few words on Indian alcohol: most of the locally distilled spirits have a strange aftertaste likely because it is made with rectified spirits. As well it is inappropriately expensive and usually coasts more than the meal. Neither Hindu or Muslim people drink, so the government has a field day with foreigners and drinking Indians, applying multiple taxes. Please do the smart thing and get a bottle or two of your preferred alcohol in duty free shop before boarding you plane to India.

Now the specifics:

DELHI

Old Delhi: Could be a great food destination, but the general anti-sanitary feeling cannot escape you while you are stumping over the eternal carpet of garbage covering the ocean of a garbage juice in the old city. I am not very squeamish and had my share of a food in an iffy environment (such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Uzbekistan or rural Andes). Unfortunately it was too much for my wife and she simply refused to eat in Old Delhi.

3 places are stuck in my mind:

Chaina Ram - right next to Fatehpuri Masjid. Puri with aloo and chaina concoction is fantastic. I felt it was one of the safest places to eat in Old Delhi. Their sweets are less impressive.

Giani's - Dal Halwa is good, but too rich for most of the westerners. I recommend to try Rabra Faluda, but please skip the ice. As well do not look how they mix it or you may not be able to make yourself to eat it. I had their salty lassie as well. Despite my objection they added some water. I have survived. They said: all the water is filtered….

There was a place on Chandi Chowke making very delicious samosas with the fresh peas, rather than with potatoes. Unfortunately I do not remember the name. It was really good. As well they make fresh jalebies to order. Those are a bit too heavy for my taste.

I did my food investigation of Old Delhi in the morning and the most of food counters were closed. I am sure there are some other good stalls, I just did not try them.

Andra Pradesh Bhavan was our first meal in India. It was deceivingly good and we had a mistaken impression that all of the food in India will be like that. The place is very popular, very cheap, very safe and is an experience by itself. Do not be intimidated by the line. Please make it there. Just figure out the time it is open.

Assam Bhavan - was not as good and not as cheap as the Andra Pradesh bhavan, but still not bad. Where else outside of Assam would you try food from Assam?

Indian Accent: this was one of the most ridiculous places we visited. Glorified version of the "tourist joint". All the hype is absolutely not worth it. Not the best version of western food mixed with a very timid amounts of Indian spices. The only delicious items were the purely Indian ones - dal, breads, samosa. Our tasting menu left us very puzzled. The first experience with Indian alcohol - mixed drinks - was very unsatisfying. I have learned that they just opened a location in NYC.

Bukhara: We managed to visit the this restaurant between the planes on our return leg. They do not take reservations after 8 pm. Our NYC flight was leaving at 1:45 AM. So we had some time to kill. After waiting in a madhouse of the line for 90 minutes we were assigned a table. May be we got too hungry while waiting, but the food was as good as expected. We ordered the grilled chicken on the bone rendition. It was spiced and cooked to perfection. Their famous dal was up to the expectations as well. I have to mention that we visited Peshawri restaurant in ITC Agra. It is a restaurant with the identical to Bukhara menu. But the food quality and service are not even close. Outside of being exceptionally expensive for India, this place absolutely deserves a visit. You can try to make a reservation in the earlier time not to spend a time in the queue like us.

UDAIPUR:

It is one of the more attractive towns in India because of a very unusual for the region biggish body of water in the middle of it. Interesting architecture and night lighting add to the charm. Food does not. We tried a samosa from supposedly reputable vendor on the market. Not good. It was undercooked with raw tasting dough. I had to spit it out. I suspect that I made a very unfavorable impression on surrounding Indian gentlemen enjoying their afternoon samosas. Our guide was sincerely shocked by my interest in the street food of India to begin with and did not get surprised by my action.

I decided to give it another try in Egg World, once again to the "shock and awe" of our patient guide. The Egg World is a little stretch of the street with the multiple vendors serving the similarly appearing egg based dishes. Our guide assured me that he knows who "the original guy" is. ( Off note: In general it is a peculiar practice in India. Every popular street food joint is usually surrounded by a dozen of impostors with exactly the same name and menu. So please make sure you can recognize the original one!) In this case we found the guy easily because of the multiple posters, flyers and reviews exhibited around his cart. Boiled egg bhurji (curry) certainly deserves to be tried. It is not a whole, but chopped egg with onion and tomatish tasting media. Delicious, but not a trend setter. That is why you will not find it elsewhere.

To remove any hope for the remains of my sanity in our guides optimistic outlook I insisted on visiting the food vending area on the shore of Fatehsagar to drink masala chai. I mean, the masala chai sold on every corner by multiple vendors. The guide changed his attitude towards my interests ones he tried the tea. It was indeed fantastic! Pipping hot! with some ginger! I am glad we drove there.

Now I can tell you how we did not stay hungry in Udaipur. This town was our splurge location, so we stayed in Lake Palace. It came out to be one of our best decisions. The hotel is mind blowing. The food is incredible. Neel Kamal restaurant provided exceptional Rajastani thali meal. The breakfast included perfectly executed variation of every Northern and Southern Indian breakfast food. The problem is that you can enjoy it only if you stay in the hotel. Outsiders are banned. If you have an intention to splurge - pick this hotel.

JODHPUR

Shahi Samosa would be the most important food joint in town. Easy to find by the enormous crowd of snaking around people, a few hundred yards down through the gates from the Clock Tower. Just few items: famous samosa with cashews and raisins, kachori with onions (I liked it the best), mirchi vada (did not try). Mr. Shah can be observed resting on the bed behind the money counter.

As well there is a dearly beloved by locals lassie joint closer to the tower. The lassie is sweet and cardamoni.

JAIPUR

Lassiwalla - the very left one, when facing the long line of lassie joints with the exactly same name (see above in Egg World in Udaipur section). The best lassie I have ever tried. I prefer salty or plain version, although people of India certainly prefer the sweet one. If you are willing to try one street food in India - this is the one. I have returned to the stall 3 times over 3 days.

Indiana - restaurant serving grilled meat. The owner spent most of his life in US, so the food has more appeal to "westerners". In the same time it tasted good and authentic. Despite the general touristy feel, I think it is not a bed choice for Jaipur.

Suvarna Mahal (Golden Palace) - the fanciest place in Jaipur. Located in Taj property Rambagh Palace. It is a drive from the Old City. Spectacular room. The food is very good, but not spectacular. In the same price category - the restaurant in Lake Palace and Bukhara were much better. As well the service is somewhat cold and more attentive to the individuals ordering from the wine list. We sipped the Indian wine from Sula winery, but it was so bad, that we decided to skip the alcohol altogether. I recommend to visit the restaurant for experience. Fortunately they welcome outsiders, unlike Taj Lake Palace.

Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar - The famous local institution. Very unassuming from outside. Grandiose selection of sweets, including the famous ghewar (of a gargantuan size). The restaurant is vegetarian. We had thali. It was OK. They gave us a small portion of ghewar. OK as well.

Rawat Misthan Bhandar - excellent sweets, but a ride from the old city. Not sure it is worth it. I think LMB is a very good substitute without the long drive.

AGRA

Nothing to talk about. It is a very touristy city. We had very intensive day with limited food opportunities. Very disappointing lunch in one of the worst representatives of the "tourist joints" described above. To be honest, our very good guide took a full disclaimer and we ended up there because of the intense schedule. Dinner in Peshawri: as I have already mentioned, it is a less impressive version of Bukhara. There is no problem with meal, just nothing special. The customers around us appeared to be very disappointed for a variety of reasons.

VARANASI

This is another challenging town to eat. Benaresi food is well known around India mostly because it is the site of Hindu pilgrimage. The pilgrims have to eat something and they usually share their positive experience around the country. Although the town should be on the list of every visitor to India, the food and the housing are a significant problem for "westerners".

We managed to spend a night in horrendous hotel - Surayaday Haveli. Located on the Ganges, but in part of town not exiting you about nocturnal wondering, it somewhat confines its clients to the meal inside. The food was truly revolting. Th unseasoned mush of a gastrointestinal color. The (extremely unusual for India) stale bread. Waiter did not remember what we ordered. In the morning we had the worst breakfast experience ever culminating in an instant coffee. We vacated the premise and our tour operator moved us to Ramada, which happens to be one of the better hotels in town. The service and food there were much more satisfying. During our stay in Ramada, Indian celebrity Lata Mangeshkar stayed there, making us to think that it is one of the best places in town.

Benresi lassie are very well known. Most of the accessible locations near the ghats are catering to tourists. It is very obvious from the first look. Blue Lassie is the most recognized. We liked it, but not as much as Lassiewalla in Jaipur. I have checked out another place in Bengali quarter, but they disappointed me. I have requested the salty lassie. It was made by adding excessive amount of salt to the sweet one. As well the place doubles as a tourist agency…

Now I have to mention that Varanasi was a site of one of the best meals I had. Kashi Chaat Bhandar is located on the road leading to Dashashwamedh Ghat. You would benefit from someone pointing it out to you. Very unassuming, but very crowded. If you are lucky, you can get a seat at one of the communal tables. Does not look very sanitary, but is pretty safe. Every one of three items on the menu deserves to be tried. Tikka chat and tomato chat as fantastic and as authentic as it gets. Puni puri is a very delicious, but a bit iffy, because it involves sprinkling with spiced (but usually not boiled) water. I have survived.

Off note, I would like to mention a very positive food experience in Sher Bagh Camp in Ranthambore National Park. All the products were sourced from the their own garden and farm. Very simple, but perfectly cooked food made with superb produce.

That concludes my review of visited food establishments. There is a plenty of a good food and products in India, but unfortunately finding it requires some mental labor prior to you trip.

Assam Delicacies Assamese & Bengal Cuisine
Indian Accent
Bukhara Restaurant
Neel Kamal
Shahi Samosa
Suvarna Mahal
Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar
Rawat Misthan Bhandar
PESHAWRI
Kashi Chat Bhandar
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