Every city is a unique combination of tastes. And these are not served in air-conditioned restaurants, but on the street, where hungry citizens can grab a plate on the go. This is functional food, sold and eaten at a frenzied pace. And you really haven’t visited till you’ve tried these local favourites.
You can’t leave without trying…
Banta in Rishikesh
There’s nothing like banta to beat the fierce north Indian summer. For the uninitiated, banta is an indigenous lemon soda sold all over north India in unique Codd-neck bottles with marbles in their necks to keep the fizz from escaping. The soda is served with loads of ice and a special masala, and is priced between Rs 5 and Rs 20.
Left: Chuski in Delhi. Louis Vuitton-ed ladies and street children alike find the lure of chuski—Delhi’s version of the ice-lolly—absolutely irresistible. When the mercury rises to the mid-40s, this crushed ice treat, drizzled with khatta meetha, cola, orange, rose or any other syrups the heart might desire, becomes a real favourite with Dilliwallahs.Even five-star hotels like Claridge’s serve chuskis, in exotic flavours and even spiked with Vodka.
Right: Lafing in Dharamsala Lafing is a spicy noodle dish that is a huge favourite with refugees in Dharamsala, although you’re likely to find this dish in Tibetan centres in other parts of north India as well.
Left: Sandwiches in Mumbai A sandwich doesn’t seem like a very novel idea. But when Right Place, a snack joint in Mumbai’s Breach Candy, simply layered potatoes, tomatoes, capsicums and onions between bread with a generous amount of chutney, and offered it grilled or plain, customers loved it like it was the best thing since sliced bread. This very filling snack costs Rs 60 only. To try something more adventurous, head to the stall near National College on Linking Road. Two slices of hot, buttery bread are packed close with grated cheese and a home-made jam of bananas, papaya and the fruit of the day, and then grilled till the cheese and jam blend together.
Right: Sugarcane in rural Bengal Banana leaves are an inalienable part of life in Bengal, especially on auspicious occasions, and sugarcane served in banana leaves makes the deal sweeter. While the rest of the country gulps down glasses of its juice on a hot summer’s day, villagers in West Bengal prefer to gnash into fresh sugarcane for better, stronger teeth, and to enjoy the natural goodness of the juice. Village boys participate in the sugarcane chewing competitions, and the winner gets yet another piece of sugarcane lovingly wrapped in a banana leaf. The real prize is the villagers’ pearly whites, for Rs 3 only!
Left: Pani puri on Juhu Beach, Mumbai Come weekend, and Juhu beach spills over with families and lovers enjoying the weather and waves. And no outing is complete without a spicy mouthful of pani puri while watching the sunset. Delicate puris are filled with potato, sprouts or boondi, topped with a dash of tangy tamarind sauce and generous amounts of spicy chilli- coriander pani. Bliss comes cheap at Rs 20 to
Rs 30 a plate (six to eight puris).
Right top: Ghevar in Jodhpur Deliciously crunchy and sweet, malai ghevar, paneer ghevar and misri mewa or rabdi ke ghevar are Jodhpur specialties popular throughout Rajasthan, especially during special occasions. Head to Jodhpur Sweets at C Road for the best there is, although most sweet shops will prepare fresh ghevar if you order it in advance. Ghevar is topped with thinly sliced almonds and pistachios and a sprinkling of cardamom powder.
Right bottom: Chhole bhature in Amritsar You can’t go to Amritsar and not try the chhole bhature. Spiked with dark, fiery masalas, the chhole here is irresistable. Anant Ram on Lawrence Road is a great place to sample this Punjabi delicacy.
Left: Tender coconut water on Marina Beach, Chennai Priced between Rs 15 and Rs 20 a pop, tender coconut water is the best bet on a hot day, and you can request the vendor to scoop out soft chunks of the coconut, which you can slurp up after. Coconut water at sunset equals sublime entertainment !
Right: Lassiwala’s special in Jaipur The best lassi you’ll find in Jaipur is available at Lassiwala, a street stall on the famous Mirza Ismail Road, close to Amrapali at Paanch Batti in Jaipur. The lassi here is so popular that only when Lassiwala runs out of its daily quota do the other shops (like Kishan Lal Agarwal) start selling their own. Lassiwala sells its rich creamy perfectly chilled lassi in kulhars or small earthen glasses. The locals swear by glasses of this fresh lassi, which they think is the perfect way to beat the desert heat. Head to Lassiwala early in the day, before they run out.
Left: Assamese bread in Goapalara Add some yummy to your ferry ride from Goaplara in Assam to Dimapur in Nagaland by munching on the local fresh bread. Grab some of it early in the day when it’s freshly baked and served wrapped in old newspapers.
Right: Chowmein in Kolkata In Kolkata, chowmein vies for the top spot with maach bhaat, and wins more votes, at least with younger foodies. You can have it any time of the day, it is inexpensive, hygienic, and you have options (chicken, egg, etc)—just some of the reasons it has emerged as Kolkata’s favourite food. Originally brought to Kolkata by the Chinese community, which started restaurants in Bow Bazaar and Tangra, chowmein street stalls later came up everywhere in the city. Now, every square kilometre of the city comes equipped with at least 15 chowmein stalls.
Right top: Ram laddoos in Delhi Ram laddoos are deep-fried moong dal pakoras, served with generous amounts of grated radish and mint chutney. A Delhi specialty, these snacks are sold at many public spaces, including at Lodhi Gardens, where vendors set up trays
laden with goodies, on their khomchas (tripod-like folding stands).
Right bottom: Woodlands’s dosas in Chennai Soft, fluffy uthappams, crisp, golden dosas, and the scent of coconut chutney in the air—Woodlands Hotel’s dosa stall outside Narada Gana Sabha on TTK Road promises all this and more! Try the masala dosa, an all-time favourite. The ghee roast is filling and great value for money, priced between Rs 25 and and Rs 50. Idlis, vadas and other fresh snacks are just
as popular. Open only in the evenings from about 5 pm, this is one of Chennai’s landmarks.
left top: Benarasi paan in Varanasi
The Benarasi paan is an important part of the city’s culture. Leaves are halved and a lime- and-catechu paste smeared on them. If you’re so inclined, your paan can be spiked with aphrodisiacs, intoxicants and even ground pearls, and covered with gold leaf or silver foil. Maghai is the most expensive kind, followed by Jagannath, and mitha and mahoba from West Bengal.
left bottom: Thandai in Varanasi Varanasi is justifiably famous for its thandai, that sugary cooling drink, infused with watermelon and muskmelon seeds, almonds, cardamom, saunf, rose petals, saffron, and if you want it, bhang! Thandai is also mixed with sookhaa mewa—crushed nuts such as cashewnuts, pistachios and almonds. Try the thandai at Mishrambu in the heritage city.
top right: Gulab jamuns in Delhi The halwais of Old Delhi are famous for their mouth-watering traditional mithais, like gulab jamuns and halwas. The best places are hole- in-the-wall little shops with no names, only advertising themselves with the heavenly scent of gulab jamuns being deep-fried in hot ghee.
bottom right: Lassi in Moradabad A tall glass of lassi is the drink of choice in north India during the hot summer months. Garnished with slivers of nuts and a generous helping of malai, a glass of thick, creamy lassi will keep you cool and hydrated. In small towns like Moradabad, ready glasses sit on a metal box containing ice, to keep them chilled.
top right: Phirni in Old Delhi Not too sweet, with a grainy but creamy texture, and infused with the cool scent of the earthen pot in which it is set, the phirni in Delhi is the perfect end to a meal. Chitli Qabar in Old Delhi is one of the best places to try this traditional dessert, or sample A-One’s superb phirnis that are priced at as little as Rs 10 a kulhar.
bottom right: Vada pao in Mumbai This is the Mumbaikar’s great weakness. Potato filling deep-fried in batter till crisp, and sprinkled with chutney, dark with garlic and masalas. There are many vada pao chains like Jumbo King all over Mumbai, but the taste that truly stays with you is sold in the ramshackle stalls on the road, especially outside local train stations.•
[With input from Anindita Ghosh, Anupa Shah, Neeti Jaychander, Roshni Mitra and Shivli Tyagi]