(Itiriti – I invited Dripta Piplai to pen down her food trail in one of her favourite cities in India, a place she calls her second home- Varanasi /Banaras. By training, she is a socio-linguist at Delhi University and by passion; she is also an independent researcher on musicology. She takes you in the narrow by-lanes and some of the relaxing places in this timeless “city of lights” ( a phrase I borrow from Diana L. Eck’s work Banaras : City of Lights) and gives us a glimpse of what gastronomic delicacies the city has to offer. Welcome aboard! She blogs at http://www.dripta.blogspot.in/)
The city beckons me time and again. I listen to the call and rush back to this timeless city. Yes, I am talking about Varanasi/Banaras- the city that wakes up and sleeps with the Ganges. I see the whole of India at the bank of Ganges. The architecture of different ghats takes me to Nepal or Bihar or Karnataka. Benaras is my second home, and I return to my second homeland again and again.
I can write pages after pages for this city. I can write about different types of journey- boat rides, walks and many more…
Dear friend Ishita asked me to write about the culinary delights of my Benaras tour this time. And I happily accepted her request 🙂
Whenever we talk about food of Benaras, the first thing we do is talk about the kachori-jalebi-rabri of the Dashaswamedh area. In fact, the kachori which is usually served with a aloo-nutrela or mixed sabzi, is widely available at Benaras, be it Gadhauliya crossing, or tiny shop at Manikarnika ghat. The charge is rs 7-10 per plate, and you can have a cheap brunch with this. If it is winter morning, have a big cup of tea at any ghat, to my surprise, Ram pyare chai (apparently a tea vendor by the name Ram Pyare used to sell tea and the tea vendors christened tea as Rampyare Chai) is not widely available at Benaras nowadays.
Benaras offers a variety of Indian food all over the city. The narrow alleys have a number of South Indian snacks shops-where you can have a meal for Rs.10-35. The choices are Sambar-vada, Uttappam, Rasam vada, served with filter coffee. Near Bangalitola, a small Biryani shop suggested by a foodie friend remained unexplored this time. A small restaurant at the ground floor of the Bengali delight Dashaswamedh boarding is serving cheap Bengali thali, the shop just next to it is offering Rajma chawal and chole- why shouldn’t I call the city a mini India?
Though I am talking about the different types of foods of the city, I want to share with you two restaurants that are widely recommended and visited
Dolphin rooftop restaurant is widely recommended by the traveller guides, may be because of the grand view of Ganges. But this clean restaurant at Man Mandir ghat offers a wide variety of Indian non-veg dishes. Tried Akhnir pulao with Mutton Rogan-josh, which was overpriced, but good. They do have a number of kebabs and tandoori dishes, along with some good vegetarian delights, Aloo Banarasi is recommended for the vegetarians.
But the grand and exotic discovery for a foodie at Benaras is the Lotus Lounge located at the Mansarovar ghat. I was specifically nostalgic, as the restaurant is located near the house which was rented by our family in the late 40s.
Lotus Lounge offers an excellent range of continental dishes, which are uniquely Indianized in some cases. They have elaborated breakfast menus made with yak cheese, for example. They have a good range of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian soups (the tomato-based cold soup was heavenly). And what was extremely good about them is that, the proportion of meat and vegetarian item is absolutely measured in their dishes. Dinner with braised chicken with orange and butter sauce usually is served on a bed of potatoes and beans, but they quickly served it with buttered spinach as they didn’t have beans on the day I had visited. The dessert menu is quite nice (I settled for Fruit salad). You will enjoy the cozy seating arrangement of the shop and the Ganges view at the not-so-populated ghat.
In fact, a number of small restaurants all over the city serve food from different parts of the world. You will spot a small Japanese joint at a small lane near the holy Viswanath temple. Korean cafés and Italian restos dot the city. The availability of different kinds of food at a same place is quite amazing.
I cannot wrap up this entry if I do not talk about rabri and peda of the Viswanath gali. The small shop at the left hand there is the amazing shop of Rabri and malai (served with milk). Small bowl of rabri costs Rs.30 (for 100 gms), and I am sure that you cannot stop with just one serving.
If you want to have a different type of dessert, you might want to try some pista-badam sherbet? The other choices are: lassi, or badam- sherbet or khus-gulab sherbet.(Available at the Dashaswamedh crossing, beside the state bank ATM.)
After finishing your meal, you must try out the best paan shops that the city offers .Visit any one of the small masala shops at or in front of Viswanath Gali. You can try the famous pan masala (betel leaves with a mixture of chopped or coarsely ground areca nuts), or something simpler, like pudina goli, adrak pachak or aam pachak.
The food-tale and food trail of Banaras is never ending. All I can say is that, you have to come back to this place, may be for the photographic charm, for the tunes of Banaras gharana, or in search of the Captain Spark’s room, or in search of good food.
Photo : Dripta Piplai