It is said that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Travel is our soul food. When we travel, local food gives us a perspective of the history, culture, and ethos of our destination. In fact, the most popular Indian food in the world is no reflection of the gastronomic surprises that awaits us around the corner when we hit the road. We have been so captivated by some of these food stories that we pursued an item or revisited a place just for the food. Our travel experiences have enriched us in this manner. Here is a glimpse of our immersive food-travel experiences.
Best food of India
“Travelling is food for the soul,” they say.
Travel has unfolded in various ways for us. It is not only the sites or the adventure; our experience is incomplete without an understanding of the local culture. Food gives an interesting peek into the ethos of a place. And, in a country like India where language and way of life change every few kilometres, the Indian food menu list throws best of surprises. Over time, a large part of Delhi-fun-dos is evolved as a food travel blog with travel and food going hand in hand. Our realization is that the food, India is famous for all over the world, say, butter chicken or curries, is just the tip of the iceberg. The Indian main dishes that we have every day at home or restaurants or events are popular food that has become our comfort. In reality, when we travel, we just do not know what food surprise awaits around the corner. So, to taste the best food of India, one has to get out of their comfort zone and hit the road. All we know is “Good Food – Good Mood” and we do not mind travelling out for that.
Travel for food
As food travellers we can say, there is nothing called the “best cuisine in India“. Each region has something capable of blowing the mind. We are using this opportunity to talk about some such food experiences that should not be missed if you are visiting the place. These may not be the most popular Indian food in the world. Yet, the items are such that we either pursued and reached a place to taste it; or revisited drawn by that item. We have to really try hard to truncate this list so that the post does not become tediously long. Maybe we will write a part II later.
This tops the list because we visited Kalimpong, a hill station in the Himalayas of West Bengal, chasing this cheese, not available anywhere else. It is Gouda like cheese, nutty on the tongue with a sharp acidic flavour. It tastes great on its own, on salads and sandwiches and crackers. Production has dwindled and it is now made in home dairies in few villages neighbouring Kalimpong. From our survey, the best place to buy Kalimpong cheese is Hind Bakery near the Kalimpong Bus Terminal. The seller shared the trivia that Kalimpong cheese tasted best when ripened for 3 to 4 months.
Kadhi – Kachori at Ranthambore
Kachori, the deep-fried dumplings with spicy stuffing is popular all over India. It is normally had with chutney. In Ranthambore, we were surprised they were serving kachori topped with kadhi, a yoghurt and gram-flour gravy dish, had with rice during meals. Somewhat sceptical, we tried kadhi-kachori at a street food joint and loved it. The spices of the crispy kachori were beautifully balanced with the smoothness of yoghurt in the kadhi. The kachori burnt the palette and concurrently the kadhi soothed. We became big fans of this combo and one of the first things we did next time we visited Ranthambore was to locate a kadhi-kachori cart.
Paranthewali Gali, Delhi
This place is on the global food map. Paratha, the roasted stuffed bread is a Delhi staple. It is tasty and filling and you realise there is no end to the variety of stuffing if you visit Parathawali Gali in Chandni Chowk. There are probably 2 or 3 paratha shops that function still now so demand outweighs the supply. We sit wherever the waiting queue is shorter. Ordinarily a paratha is roasted. But at Paranthewali Gali, a paratha is fried and inflates like a baseball. It is served with pickled salad and pumpkin curry. Potato, carrot, radish or cauliflower stuffed parathas are available everywhere. When we are at Gali Parathewali, we go for offbeat stuffing like papadum, bitter gourd and dry fruits. What bolds us over is the rabri paratha. The stuffing is sweetened desiccated milk and when you perforate the savoury crust, it becomes a dessert. We are salivating while typing this sentence!
Biryani in Kolkata
Biryani is a cult. Foodies do not mind travelling cities to have the perfect biryani. This complete dish mostly comprising rice – meat – rose water – spices has evolved in various styles all over India. Kolkata style biryani is distinct from other varieties. Emporer Wajid Ali Shah got biryani from Awadh when he was exiled in Kolkata. The Awadhi biryani underwent local influence and gained a new character.
In its present avatar, Kolkata biryani is subtly flavoured with saffron, rose water and other fragrant spices. Plus it always comes with a huge boiled potato and is sometimes garnished with a boiled egg.
It is far less spicy / strong in taste than the North or South Indian biryanis. From our survey, Shiraz serves the best biryani in Kolkata. Aminia, Park Circus, is the second. We are such fans that we get biryani specially packed and carry back to Delhi for family and friends.
Spinach momos at Mcleodganj, Dharamshala
JJI’s Exile Brother’s Café, popular as Mama’s Kitchen in Mcleodganj has spoilt momos for us. They serve vegetarian brown momos that are absolutely unparalleled. They make the momos from scratch after you order and alert you it is going to take time. But when the momos are served – it is well worth the wait. The momo shell is wheat and not white flour. The filling, i.e., spinach mixed with cottage cheese retains the crunch. It is sheer heaven in the mouth. The momos that we get in the cities are nothing close. Hence, we travel to Mcleodganj, Dharmshala frequently just to have the momos.
Patalkot ki Rasoi
Patalkot in Madhya Pradesh is a tribal region tucked inside Tamia Forest beside Chhindwara, about 125 km from Nagpur. Patalkot was populated by a host of tribes mainly Gond and Bharia. We visited Chhindwara to attend the Corn Festival, 2019 and had an opportunity to have a Patalkot cuisine lunch. Chhindwara is the biggest corn-producing area in India. Corn, therefore, featured from the beginning to the end of the meal. The staple was cornbread or makke ki roti. Along with the bread, we had the green chaane-ki-saag or a dry dish made of chickpea and mustard leaves. The other cereal on the platter was kutki chawal or local millet rice. These were small pinkish grains and screamed health. We had the rice with bhejda tamatar chutney, a tangy tomato relish made in Bharia style. Wish the recipe was available somewhere on the internet. Corn appeared again at the end during dessert – in halwa form! The dish was dry and very moderate on sweetness with a hint of ghee or clarified butter. Every dish was supremely tasty. Mild spice, the subtle tastes and flavours were so soothing that this was typically soul food material. We are planning a trip to this region just to have the food all over again.
Kumaoni cuisine at Jhaltola
We visited Jhaltola, a little known hill station in Uttarakhand earlier this year. We stayed at The Misty Mountains Resort and they served Kumaoni lunch. The spread comprised of dishes made with local produce farmed organically. All the vegetables tasted sweeter than what we have in Delhi. The garlic was less pungent and lye saag, a variety of mustard leaves, had a lot of texture. The mildly sweet rhododendron juice was prepared in-house. And so were a host of jams, chutneys and pickles. We have had bhang (cannabis) seeds chutney before but the dalim (pomegranate) chutney, new for us, was a riot of tastes. Bhatt ki churkani, a Kumaoni lentil dish that we have tried earlier at Uttarakhand Food Festival, tasted so much lighter and fresh today. Roti made of madwa, a local millet variety, was served on the side. Even after the elaborate meal, we did not feel one bit heavy! It was that simple, wholesome yet tasty. Jhaltola is more than 7 hours drive from Kathagodam, the nearest railway station. That makes it about 14 hours journey from Delhi. Yet, given the soul-serving food, we would not mind doing it all over again.
Roshogolla and Mishti Doi in Kolkata
In India, roshogolla or its North Indian cousin rasgulla is available everywhere. Yet nothing makes us salivate like roshogolla in Kolkata. The softness, the smooth texture and mild sweetness demonstrates why is this worth a GI fight with Odisha. Maybe it is the milk, or some secret technique, roshogollas taste best in Kolkata. Same is the case with the Bengali yoghurt – Mishti Doi. Not to disparage Mother Dairy, but their Mishti Doi tastes nowhere close to the real doi or yoghurt available in Kolkata or other smaller places in Bengal like Digha, where we had the tastiest Mishti Doi.
There is stiff competition in the field of confectionary in Kolkata and frankly, very few sweet shops disappoint. Of late, Balaram Mullick confectionary chain has sprouted all around the city including the airport. But, in our opinion, the best roshogolla in Kolkata is available at Vien, Theatre Road. We try to stop here on our way from the airport to the guest house. For the best Mishti Doi, you have to visit Putiram on College Street. It is not so red, very light and the sweetness doesn’t make it a pudding. It still retains the tart of yoghurt.
Daulat ki Chaat, Old Delhi
We stumbled upon this gem quite by accident. We were exploring the lanes of Chandni Chowk and saw these carts selling some very unusual looking item. These were like heaps of snow that they were serving in small paper bowls. They called it Daulat ki Chaat. Sceptical, but curious, we ordered a plate and then it was sheer ecstasy. We reordered and reordered. It seemed how we were alive all these years without having this. This dish is available only in winter months – November to March. We will not give you details of the taste here. If you have not tried this item, let us not be the ones to spoil it for you. And we suggest you don’t search the internet but pay a visit to Delhi in winter months and try this out for yourself. You will surely thank us.
Daulat ki Chaat is so popular that when Rocky and Mayur arranged a breakfast food-walk of Old Delhi, among umpteen great dishes, this humble street food was one of the items they chose. They took us to Khemchand’s Daulat ki Chaat cart beside the popular Shyam Sweets in Chawri Bazaar. But on other occasions we have eaten elsewhere. None of the Daulat ki Chaat guys disappointed us. So feel free to try wherever you find this mountain of goodness.
Ghewar in Jaipur
Our first trip to Jaipur was to do the forts, museums and markets. Strolling in Johri Bazar, we saw these nest-like wheels stacked one on top of the other at a sweet shop. Having no idea what those were, replete with all the enthusiasm of the curious traveller, we asked and came to know this was a sweet – ghewar. We tried some. The first reaction was a mixture of shock and awe. How were we alive all these years without having the ghewar. It was crispy with melt in the mouth texture and mildly sweet, just how we love a dessert. They sell the dry ones and the other variety is coated with cream or malai with a sprinkling of almond and pistachio slivers; sheer delight. Ghewar in Delhi is available in the monsoon month of Sawan and we have it whenever we can. But the taste is not comparable to what we had at Jaipur. Gurgaon to Jaipur is an easy 4 hours drive on a recently repaired highway. We have made the journey just to have and buy ghewar. We are told the best ghewar in Jaipur is available at Lakshmi Mishtan Bhandar or LMB. We have bought ghewar at smaller places too and have never been disappointed.
Bakery at Nahoum’s Kolkata
With a heritage of 116 years, Nahoum and Sons is perhaps the last Jewish bakery in India. Nahoum is located in one of the oldest markets of Kolkata, ironically called “New Market”. They make the best egg white and almond paste combined marzipan in India. The marzipan is used for layering cakes or carving candies. We have often got bakery such as cakes, cookies and candies packed from here. Our friends in Delhi, if they had their way, would have sent us back to Kolkata just for these goodies. If you have a sweet tooth or a bakery fan, Nahoum’s in Kolkata could be the sole reason for a visit.
Jouzi Halwa in Hyderabad
A North Indian can easily confuse it for Gajar Halwa as it looks pretty much the same. But make no mistake; there is no carrot in Jouzi Halwa. Jouzi Halwa is made of milk, sugar, clarified butter, dry fruits and the magic ingredient Jouzi – which is a Turkish variety of nutmeg. That is how the halwa gets its unique flavour. Jouzi Halwa was apparently especially commissioned by the Nizams of Hyderabad. Subtle, melt in mouth and rich – we were in food heaven. If you visit Hyderabad, you must try Jouzi Halwa. We would not mind visiting Hyderabad again just to have Jouzi Halwa, which, to the best of our knowledge, is not available in Delhi. We thank our friend and a travel writer herself, Alka Kaushik to recommend us this beautiful and unique dish.
Bal Mithai in Uttarakhand
A trip to the state of Uttarakhand in North India is about the breath of fresh air from Himalaya Mountains, boat ride in lakes at Nainital or Bhimtal, trekking at Lansdowne and lots of chilling time. And we are not allowed to return back home without Bal Mithai, crudely translated – Child’s Sweet. This sweet is brown in colour and looks like chocolate fudge. It is made of khoa or thickened milk which is roasted further in a huge vessel, cut in cubes and finally coated with sugar balls. The roasting gives the thickened milk a smoky flavour and a sweet chewy texture. Add to that the crunch provided by the sugar globules and it is nothing but heaven on the palate. These are sold by weight in kilogram and have long shelf-life even without refrigeration. We keep going back to Uttarakhand being pushed for Bal Mithai.
Fruit wine in Himachal Pradesh
The variety of fruit cultivation in Himachal Pradesh has led to many tertiary industries. Fruit wine is one of them. Some of the excess fruit that is cultivated is fermented to make fruit wine. So, while they make the traditional grape wine, they also make wine out of apples, kiwi, strawberry, rhododendron and so on. One can flavour and taste the fruit in a particular wine and with 10 to 11% alcohol, it is as potent as any other tippler. Our favourite is peach wine. It has a mildly tart refreshing taste. The apple wine is sugar-free and tastes like bitter apple juice. Fruit wine was available all across Himachal Pradesh. But in the last couple of years, wine shops near the highways have been shut on official order. Hence, we can get a selection of fruit wine only in Shimla or Mcleodganj in Dharmshala. Incidentally, fruit wine of Himachal Pradesh is not sold outside the state. Fruit wines are very popular among our family and friends too so whatever we bring does not last very long. Consequently, we find ourselves driving up to Shimla, or any place nearby, to relish fruit wine.
It is said that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Talking about us, good food makes us euphoric. It also lends a view in the local culture, lifestyle and ethos and makes our journeys more immersive. We are so glad that our travel experiences have enriched us in this manner. We hope to bring many more fun food travel stories on our platforms.