One of the best things about growing up is that the way we travel evolves too. A decade ago when I visited Varanasi for the first time, how I experienced the place was completely different from my trip in 2014. The key differential aspect was the food of the place. From eating at sub-standard or nondescript food counters to actually selecting and indulging in local culinary delights, I experienced the taste of world’s oldest city – Varanasi.
Probably the most popular place for chaat, the tamatar chaat in Kashi Chat Bhandar is famous. I settled my perpetual favourite aloo tikki chaat. When I test a chaat house, I always pick this one, and then may be their specialties. But this time, the aloo tikki chaat was so fulfilling that I didn’t get a chance to try anything else.
Kashi Chat Bhandar is on main road, a few hundred meters ahead of Dashaswamedh Ghat and easy to find. The crowded pedestrian walk and the aromas of frying potatoes helped me navigate to it smoothly. I walked around the small and rather busy shop for two minutes, when the man frying, gestured at me. I felt the pressure of making a decision soon. But after telling him what I wanted, finding a place to sit in the green, cramped shop took some time. The chaat took even longer. You know, in anticipation of yum time stretches itself?
After what felt like hours, when I heard him call ‘aloo tikki chaat’, I ran to grab it. Initially surprised by the large portion, I gobbled it up in no time. The slight crispy edges and the soft stuffing were fresh and moderately spiced. Topped with dahi, the two chutneys blended in seamless with each other and the tikki. It was a cool evening and the chaat seemed to complement it perfectly.
By the end of it, I was satisfied and smiling. I’m definitely going there for a smaller portion the next time and going to try their signature chaat.
Thandai is synonymous to Benares. No one ever goes there and doesn’t try it. In my recent trip, however, I kept away from it.
In 2005, around the busy chowk of Girja Ghar crossing, I stopped and bought myself a glass of the cool, bhaang infused drink. Only certain Government approved shops sell this variety of thandai.. In the month of April, this spiced drink came as a brilliant and effervescent respite.
Thandai is readily available everywhere in the city. It is an authentic Benares experience and everyone travelling there must definitely try it once.
Apple Crumble Pie –
On a tolerable Sunday afternoon, I met a very close friend for lunch in my favourite Assi Ghat. The ghat looked so different from what it had been in 2005. I was a taken aback but the number of restaurant that had opened up too.
But when I took a bite of Pizzeria Vaatika Cafe’s apple crumble pie, all my complaints melted away. This freshly baked crumble had distinct tastes of apple, which did not overpower the other flavours like cinnamon and butter (both my favourites). I loved its crusty cover too.
It is the best apple crumble pie I have tasted in the world, so far.
Taj Gateway’s Indian restaurant, Varuna, prepares this enticing thali with all the goodness of Indian delicacies. I had the Benaresi Satvik thali which was entirely vegetarian and fully delicious. The elaborate thali had about ten lightly spiced dishes, each better than another, without onion and garlic and came to me in an immaculately attractive silver plate. Presentation is an important part of any fine dining experience, and Varuna does not fail in it.
Of all the dishes that my thali comprised, I still remember the delicious aloo-saag and the kheer for dessert. Surprisingly, I did finish the entire thali and did not feel bloated or a sense of overeat. It was miraculously light on my appetite.
Best time to go: July to Sept during Monsoons and November to February during Winters. Summers are generally very hot. Do not miss the Ganga aarti every evening on the banks of river Ganga.
How to reach: Varanasi railway station is connected to all major cities in India – New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata.
Featured Image – Image source: Travelwayoflife, Flickr CC
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About the author:
Amrita Das is a freelance travel writer and a full-time travel blogger at Travelling Ides of March. She quit her corporate job to become a traveller. She contributes to top publications in India and internationally on solo female travel, and off-beat, cultural and adventure travel. Follow her at @Amrita_dass