Varanasi, Kashi, Benares, call it whatever you want, has a rich historical, cultural and religious significance for the people of India. The holiest city in India is known for its silk saris and Hindustani classical music and dance. Most Indians head to Varanasi for atonement, some go for their faith, others to see why there is such a fascination with the oldest living city in the world among white people, and some also go to study at the prestigious Benaras Hindu University. But it must not be forgotten that Varanasi is also a great destination for those who travel to for their tastebuds.
The crowded city offers toothsome treats on the crammed streets, and here are some that must not be missed:
Like most Indian cities with a bustling street-food scene, Varanasi has its own iconic chaat dishes. And the Tamaatar Chaat is to Varanasi, what Vada Pav is to Mumbai. What looks like a mush of tomatoes, is actually a magical, creamy, tangy, spicy, sweet burst of flavour with every mouthful. It is no wonder that Varanasi locals will always recommend Tamaatar Ki Chaat to visitors. And it is proof enough that this busy city has a very popping food scene. Varanasi should be proud!
Get the best Tamaatar Chaat at Kashi Chaat Bhandar, or Smriti Irani’s favourite (they actually have an image of her at the stall on the wall) – Vishwanath Chat Corner.
There may not be a single alleyway in the Old City area of Varanasi lacking the presence of cows. They are everywhere! You will walk by them on the streets, the smell of their muck will fill our nose when you venture through the narrow lanes, and you will see buildings dedicated to the care of cows.
And if you visit in the winter, sweet stalls in almost every corner will have cups filled with a frothy sweet lined up on their display. This specialty dessert infused with cardamom and topped with almonds and pistachios – called Malaiyo, is only made in the winter by leaving milk out in the cold air magically turning into a delicacy. The freshest Malaiyo is served until 11 AM before the sun pulls up the temperature and destroys the flavour of the dessert.
Find the best and most authentic Malaiyo at the sweet shops in Chaukhamba or Thatheri Bazaar.
With a constant supply of fresh milk from the booming cow population in the region, Varanasi is known for some of the best lassi’s in the world. Like everything in Varanasi, even the lassi is a sensory overload. Unlike the lassi in Punjab, the lassi served here is dense and topped with Rabdi, making it a full-dessert course served in kulhad’s in itself. Get the thickest, most sinful lassis at the Blue Lassi Shop, which is a tiny hole in the wall named after the colour of its walls. They have been serving several varieties of lassi for more than half a century.
Basically digestives and mouth-freshening nuts and spices wrapped in a betel leaf, Paan is the quintessential Indian post-meal ritual. And Banarasi Paans are specially known around the world. The technique of preparation of the betel leaves and the use of the special ingredient – Catechu (Kathaa), is what sets the flavour of all the paan in this region apart from the rest of India. Have the best Banarasi paan Keshav Paanwala or Tambul Bhandar.
This is the most popular breakfast option in the city. And shops selling these usually run out of Kachauri and Sabzi by early afternoon. The deep fried kachauri’s are served with a rich, spicy and tangy mix of potatoes, tomatoes and lentils. The ghee-laden puris provide energy on a groggy morning, and the flavourful sabzi awaken the senses in a way that no cup of coffee or chai could. Take a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges in the morning and park on the river bank, hop off and get some Kachauri Sabzi from Madhur Jalpaan or Ram Bhandar or Madhur Milan Cafe.
Pani Puri And Dahi Puri
With all the unique food items Varanasi has to offer, Pani Puri logically should not make this list. But walking by stores filled with locally-made, massive puri’s that are loaded on trucks and shipped to various cities in North India, one can rightly assume that the Pani Puri and Dahi Puri in this town must be smashing as well.
Kashi Chaat Bhandar is a top choice to savour some of these dishes.
While looking for the way to Dashashwamedh Ghat, one of the most important sights by the banks of the river Ganges, any tourist can get lost in the tiny lanes that to the layperson look all the same. And don’t be surprised to walk by a chai stall every few metres. Chai is quintessential to Indian culture. And no one can go wrong on a cold winter day after a lot of walking around, a freshly-made, hot cup of chai.
Enjoy the cows, enjoy the temples, enjoy the colours and smells, enjoy a peaceful morning on the Ganges, enjoy the beautiful ceremonies by the ghats. But make sure to enjoy the astronomic gastronomic experiences unique to Varanasi. Your tastebuds will be forever grateful!