Your Not-So-Typical Varanasi Food Guide
Varanasi aka Kashi or Banaras is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with a history that dates back more than 3,000 years. It is considered one of the holiest cities in the Hindu religion, and it attracts millions of pilgrims each year. And with pilgrims comes as many varied and curious taste buds.
So let's go beyond samosas and lassis and traverse into the soul of Varanasi's gastronomic universe. In this blog, you won’t find food and restaurant recommendations. In fact, you won’t even find a list of dishes to try. What you will though, is a beautiful bond between the people and food of Varanasi.
Image Source: https://www.pexels.com/search/varanasi/
Steps To Fitness
The ghats of Varanasi are the beating heart of this ancient city. Without them, there would be no Kashi. These steps are used for religious practices and it's from here that you can catch the most divine sunrises. But the ghats are not just places of religious significance, they also play a very crucial role in the day-to-day life of the locals. How so?
The people of Varanasi begin their day with all things fried. It’s most often puri-bhaji with lots of jalebis. But interestingly, they never feel lethargic. On the contrary, they’re quite healthy.
The people of Banaras even end their day with a lot of fried goodness like chaats! And where do all those calories go? Gone along with their sins at the holy ghats. Working these steps daily will beat all kinds of gym training any day!
Let’s descend from the ghats for a while and sip on some tea from a kulhad. A kulhad is a tiny glass made of clay, used for all kinds of beverages and most recently, pizza. Yes, the foodies of Benaras can’t get enough of these earthen cups, and the tourists love it! The kulhad masala chai is an emotion here and has become a part of their daily ‘rituals’.
Tamatar Chaat Time
We did say we won’t be listing typical Varanasi dishes but you can’t have a Varanasi Food Blog without the mention of Tamatar Chaat. Served exclusively here, this delicacy is like no other! After the very first bite, you’ll question everything you know about chaats.
It is a lovely mix of tangy and sweet flavours and is prepared on a traditional tawa. Packed with warm spices and loads of pulpy tomatoes, this Varanasi speciality is a must-try! For the locals, eating this dish evokes emotions of pride, awe, contentment and calm. They say it is 'the taste of Kashi'. Just like the city, it is a blend of khatta-meetha.
Image Source: https://www.varanasiguru.com/tamatar-chaat/
Varanasi Winters: Peas All-Around
Winters in Varanasi are another sentiment altogether. Pleasant weather, warm food and a nip of divinity in the air. Every year, during the cold season, local families welcome peas into their homes! From Muttar ka Nimona and Muttar Ki Puri to Aloo-Mutter Tikki and Chooda Muttar, every day is a hap-pea day!
This winter vegetable, packed with protein and other nutrients, is also used in food served during festivals like Makar Sankranti and the Ganga Mahotsav.
Summer Staples Of Varanasi
The summers in Varanasi can be quite brutal. It’s hot and humid and food can get spoiled quicker than usual. That’s why the locals stick to simple, homely and freshly cooked food like dal, rice, roti and sabzi. On the other hand, since its prime tourist time, restaurants and food shops thrive! But eating out on a hot summer’s day can be quite tricky. Make sure you choose hygienic places and always keep yourself hydrated.
The Khichdi Kronicles
Khichdi (lentil and rice dish) has a very important spiritual significance in Benaras! They say the Khichdi is a dulhan (Indian bride) and its condiments are its sajawat (ornaments). So the dish is always adorned with papad (fried flat dough), achar (pickle) and mooli (radish).
For the locals, every Saturday, no matter what, is Khichdi day! It's simple, nutritious and comforting and when served with ghee, yogurt, papad and pickle, it almost feels spiritual. In the cold months, people add all the possible winter veggies that take this dish to the next level.
The devout people of Varanasi have a big sweet tooth, and it shows in their mithais. Again, while we did say we won’t give you a long list of dishes, here are some you can easily fall in love with.
Malaiyo is the most popular winter sweet made from milk froth, saffron, and sugar, and is served chilled. With a creamy texture and a delicate taste, this is a sinful indulgence right here in the holiest city!
Another very essential sweet here is the Launglata made from dough balls fried in ghee and soaked in sugar syrup. It is flavoured with cardamom and topped with chopped nuts. What a delight!
Other dairy sweets include rabdi, malai puri, lassi and pedha and when in Varanasi, it’s an unspoken rule that you must try all!
Holi or no Holi, thandai is yet another ‘holy’ beverage of Varanasi. And while in the rest of India bhang is illegal, in Varanasi, it is considered to be the sacred food of Lord Shiva (shiv ka prasad). Hence, every lassi and thandai shop will sell bhang all year round. But you can ask for one without it too. Either way, don’t leave the city without trying the Thandai.
Now you may be wondering why we haven’t listed down any restaurants and food shops for you. Well, the first is that we wanted to showcase a very different side of the food scenes of Varanasi that go beyond recommendations. And secondly, a local once told us that a food shop that recently went viral on Youtube has got its owner not only under immense pressure but also got him stressed out with the throngs of people coming in. While that’s great for business, it also sidelines other establishments that could be serving equally great food, and limits your itinerary. So if you really want to experience amazing food in Varanasi, walk along the narrow alleys, put your nose in overdrive and go wherever the aroma takes you. You never know, you may find a hidden gem with the most drool-worthy food.