“People who love to eat are always the best people.”
An American chef, author and very famous TV anchor, Julia Child established French food in the American palate. If you haven’t seen Meryl Streep play her in the film ‘Julie & Julia’ then you ain’t seen nothing!
Every festival in India has a special significance through food, mostly homemade with seasonal ingredients, as they are related to the two main harvest seasons for the Rabi and Kharif crops. To a foreigner, it appears that festivals are on through the year as different parts of India are always celebrating. This is not untrue as since centuries, travellers to the Indian subcontinent have written extensively about the food, raw materials, recipes and styles of cooking and eating here.
In this post, I’ll take you through special local cuisine of Mumbai, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Dehradun, Landour, Varanasi, Auroville, Pondicherry, Vijayawada, Amaravati, Gangtok & North Lachen, Kolkata, Santiniketan (including home), and London.
“May for me prosper, through the sacrifice, milk, sap, ghee, honey, eating and drinking at the common table, ploughing, rains, conquest, victory, wealth, riches. May for me prosper, through the sacrifice, low-grade food, freedom from hunger, rice, barley, sesame, kidney beans, vetches, wheat, lentils, millets, panicum grains and wild rice. May for me prosper, through the sacrifice, trees, plants, that which grows in ploughed land, and that which grows in unploughed land.”
Prayer from Yajurveda, 800 BC
(D D Kosambi, ‘An Introduction to the study of Indian History’, 1956, Popular Prakashan, Bombay)
MUMBAI: the megapolis, the financial capital of the world’s largest functioning democracy, home to millions of peoples. And, home to the Dabbawallas, the homemade food delivery people since the 1890s, lauded by the best management schools and gurus of the world. They even have their own website: http://mumbaidabbawala.in/
What is Mumbai without street food for the millions who sleep on the pavements and for those who work in the highest paid jobs in the country??? All eat from the same street food hawkers with equal relish and joy.
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” Mother Teresa
If you are on a heritage mission to the centuries old Buddhist Kanheri Caves then you cannot afford to miss out on the local food served by the inhabitants of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Makes you wonder that the Buddhist monks must have received food from their devotees with much love as you still get here 🙂
I always discover newer flavours and textures when out on cultural mapping exercises with my students, exploring heritage sites and museum precincts!
For those aspiring to taste the most delectable international cuisines, Mumbai definitely has the best restaurants in the country.
JAIPUR: My hometown, where I was born and brought up on the yummiest ‘lassi’ and ‘kachoris’. These are best found in the very busy Lassiwala and Rawat, respectively. Naaahhh I don’t like ‘samosas’ or the popular ‘pyaaz kachori’ so much. Of course, the other family staple diet is the ‘dalmut’ from Shankar Namkeen Bhandar.
AHMEDABAD: The really, really, really best chaat is to be found at ‘The Green House’ in the House of MG, right opposite the exquisite Siddi Sayyed Jali. But two new venture, Cafe Tilla and Cafe Otenga dish out some of the neatest waffles and teas. Thanks Ketul 🙂 food shared is the best, flavour and calorie wise ;P
To quote Orson Welles, “My doctor told me I had to stop throwing intimate dinners for four unless there are three other people.”
DEHRADUN: Have already in two blog posts on Dehradun, a city I discovered while visiting on teaching assignments 🙂 https://varnikadesigns.wordpress.com/2019/07/02/dehra-dun-dehradun-%e2%98%ba-but-it-aint-that-simple%e2%98%ba/
Thanks to the School of Design, Doon University, Foundation Year students and my dear friend, Dhriti Dhaundiyal, we had one of the most heavenly meals.
LANDOUR: Visited with the present Final Year Communication & Product Design students of the School of Design, Doon University. We went checking and corroborating facts that was part of their course. We took the course very seriously!
VARANASI: This historic city is famous for its sweets and deep fried food.
“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”
PONDICHERRY & AUROVILLE: These two beautiful and scenic cities have a huge multicultural impact even today, more evident here than in anywhere else in India. Don’t forget that Pondicherry was a French colonial settlement till 1954. And, Auroville was established by Aurobindo and the Mother as a practical extension to their ideologies.
Auroville is dotted with several cafes, one needs to get in early, relax and sink in to its love ❤
Some parts of Pondicherry are more Tamil than others, cherish that 🙂
VIJAYAWADA: On the way to several teaching assignments with the National Institute of Design at Amaravati, the driver sent by NID would always take me to some of the famous roadside eateries on the route from the Vijaywada airport. What is a trip to Southern India without freshly made idlis, dosas and the special thali… please go only on an empty stomach!
AMARAVATI: I always emphasise in my classes that we should carefully look at the food we are eating and the utensils they are cooked and served in. Did you know that the same vegetable is cooked in multiple ways across India by cutting it differently, not just using different cooking medium, ingredients and utensils?
“Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people eat together.”
Guy Fieri (an Emmy award winning American restauranteur)
GANGTOK & NORTH LACHEN: The Latin American civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, had expressed it absolutely accurately when he had written,
“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.”
KOLKATA: One of my favourite authors, Virgina Woolf, wrote in her famous book ‘A Room of One’s Own’:
“…a good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well…”
I wonder!!! Photographer Sanjeet Choudhary told, while editing the forthcoming publication on the food of Bengal, “do we really know what the lakhs of pavement dwellers eat?” Do we really care??? Not just for one city but for any global city?
Not to forget that Kolkata has one one of the most multicultural cuisine in the country. This is where Nawab Wajid Ali Shah came from Lucknow and where Tipu Sultan’s sons were exiled from Mysore by the British. So you get excellent biryani here 🙂 I’ve already written about the Chinese food made here: https://varnikadesigns.wordpress.com/2019/10/04/tiretti-bazaar-chinese-hub-in-kolkata/
Don’t forget the quintessential Flury’s at Park Street – it’s more like a pilgrimage! And, a unique restaurant dedicated to Satyajit Ray’s fiction, walking into it is like meeting his characters and places! It’s ‘Abar Baithak’ in Jodhpur Park.
SANTINIKETAN: The indigenous people of and around Santiniketan have intrigued and inspired my family. Especially my father who is constantly reminded of his childhood in the village Garbheta in poor Midnapore. We observe the idiosyncrasies that Santiniketan quite closely!
Ants and mushrooms which grow during Monsoons are used as bait for fishing and eating, respectively. These are indeed curious offerings of nature!
Have you eaten jackfruit? Bengalis eat them ripe and not-so ripe and even their seeds!
You can never have enough of the lip smacking and finger licking ‘muri’ and ‘chop’ – representing roasted rice and deep fried savouries filled with potatoes or the seasonal vegetables (similar to ‘pakodas’). In Bengal, you usually eat ‘muri and ‘chop’ together.
Btw both the mother and father are both excellent cooks, with their own style and type of cooking. Ma makes simple Bengali cuisine and Baba experiments (not always eatable!!!) – no one ever complains. People queue up to eat at my parents. Have you? No! You are missing something 🙂
LONDON: A city I love a lot. I’ve lived there twice on Museum fellowships and never wanted to return. These photographs are from the British Museum & the V&A restaurants, where due to my passes I could gorge at discounted prices. Else, Museum cafes are one of the most expensive eateries in the world!!!!!!!! I did some work too ;P
London makes me very happy, very happy 🙂
Before I leave you salivating on this incomplete gourmet journey, I leave you with a sweet ‘kalkatti’ (meaning from Kolkata) ‘paan’ which I love with ‘gulkand’ and no supari or those stupid coloured things and cherries. Hope you will venture out of your homes and share your food with others and appreciate their food too.
Have tried to caption each photograph to identify the food and its region.
Hope you had a nice gourmet journey ❤ Please do tag VarnikaDesigns for your cuisine explorations 🙂
More photos and videos on social media. All photos by the author.