It’s one of the world’s oldest living cities. The winding lanes lined with quaint shops and spicy eateries, lazing cows and milling crowds, lives up to that reputation. Food here blends with religion and culture. Varanasi is famous for its kachoris, chaat, lassi and, of course, paan. Here’s a pick of some favourite eateries to indulge in everything Banarasi.
Located on Puran Das Road it has a delightfully traditional setting. There is a chula (stove) at the entrance along with a sil batta (grinding stone) and a few other traditional cooking implements set in a rural ambience. Inside, there are charpoys on which you can sit cross-legged and eat, and take home an authentic experience. You can even opt for a modern table setting.
The food is served in huge brass plates and katoris. The most popular dishes here are the traditional ones from eastern UP and Bihar – litti chokha and sattu parathas. Littis are hard, oven-baked channa dal cakes eaten with piping hot dal and chokha (traditionally made smoked eggplant) with an array of pickles. Batti Choka is also famous for its thali, in which you get a sampling of all their dishes for just 150 per head. It’s worth every paisa and go there on an empty stomach, you won’t regret it.
Deena Chaat Bhandar
Varanasi is famous for its own style of chaat: dahi bhalla, tamatar ki chaat and palak chaat. There are two outlets of Deena’s but the one near Dashashwamedha Ghat is more popular. The tamatar chaat is finely cut tomatoes mashed up with spices, while the palak chaat has crispy batter fried spinach leaves served with dahi, sev, sweetened tamarind chutney and spicy green chutney. The dahi bhalla is a sweeter version of what you get on Delhi’s streets – it has a generous sprinkling of raisins that lends it a sweetened taste.
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You can find a lassi (churned buttermilk) shop in almost every corner of the city but the shop called Blue Lassi, in Vishwanath Gali, stands out for its 75 flavours. The shop owner takes pride in displaying the long list of different flavours of lassi – from the traditional sweet lassi ‘malai mar ke’ (topped with a generous helping of cream), to namkeen (salted and slightly spiced), and a range of fruit flavours like apple, banana etc.
Brown Bread Bakery
This one does not serve traditional Indian food, but has sandwiches, omelets, breads and other such offerings popular with foreigners. There are three or four shops with the same name around Dashashwamedha Ghat. But this one is located on the fourth floor of a narrow building. The eating area is covered with a grill cage to keep out the monkeys that prance about on rooftops.
The food is expensive and the taste is average but it’s recommended for its ambience. Also, after a few days of eating vegetarian food in Banaras, this is perhaps one of the few places around the ghats where you can get non-vegetarian food.
Deepak Tambul Bhandar
No trip to Varanasi is complete without a tasting of its famous paan. There are shops all over the city, but Deepak’s near Dashashwamedh Ghat is most popular. Paan is made from beetle nut leaves with beetle nuts, lime, and a selection of condiments, and generally eaten with a lot with tobacco or lime. A word of caution to those trying this for the first time – both these ingredients can make your head spin, and one should definitely not ignore the statutory warning that comes with any form of tobacco.
The other option is the meetha paan, a version made with tobacco or lime but filled with sweetened rose petals (gulkand), fennel seeds (saunf), and soft and chewy supari (beetle nut).
In the lane just beyond the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple is Kachori Gali. The smell the kachoris being fried catches up with you as you walk into this lane. Small nooks in the wall serve these freshly fried kachoris (stuffed with dal or peas) and served with spicy mint chutney. The shops open as early as 7am and remain open till 7pm, but depending on the season, they may run out of kachoris early especially when pilgrims are in town.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect those of Lonely Planet India’s.