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good food in india

Im planning a trip to the northern half of India in March to meet up with my daughter who will be in Kolkata all year on a Fulbright. It looks like we will be in Delhi, some spots in Rajasthan, Varanasi, MP maybe (a posh joint in Maheshwar and Mandu) and of course Kolkata.

Im finding getting good info on everything harder than expected but especially solid info on where to find great food. The regional homestyle stuff, not 5star restaurant chef stuff. Mostly veg, since my daughter doesnt eat meat or fish (but Im going to want it sometimes!) Im starting to believe that the smaller hotels and guesthouses with good local cooks might be the best bets but its hard to get reliable information on this. Any suggestions on how to proceed to find the good stuff? I mean, I know that I want to go to places where there are a lot of people and the food is freshly cooked, but beyond that? Are there areas in towns where decent restaurants are likely to be located? Im not going to have a lot of time to figure this out. Thanks for any help you can give.

I will ask more specific questions about destinations as the time for the trip comes closer.

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  1. fabulous!

    one caveat - can you prepone your trip at all? march is ok, beginning to get hot but bearable. jan and feb are best - weathers great and all the non-resdient indians have gone home. really, late dec and early jan is now officially nri season.

    it IS going to be hard to find the great regional stuff, but it does exist. let me consult with the folks back home for some thoughts.

    eating veg isn't a problem unless you go to a muslim meat specialist - almost every restaurant i can think of has ample and satisfying vegetarian choices.

    are you going agra - jaipur - udaipur? don't miss khajuraho, the temples are stunning and there was NOBODY around the last time i was there - thats a hard trick to pull off in desh. you can fly from agra to khajuraho to jaipur.

    ok, i'll get back.

    1. Smaller hotels usually have bad food - smaller restos are sometimes ok, sometimes not, esp in Delhi. In Calcutta, most food is good and cheap - but it is not easy to get real Bengali food except at a couple of new, posh places that have opened - Kewpie's on Elgin Road (quite hard to find, so ask someone for precise directions) - another one is Bhoja Hari Mano - has a few branches, one is in Salt Lake, another near Ballygunge.

      In most parts of India, resto food is different from home cooking, and really, Calcutta is one of the few cities where a posh version of upper-class home cooking is now there for sale.

      In Delhi, if you are willing to pay a lot, but only by Indian standards,do try the famous restuarants at the 5 star hotels which are usually very good - Dum Pukht etc - have fewer, but still good veggie options. Another good place is the Defence Colony Market and Khan Market areas in South Delhi where lots of eating options and very good ones - for instance you get excellent South Indian food at Sagar and its next place, forget the name, in Def Col as it is known. If travelling by road, definitely stop and eat a rice/dal and subzi meal at the highway dhabas, your driver will know which one is good, they usually have fantastic food, but some are cleaner than others.

      Sorry, never been to MP.

      Btw, keep some imodium handy, ORS salts, and use water purifier pills even in mineral water - my partner is American and hence lacks the relative immunity I have, and gets tummy upsets worse than I do (even Indians get them, but milder) - lots of bacteria around everywhere, but given these precautions, you should be ok.

      2 Replies
      1. re: js288uk

        thanks so much for your suggestions. Re Delhi, Do you mean Swagath?? There seems to be plenty of info about regional restaurants, from all over India, in Delhi - for the amount of time I will be there, Im hoping to have the time and capacity to get around to some, since I definitely will only be scratching the surface on India generally.

        I think Kolkata will be ok - Emma has experience there, and as you say, there seem to be some places like Kewpie actually cooking the Bengali cuisine (and there are some great Bengali enthusiasts posting on the anothersubcontinent website about Kolkata which is really great and whets my appetite). I'm wondering whether there is anyone cooking the Lucknowi meat cuisine in north calcutta though...

        By "small hotels" I mean some of the less ritzy heritage hotels and better guesthouses, not the backpacker places...who knows whether this is the right strategy? Im not sure that many westerners, who write recommendations of hotels online or in guidebooks, have much of a palate for indian food. Im also hoping to find places where I can actually watch the cooking and learn something, tho I understand that there may be religious issues with this in some places.Id love to hear any experiences about cooking lessons or chances to observe home cooks in India.

        some of the places I am considering are listed below - if anyone has been there and can comment on the eating, or offer better eating alternatives (with or without lodging) in the locations noted, that would be great -
        Birder's Inn or the Bagh - Bharatpur
        Jasvilas - Jaipur
        Devi Bhavan - Jodhpur
        Rohetgarh - Rohet
        RH Haveli Guesthouse or Haveli Braj Bhushanjee - Bundi
        Shivika Lake Hotel - Ranakpur
        Varanasi - ???
        Ahilya Fort - Maheshwar MP

        1. re: jen kalb

          Yes, Swagath is the place next to Sagar. The trouble is that Delhi is
          really spread out.
          If you do a search in Outlook India (have to register - free) they ran
          some good pieces on the revolution in Indian eating-out - mentioned
          some good caterers for Kashmiri food, which might be worth trying if you
          can get together a few friends, about 8-10 people.
          Chor Bizaare has a wazwan dinner much touted in the guidebooks, but we did not care for it, and I would not advise going there.

          In Rajasthan, most of the simple Jain places have very nice veg food -
          I ate at a lot of them when I was in Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, can't
          remember any names. Locals might also tell you where to go for a good
          Rajasthani thali with dal bati etc- you can also get a good version of that
          at Sundar Nagar Market in Delhi.
          Oh by the way, a nice eating experience in Delhi is Dilli Haat and the
          regional food stalls there, most are excellent and you can mix and
          match items from different stalls.
          Also, in most North Indian towns, you can get a nice meal of lassi,
          sweets and savouries from sweetshops typically run by Agarwals etc - look
          out for the kachoris in Rajasthan.

      2. Go to Jaipur in Rajastan, it is beautiful and it has some great local specialities - like lassi. It has lassi bars with 20 different flavors. I had lassi three times a day while I was there.

        1. I strongly second Howler's recommendation of Khajuraho. I was there for 3 days last February. The temples are quite extraordinary -- indeed, beyond catagory as Duke Ellington would say. And to boot, there is some extraordinary food in Khajuraho. At the Taj Chandela hotel, a short walk from town and the temples, they prepare the BEST BBQ grilled chicken I've ever had. I presume it was marinated in tandoori spices, but then grilled, not cooked in a tandoor. So if you are not totally vegetarian, go to Khajuraho for both the soul and the stomach.

          1. jen,

            Since I am from Kolkata, I would recommend Nizam's -
            a Muslim restaurant known for its famous kati roll,
            a kind of wrap with bar-b-q lamb or beef.
            Also next door Bihar very similiar restaurant,
            it is in central Calcutta, next to city hall called
            Calcutta Corporation.

            Also Karco restaurant know for its wrap with chicken also.
            This is in New Market area.

            Also you will find plenty of good indian dishes along free school street and park street area. like Gupta restaurant
            in free school street.

            Local bengali food is not as tasty as the muslim ones.
            Just my opinion. There is Halidram's along Chowringhee
            Road close to Victoria Memorial, it is a food court,
            you can find different regional foods.

            any way so much for now any questions, let me
            know on this board, enjoy your trip.

            Since Hindus considered beef sacred, most of the muslim
            restaurants serve mutton (lamb) and no beef.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ycl1688

              thanks much for the Kolkata recommendations - one thing I have wondered is whether there is any remnant of Lucknowi cooking, since the Awadh court moved to North Calcutta area at the end.
              Do you know whether there is a restaurant cooking those dishes?

              Im hoping to eat some meat in Kolkata, but since I will be with my vegetarian daughter, will have to go along with her wishes as well.

              thanks again!

              1. re: ycl1688

                Bengali food can be quite delicious. Hilsa cooked with a mustard marinade is practically the national dish of Bengal and, cooked right, is meltingly delicious. Bengalis eat a lot of fish - fried, curried, grilled, etc. Luchis, a kind of flour puri, is another bengali speciality. When I was in Calcutta last (about 20 years ago) there were few Bengali restaurants but there must be more now.

                Calcutta is also famous for Indian Chinese food. Chung Wah (on Dharmatolla Street - I think) was good then. Fatty Mummy's, a hole in the wall shack in North Calcutta's tanning district was the buzz. Ask your daughter for the buzz spots in Chinese food these days.

                Nizam's is an institution and a must visit. Visit the original Nizam's behind New Market rather than one of the many branches in the city. Mughalai Parantha, a parantha stuffed with ground meat and eggs, is a speciality of Calcutta. Available everywhere but the best places are just off Chowringhee, the name "Anarkali Cabin" comes to mind but it has been a long long time!

              2. If you're going to Rajasthan PLEASE go to Udaipur. It is the most beautiful town and it has a healthy mix of local culture and tourist comfort. It was the highlight of my very recent trip to India.
                There a several great restaurants in Udaipur. The restaurant at the Jagat Niwas hotel is wonderful as is Ambrai which is on the other side of the famous lake (featured in the Bond film "Octopussy").

                My husband and I took a great cooking class at the Indian Spice Box, a little spice shop there. So now that we're back we can make proper chai and several good, simple, healthy Indian dishes.

                In Delhi go to Karim's for kebabs. Delicious!

                It's true that Indian homecooking is very different (and healthier) than what you eat in restaurants both here and in India.
                But whatever you do, do not avoid food because you're worried about getting sick. There are so many great things to try there and some of the best food we had was street food. Don't censor your eating! My advice, just take an Acidophilus pill every day (or eat a lot of yogurt) in the month leading up to your trip and while you're there.
                My husband and I spent a month in India eating everything and didn't once get sick.

                India is crazy, but great and the food is phenomenal! Such an underrated cuisine!

                1 Reply
                1. re: empecot

                  thanks to all, and keep it coming! Im getting more and more excited about this trip.

                2. If you like or love vegetarian cuisine--you are headed to a veggie paradise--enjoy

                  1. If you stay in family run mid-priced hotels, ask your hosts if they will cook up an authentic local meal for you. The Rajasthani food I ate in my Jaipur hotel (something niwas, could look it up if you like) was outstanding. Simple, but oh so delicious!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: gumnaam

                      thanks, thats exactly what Im planning to do - trying to steer toward family owned places, without buffets and bus groups - and appealing to their pride in their regional food!

                      Jaipur is off my list, but Im sure others reading this thread would be interested in your recommendation - if you have other suggestions in other places, that would be great

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        Looked it up. Of course, it was nothing niwas! The correct name is "nana ki haveli". I'm sure though that any family run place will cook up an equally spectacular meal. I had another one in Mysore - can't remember that name either - but it was great!

                        1. re: gumnaam

                          fyi the name means 'nana's place'.

                          sounds great!

                    2. Jen,
                      If you are interested to taste the remnant of Lucknowi cooking that is still there in Calcutta, definitely there are places to go, but you have to discount the hygene and cleanlyness.

                      The best place is called "Royal" located in Bentinck Street in North Calcutta, near Nakhoda Mosque.....Royal is famous for it's "mutton chanp" or the muttons chops cooked in slow fire.

                      The other places you can try out for "Awadhi" cooking are "Siraz Golden Restaurant" @ Park Circus and "Aminia" and "Rahmania" behind New Market.

                      Hope this will help!!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: diptam

                        Wow, thanks so much! Id just about given up hope on this request,
                        Do you have any other recommendations for Kolkata? Ive pretty much scanned available resources, and actually have a lot of possible choices there - it seems like quite an intense food culture - for example which of the Bengali restaurants are considered best right now?

                        1. re: jen kalb

                          Among the Bengali restaurants in Calcutta, Kewpie's is the oldest one, located in narrow lane in Elgine Road, it's a small place, needs advance booking, also overly priced food.

                          The others are Bhajo-Hari-Manna http://www.bhojohorimanna.org/
                          They have four branches now, I recommend "Hindusthan Park" branch which is near Gariahat More in south calcutta.

                          Another one is "6 Ballugunge Place", again near Gariahat in south calcutta.

                          Other joints are "Aheli" the restaurant of Hotel Peerless Inn @ Chowringhee
                          "Charnock's" at Charnok City, Saltlake, "Bay of Bengal", "Oh!Calcutta" to name a few.

                          I Suggest "Bhojo-Hori-Manna" @ Hindustan Park....

                          1. re: diptam

                            Ill be staying at the RKMission with my daughter, so South Calcutta is great. Im thinking there is a place (Suruchi?) where a group of women cook cooperatively. Is that one on your radar screen? Highly appreciate your advice.

                            1. re: jen kalb

                              How was the trip? Please do share.

                      2. I remember when you first posted, and thought I replied. Don't worry: "the regional home style stuff" is easy to find! Your daughter will know a lot more by now as well. Have fun, the opportunites out there are boundless.

                        1. gumnaam,

                          fatty's mama unfortunately passed away in the 80's in kolkata.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ycl1688

                            Sad but not surprising! Calcuttans (or is it Kolkatans now) must miss her.

                          2. I wanted to bring back this thread because I am about to depart on my (short) india trip which unfortunately will not include Kolkata as Id hoped.Ive done a ton of obsessive research, to get info on, what in the end may be relatively few meals that we have control over (at some of our destinations I know where we are eating), but if anyone has new recommendations for great food at the following destinations, that would be helpful:

                            Delhi - we will probably have the opportunity to eat a maximum of 5 restaurant meals in Delhi, and are staying in S. Delhi. Hoping to stop in at Karim's when in the Old City, apart from that what faves would you recommend?? (Bukhara and Dumpunkt are NOT options - Im not going to push veg daughter to go to more than one meat -oriented place)
                            Is Spice Route good, or a waste for me coming from NY with fusion options here, of an opportunity to eat Indian?

                            Agra - any recommendations here?

                            Udaipur or Jodhpur - ditto

                            Ahmedabad - ditto (we ARE going to Agashiye)
                            Modera or Patan (Gujarat) - a lunch stop

                            Finally, is there a special place to try and buy tea in any of the above cities?

                            I will surely report back

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jen kalb

                              Ooh! We're heading to the same areas in a month. Can you report back on your experiences?

                            2. hi thr. i wud also like to recommend u the cuisine of orissa. it has all he variety and ingradients that u r looking for. about fusion thing, well if u hav visited Puri, the abode of lord jagannath then there's a restaurant called "wild grass" whr u can actually enter the kitchen and get the feel of the food. the greatest satisfaction that one can ever have is to look at how his/her food is cooked.try it. or u cud try the authentic chinese cuisine at the purely chinese restaurant "chung wha" adjacant to it.

                              1. Wondering if jen kalb and/or Raka would be willing to provide recommendations from their relatively recent trips to India. Heading there on vacation next week and would appreciate there insight. Thanks.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: atlas_lion21

                                  where will you be visiting?