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Jan 11, 2012 12:46 PM

New Delhi, Jaipur, Agra suggestions

We are going to India for a few weeks and many of the meals are already covered. However, we are looking for a good restaurant near the Taj Palace Hotel for one night and near the Crown Palace Gurgaon Hotel another night in New Delhi. We are also looking for a restaurant for dinner near the Jai Mahal Palace in Jaipur and near the Taj Gateway in Agra.

Since we have never been to India before, all suggestions are welcome. If any of the restaurants in the hotels are particularly good, we would consider eating there. Though I am a foodie, I know from experience that I have a sensitive stomach and will need to be careful to eat only cooked food. Therefore, I will be looking longingly at street food, but I will need to pass it up.

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  1. I tend to be quite conservative in India as I don't want to have any stomach problems - and I visit every couple of months. Maybe best to start with hotel restaurants then branch out as your stomach adjusts. The Taj group is quite renowned for the quality of its food and chefs and my guess is most of the hotels will have a good high end restaurant as well as a more casual cafe. Once you have adjusted then head out a bit more.

    1 Reply
    1. re: PhilD

      I think that this is excellent advice that I will take. Thanks.

    2. It's a shame that you would rather be conservative with your food options. Honestly, I've always been disapointed with my "high end" meals in India and end up feeling that I've spent so much money when I could have had a much better meal at a "lower class" place. In Delhi, I think the best food is mostly in the Old City. It is phenomenally good. If you feel up to it, I really do think you should try to have a few meals there. There's not necessarily any need to worry about getting sick as most of the food is cooked to order and served fresh and hot. In the good places there is such high turnover that it is probably safer than posh tourist orientated hotels that don't get as many customers and therefore have food hanging around for a long time. You can avoid raw stuff if you'd prefer, very easily.

      My top recommendations from my recent trip to Delhi are:

      *Shyam Sweets in Chawri bazaar - their bedmi aloo is divine and I could eat it all day. Also the nagori halwa is very good if you prefer a sweeter breakfast. Hell, go with a friend, get both and share.

      *Chaina Ram at the end of Chandni Chowk by Fatehpuri Masjid - amazing puri aloo. Seriously, the aloo is just the best thing ever, the fragrance of the ghee combined with the spices is just heavenly. Breakfast of champions.

      *Adarsh Bhojanalaya, just off Chandni Chowk near the Fatehpuri Masjid end - fantastic thali. It's one of those pure veg, desi ghee type places. Your thali comes with a couple of veg dishes, a dal dish, raita, a sweet and chutney. Then a guy keeps coming out from the kitchen and waving a selection of delicious breads in your direction. Have as many plain chapati, missi roti and stuffed paratha of many kinds as you like. Then comes rice. Have you exploded yet?

      *Soni Bhojanalaya, tucked away in a lane off the opposite side of Chandni Chowk from Adarsh Bhojanalaya - another good thali place, with three veg dishes, dal and a sweet. Roti are plain here and not as good as Adarsh, but the thali is good and you get rice too so you won't go away hungry. Also you can get the option to have the thali with extra ghee tadka which turns it into something delicious and unecessarily fatty and then you definitely won't go away hungry!

      *Gianis, on Church Mission Road at the end of Chandni Chowk, Fatehpuri Masjid end - You must must must have rabri falooda here. Oh wait, it does have ice in it, will that be a problem?

      *Chache di hatti in Kamla Nagar (near Delhi University), hey this one is out of the old city! - amazing chole bhature and hugely popular with students and professionals alike. There WILL be a queue. I was recommended to go 11-12am. The ladies queue is shorter so that is a bonus! They have ordinary bhatura but also aloo wala bhatura and the latter is, obviously, amazing and you should definitely have it. Afterwards go for a little walk and make your way to Billi di Hatti for amazing lassi. You will be very full after this though!

      *Andhra Pradesh Bhavan Canteen, not far from Connaught Place - Here's one in the new city that should be very accessible for you. Now, every state of India has a house (bhavan) in Delhi and these houses have a canteen to feed staff and official guests of the state. Some of these canteens happen to also be open to the public and it's a good way to try authentic regional food whilst in Delhi. The AP Bhavan happens to be a very popular place which has a good and inexpensive lunch time thali. It can be pretty busy and service is quite brisk and business-like, but the food is good. The basic thali is vegetarian but you can also ask for the non-veg version which costs more but you get extra meat dishes brought around to you. Having recently been in Andhra Pradesh, I can't say the food blew my mind as it was pretty much just an example of the food I ate in AP itself, but if you aren't familar with Andhra food I think you will find it interesting as well as enjoying the taste.

      I do have other suggestions but I will limit myself to these as this post is already rather long. If you do change your mind about street food, I can also do some chaat recomendations. Actually I can give you one off the bat anyway - Bengali Sweets and Nathus, which are in Bengali Market just a 5-10 minute walk from Connaught Place, both have chaat items which are tourist safe as they advertise that they use filtered water in their golgoppa and so on. I have to say that my experience there was disappointing as I didn't think it was quite right flavourwise, and also I didn't really go for the sanitised atmosphere, but if it's your only way of trying chaat I really think you should go for it.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Muchlove

        Muchlove - great recommendations which I will follow new time I am over in Delhi (although my office is now in Gurgaon which makes life less interesting food wise).

        However, one question to help with context, do you live in India as your location is Allahabad? If so I suspect you maybe acclimatised to food in India especially street food. For the occasional visitor it can be risky (and obviously rewarding). I don't think it is always about how hot or fresh the food is, the hygiene standards of staff handling the food and the general hygiene standards of the restaurant can taint even the freshest, hottest food. A local may not be affected but a visitor who hasn't built up immunity may be. I travel a lot in India and Asia and have a pretty strong constitution but even so have note been immune. Not a big problem for a local but losing a few days from a long haul holiday can be very frustrating.

        1. re: PhilD

          I do live in India at the moment (yes it is 3am here and I am still not in bed even though I have class tomorrow - stupid insomnia!) but I am not local, and although I am mixed race I am more British than I am anything else (for anyone interested I am part Trinidadian, via India, and have been obsessed with India since I was a child). Before this stint of living in India, I was just an occasional visitor and I have always eaten street food and food from more down at heel places. On maybe one or two occassions I have had stomach, but nothing worse than that and it has never lasted more than a day. I do have a strong constitution though.

          The point is, that many people are unnecessarily scared of eating at grubbier looking places when really there is not always a need to fear. A lot of street food is cooked right in front of you and comes piping hot so it really is not going to make you sick. Also, street food stalls and cheap restaurants that are good have a high turnover and are often serving fresher, hotter food than the posher places that tourists think they have to dine at to stay safe. Some of those so-called safer places have barely any customers and the ingredients for food and the prepared food itself has often been hanging around for a long time and is just warmed through for serving. That's how you get sick!

          I don't want to push anyone to try anything that they don't want to, and at the end of the day you have to set your own boundaries, but if something was just cooked right in front of you and is still mouth-burningly hot from being on the stove, you don't need to worry. I have a theory that the reason that so many tourists get sick in India is quite often more to do with things being "different" than things being not safe to eat. They aren't used to eating food with spices in it, and they aren't used to eating so much vegetarian food. It confuses their systems and causes stomach problems. With my background and obsession with Indian food, it was all very familiar and normal to me on my first visit, so I guess that's why I've never really gotten really sick from any of it.

          Oh by the way - locals get sick too, so don't ever be ashamed and feel like a silly foreigner if you fall ill. When it happens, it happens. During monsoon especially, we play "Who is sick this week?" in class!

          1. re: Muchlove

            I do not care how hot or freshly prepared the food is, if the person preparing it touches it with their hands after handling money, I'm going to be a little apprehensive about eating it. YMMV.

            I am a foreign national living in Delhi for the past several months and am very fond of United Coffee House in Connaught Place. It is one of the oldest restaurants in the city and the decor reflects that. I cannot speak to the Veg menu, but I absolutley love their Chicken Mappas and Hyderabad Keema. Not as cheap as a street vendor, but the portions were big enough that I had enough left over for lunch the next day.

            1. re: kylewilliam

              We visited United Coffee House a few years back (its a time capsule and looks the same as when my husband passed through delhi in the early 79s) nice space, but I thought the indian food was mediocre. though the servings were huge. Could see going there for something like a cheese sandwich, though. Note, we ate only veggie dishes, its possible the meat dishes were somewhat better. In that general area Saravanaas Bhavan is very good but of course a totally different thing, south indian vegetarian..

      2. I really appreciate the suggestions and I wish and hope that I will be able to try some of them. We'll see how it goes.

        1. I'll do the same trip in two weeks and need any suggestion for modern food resturant indian or international based in the three cities.


          1 Reply
          1. re: bimbog

            Bimbog - for Delhi. I ate at "Monsoon" in the Le Meridian hotel a few months ago. It is very modern Indian with some interesting ideas and techniques - almost MG - a nice change to the norm. One I intend to try is "Indian Accent" at The Manor Hotel it has a very interesting menu and has gained some plaudits, hopefully back in March so will see if I can fit it in.

          2. We are now back from India and ended up eating most meals at the hotels. By and large they were very good, and we enjoyed different dishes that we will try to replicate at home. Usually when we travel we enjoy trying different restaurants, but the hotel food and meals at some people's homes were surprisingly tasty. Best yet, we didn't have stomach ailments.

            13 Replies
            1. re: veggielover

              I got a little late in adding my suggestion (since you are back). But maybe for your next trip if you would like to get a little adventurous you could try eating from the street before you jump out of your chair...I say street food because...its all fried (sometimes they even fry things right in front of you so that the dish is served hot) and it kills all the germs and bacteria. A few things to try and my all time favorite (I was born and raised in Delhi) would be- chola bhatura, pakore, samosa, tikki and aloo chaat.

              1. re: Veggiezest

                It's not all fried but I do agree with you. And by the way you should always take the freshly made food, do not accept anything sitting around. More than hygeine, think of the fresh taste! Delhi's street food is outstandingly good, it should be tried.

                Actually all over India, the street food and the down-at-heel type places are almost uniformly better than the fancy and five star places. They are catering to the everyday normal people who are after proper local food at a reasonable price. The good places will have a faithful clientel and you will see a crowd - not only of people eating in, but also getting food packed to take home. So many times when I have splurged on an upmarket restaurant, I have found the food disappointing and felt deeply regretful at all those wasted Rs.

                1. re: Muchlove

                  We just returned from ten days in India - Delhi, Agra and the various cities of Rajasthan.

                  I must confess that unlike in SE Asia, I didn't find any of the street food appealing by sight. It all seemed to be fried doughs or potato filled patties and sitting in vast pools of grease and oil. Heavy looking stuff. Just not my thing.

                  I had done a fair amount of research beforehand and we went to a range of restaurants from Punjabi by Nature in New Delhi to a local thali joint in the back streets of Udaipur and I will say we didn't come back from the trip in love with Indian food. Nothing we had in India was better than anything we can get in Dubai (where we currently live and which has an enormous South Asian expatriate community). Almost all the meals were pleasantly enjoyable but frankly, there was a sameness to the food regardless of where we ate which is probably due to the similarity of spices used in multiple dishes. We didn't have any home cooking, which I'm sure is a different beast entirely.

                  On the whole, India was an enjoyable trip if, ahem, interesting and revealing, but food was not one of the highlights even though we ate decently enough and tolerably well. One exception, though, were the lassis. The mango lassi at a cafe in Udaipur was addictive and the lassiwalla shop in Jaipur was almost sublime.

                  1. re: Roland Parker

                    Well, you have to know where to look and what to order. Certainly not all street food is fried dough or potato in pools of oil. I can easily share many photos with you from personal trips to Delhi and other Northern cities (plus Eastern, Western and Southern if you want) and also from the town I live in (Allahabad) that will show that it your statement is absolutely not true.

                    Many hotels and restaurants all over India have the same standard menu of Mughlai and Punjabi food with a few "Southern" dishes and "Chinese" thrown in to. This is what people expect to get at a restaurant, not home cooked or particularly local food. It is pretty non-exciting stuff.

                    However, there are also many dhaba, sweet shops, telawale (cart vendors) and small restaurants that serve exciting and varied local foods. If you go to these places, you will experience far more variety and unusual tastes. You will also tend to eat more "authentically" The best idea is to do a lot of research about what particular dishes are associated with a specific town and where you might find those dishes. Also look for crowded places and try to see what people are ordering.Try to make sure you don't accidently join a queue after seeing a crowd and find out they are all eatin...chowmein! Also, getting invited to someone's home is a definite must. Try to get them to cook you something everyday though, they may try to make something "special" - AKA restaurant style food!

                    Do also bear in mind that many Indians think that Westerners are afraid of Indian food and cannot eat it. Therefore, in both restaurants and homes, they may use different amounts of spices, chilli, salt and oil/ghee than they would when cooking for Indians. In addition, they might think you only want to eat chicken tikka, palak paneer, naan and all the other typical restaurant dishes. Don't get pressured into getting the same old boring stuff everytime.

                    1. re: Muchlove

                      Everything you say is perfectly valid enough although I'll point out that the Indian food we ate was very similar to comparable Indian food in Dubai, in restaurants packed with Indian familes in Indian communities.

                      It was frustrating to discover that after what was carefully done research to end up eating similar food on a night by night basis. But at the same time you probably also have to genuinely love Indian food to pursue and appreciate the more exotic in Indian cooking (and to risk eating street food). I simply don't have that.

                    2. re: Roland Parker

                      I wonder if you could mention the other restaurants you ate at on this trip. I think it is important to try to understand what the regional specialties are - street food is not the only answer. We too had some disappointments along the way in our heavily researched trip, especially in Rajasthan, and it was really when we showed interest in the local dishes that we got the best food..

                      There is no reason why the Indian food in India would be better than food from the same Indian communities served in Dubai - its probably better in Dubai, since the food distribution system in Dubai may be better. We were disappointed in India in many places with the quality of fruit and the lack of many fresh type dishes in restaurants, for example fresh chutneys, obviously due to weaknesses in the food distribution chain, seasonal issues or concerns around sanitation.

                      Finally tho developing, there is still not much of a restaurant culture in India, given the segmentation of the many communities and their clean rules, which result in most eating happening at home or via street snacking.

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        Lots of people eat out in India. There are tonnes of small restaurants, sweet shops (these often serve small meals), dhaba, bhojanalya and street stalls that do a roaring trade. I cannot agree with your statement at all.

                        The problem is that it is incorrect to think that the best food comes from the most expensive or "posh" restaurants. It is also incorrect to assume that the most hygenic food comes from these places. A lot of Indians cannot afford to eat at such places, or at least not often. Therefore it is the cheaper places that cater to a huge crowd of discerning locals on a daily basis that are really under pressure to maintain high standards.

                        I can promise you that there is tonnes of delicious food in India and it is not hard to find. I think many foreigners have a hard time because they know very little about Indian food and don't know what to look for. Also, they do not speak the language and are often afraid of becoming sick. These things combined can make it hard for them to take the courage to sit down in a small joint with no English menu and eat alongside locals.

                        If you came to my town I would never recommend you to eat in any of the hotels or even the most expensive restaurant in town - a hideous place called El Chico (don't ask about the name, it's a tedious story). But I would tell you the sweet shop with the best kachori sabzi, and the other with the best dahi and the most amazing gulab jamun you will ever eat. I can tell you where the best chaat wale are, how the chaat varies in different parts of the city and what time the most in demand guys start. I will encourage you to join a huge crowd to have a thali from a certain open air bhojanalya near a large and well known sabzi mandi. I can tell you which litti chokha stand by the bus station is my favourite, and where you can get the coolest, freshest and most delicious fruit juices in town. I can go on and on.

                        The point is, you would never find these places if you only went inside fancy buildings with AC and waiters in black tie. But that doesn't mean that the food is not safe, and that you will not have a great time.

                        I've been gorging myself all over India for several years and I've always found delicious food of all kinds (not just deep fried snacks but well balanced meals). I'm sorry you weren't blown away by the food you ate. It's possible that Indian food is not your thing of course, but it's also possible you just ate at the wrong places.

                        1. re: jen kalb

                          The restaurants we ate at were:


                          Saranava Bhavan near Connaught Place. A chain of Indian thali places with branches in Dubai as well. It was packed and perfectly fine but not up to par with our favorite thali restaurant in Dubai. We were automatically served puris when I would have preferred rotis. It's still a good lunch option by CP and I believe we paid around $3 per person or $12 for the four of us. We'd gone to Saranava Bhavan after a failed expedition to Dilli Haat that had been recommended because of its large outdoor food court with stalls representing the various regions of India. The place was open but the food court was practically empty save for the billions of flies. By the way, I'd also say it's not worth visiting for the arts/crafts stalls as everything available there is also available in the West at ethnic shops.

                          Punjabi by Nature. A Punjabi restaurant highly recommended by various guidebooks, Delhi food magazines/blogs and tripadvisor. It was fine. Good food, the usual northwest Indian kebabs and daals. Just not spectacular and we preferred our favorite Punjabi joint in Dubai. Lovely setting. The bill came to between $25-30/head, affordable for us but what must be a ginormous fortune by Indian standards.

                          In Agra we had a quick lunch at an anonymous guesthouse cafe near the Taj Mahal. The sign said "Recommended by Lonely Planet." Food was unremarkable. Bland thali. We spotted a Costas on the way out of the city and had a perfectly pleasant cappucino in an oddly western setting amidst Indian chaos.

                          That night we arrived in Jaipur after a long drive that included a stop at Fatephur Sikri. Because of the late hour and that we were tired and dirty (the hired car's AC failed shortly into the drive) we showered and ate in Suvarna Mahal restaurant at the Rambagh, where we were staying. We ordered various Rajasthani dishes including lamb maal. Lovely setting, lovely service, well-prepared but not sublime food. Very expensive.

                          The next two nights we ate at the rooftop restaurant at the Pearl Palace guesthouse that had been recommended by several of our friends. The food was more or less of the same caliber as at the Rambagh but at a fraction of the price and more enjoyable in its own way. The Lamb maal was delicious as were the other curries, but not necessarily breathtaking.

                          We did stop at lassiwalla lassi stall just outside the old city of Jaipur and I did enjoy the lassi. The sweet lassi was just perfect, not very sweet and a hint of tanginess from the yoghurt.

                          In Jodhpur we took our lesson from the Rambagh and avoided the hotel restaurant and instead had most of our meals at Jhankar, a rooftop restaurant in the old city. It was very atmospheric and run by a Jain family, so the food was vegetarian and supposedly also didn't feature garlic or onions. It was cheap, pleasant but forgettable. The views of the fort was more impressive.

                          In Udaipur we ate one lunch at Natraj Lodge, a local thali joint buried in the modern part of the city. We were the only westerners in the place. The thali was fine and served with roti. Not as good as our favorite place in Dubai but it was a welcome change from the standard Rajasthani curries, dumplings and butter rich naans.

                          We ate one dinner at Jainwana Haveli rooftop restaurant. Perfectly pleasant standard Rajasthani food. Similar to the Pearl Palace in Jaipur but at twice the price. The bills still only came out to about $10 per head. We had another dinner at an adjoining hotel which was more or less the same.

                          Our last lunch and dinner in India were at a restaurant recommended to us by another tourist in Udaipur: Millets of Mewar. It's run by several vegetarian brothers serving modern and very fresh Indian food. They only use filtered water in their cooking so you can eat the salads. We very much enjoyed the light, refreshing dishes. It's certainly not what your average Indian eats given that we could actually taste the different ingredients used other than the spices, but I appreciated the new take on Indian ingredients.

                          On the whole Indian food seems to be boiled down to one principle: overcook it into mush and blast it with so many spices. It's certainly not a subtle school of cooking and the flavors of the raw ingredients are forsaken for the spices. An different philosophy of cooking and while I can enjoy Indian food it will never have a special place or appreciation from me that French, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese or Japanese food do.

                          1. re: Muchlove

                            thanks @Roland Parker for your rundown. Im sure it will be helpful to others, even if mostly to gulde them where not to go!

                            I think that the recommendations one will find just about anywhere for AGRA JAIPUR or UDAIPUR are going to result in very disappointing meals because these restaurants are churning it out for Indian and foreign tourists and don't have to be careful in their cooking and will provide bland and dumbed down Indian food. Certainly, recommendations from other Western tourists are likely to be of tourist restaurants such as the rooftop restaurants you visited and they are likely to be uninspiring or downright bad.

                            I cant tell you how few of this class of restaurants we visited served dishes with any tarka (final sizzled oil-spice garnish) or any herbs or fresh chiles at all. its also true that rajasthan is an arid climate with more reliance on dry groceries like chickpea flour, dal and meats and dairy items than fresh foods in their basic cuisine.

                            Even with a knowledgeable local guide in a place like Agra, distances around town are great, making it hard to find a restaurant on your own just by walking around, and a driver may not trust taking a tourist to "dirty" street food places or dhabas regardless of what the tourist says. They may also be inclined to take tourists to places that compensate them for the business.

                            So there are a number of reasons why a tourist may have a disappointing or at least a mixed eating experience in these areas.

                            @Muchlove, It would be great to see some specific recommendations from Chowhounds in some of these towns - even a direction to where in the town good street food options might be found and what to look for. Otherwise folks like OP will continue to struggle and not get a good impression.

                            ps. we thought Dili Haat was a waste of energy foodwise - mainly momo stands and not very many patrons for any of the regional food stalls. We found nothing we wanted to eat. I dont agree regarding the handicrafts - the saris and other regional silks and handprint cotton textiles were quite good - maybe the same items are available in shops in Dubai but not in NY.

                            Saravanaas Bhavan was good in Delhi when we visited, no better than in NY, however. Its perfectly understandable that OP could prefer a maker of masala dosai in Dubai.

                            1. re: jen kalb

                              I thought the Saravanaa Bhavan on Janpath (this is the one were talking about, or is there a second location on CP, that seems ridiculous but i never underestimate the potential for things that baffle me when it comes to india) was quite good, better than most south indian options in delhi and on par with our favorite nyc south indian at the temple in flushing. the family likes sagar a lot, but other than their superlative dahi vada, im just ok with it. not in a rush to ever go back to chennai, but the "original" location of SB blew the roof off the other locations ive been to - it was like a different establishment entirely.

                              we had pretty good food at dili haat but i agree its not a destination (for food). the regional stalls are pretty sad (and presumably not operated by folks from the actual regions/without access to local ingredients, so im not sure how they could be much better). that said we had some tasty fried momos and chili garlic noodle thing.

                              the handicrafts thing can be hit or miss - the selection at DH changes based on the exhibits, ive been when there was next to nothing worth buying and when we ran out of cash we were buying so much. (my in-laws are in delhi so ive been several times, and on one trip the exhibit had turned over during our month-long stay and we were unable to find things we'd assumed would still be around just a week or so later).

                              totally agree with you on the "indian food for tourists is weak" train of thought - and even with a local guide it can be hard to overcome attitudes about what is clean/good enough to take foreigners to (ive experienced this with my mother-in-law who is more cautious about what i ingest than even i am, though to her great credit we ate at the filthy parathawalligalli and enjoyed ourselves considerably).

                              1. re: tex.s.toast

                                agree about the pleasures of parathewalegulli eating! Delhi can be tough for different reasons than Agra-Udaipur-Jaipur, simply its size - finding food near where you happen to be at a given time can be a challenge.

                                Sagar would be an example of what I would consider a clean, middle class restaurant where you can sit down and take your time eating a meal. It seems like there are an increasing number of these in Delhi. Sorry we missed it - we chose its sister restaurant Swagath instead, which was good but not inspirational.

                                1. re: jen kalb

                                  agreed. i dont LOVE sagar (unlike my SO who ate there twice when she was in town this last week) but it is conistent and a much better value than some of the more aspirational "upscale" places that seem to be proliferating (im looking at you, Great Kabab Factory at Saketh, which wasnt bad but was a silly concept - just too much food at too high a price, not objectively but for India, where equally or considerably more delicious food can be found in so many other places).

                                  I think Punjabi by Nature probably falls into this category too, though ive heard some good things (and am intruiged by the booze golgappa) it seems unlikely that my punjabi mother in law would ever take us for punjabi food outside the house - it couldnt meet her standards unless she stormed the kitchen and took over the operations herself.

                                  Another winner in my book, not too far from the Janpath Saravanaas is Kwality restaurant. My favorite channa batura ever (even though it sits like a ton of bricks in your stomach, its part of the charm). its old-school, not super duper cheap, but unpretentious and good, despite attracting a fare share of tourists its not kept afloat solely because of the tourist traffic.

                    3. re: Veggiezest

                      My rule for eating street foods *safely* in India is to *always* patronize a stall with a queue - the food is usually freshly prepared.