Out on Navratra? Donít miss these shudh shakahari bhojans... A word of caution, though: some may have onion and garlic.
Bengalis do not turn vegetarian for Durga Puja or Navratri. The bhog served at the mandap for lunch is vegetarian all right, but check out the food stalls on the periphery of the pandals. You will find a wide range of non-veg fare from mutton biryani and chicken chowmein to devilled eggs and moghlai parathas. And yes, everyone is hogging merrily away! But for those who follow Navratri stipulations to the T, itís obviously shudh shakahari all the way. There is enough variety in that too. And if youíre willing to be a little liberal with your food, follow our trail outside Delhi.
If you are in the Pink City during the festivities, do make a visit to Rawatís. The nondescript shop is crawling with customers at every hour of the day. Degchis of pyaj ki kachauri ó Rawatís staple snack ó finish in minutes and the man in the corner, laboriously fluffing up 10-12 kachauris over a bubbling cauldron, can barely keep pace. You can eat at the shop itself, provided you can find space, or get some packed for your road journey. Wash it down with creamy lassi and lick your lips with satisfaction. You can also buy divine kalakand, kesar laddu, rasgulla and salted snacks like paneer pakoras.
In our enthusiasm to see the Taj Mahal, we often forget to check out the myriad food options in Agra and do miss out on a lot! A meal at Surya Nagarís Kwality restaurant offers good value for money. Although it specialises in non-veg cuisine, the eateryís shudh shakahari bhojan is hugely popular. Try the matar pulao, shahi paneer, lachha parantha, and stuffed shimla mirch. Capri in Hari Parwat offers a similar cuisine and naturally has the same clientele. If youíre in the neighbourhood, visit Panchhi Petha and pick your choice of these pumpkin delicacies, and Bhimsen ki Mithai for assorted sweets.
Eating out in Amritsar? You must have the Amritsari kulcha and lassi. It is common to see turbaned men churning curd, whey and sugar in steel jugs at every nook and corner of the city, with most of them serving decent fare but the best lassi comes from a shop located near Hindu Mahasabha College. Although a liberal amount of water is used to create the lassi, it is the superior quality of the curd that makes a difference to the taste. The Amritsari kulcha shop near Maqbool Road is popular for its gheesmeared kulchas. It is packed with an ample filling of potatoes, onions and green chillies.
In the holy city of the Ganges, you wonít get murg, mutton, or any meat for that matter. Forget eggs too, along with onions and garlic. Start your day with poori and aloo ki sabji, khasta kachori or dahi kachori made with pure desi ghee and end the lavish breakfast with suji ka halwa. Chotiwala, close to Har-ki-Pauri, is famous for its gheeinfused food. Some shops also serve rich and creamy pista kheer. This wholesome fare is served round the clock.
In Mathura too, youíre in godís land, more specifically Lord Krishnaís. It may be a good idea to do a day trip to Mathura during Navratras. In the busy Holi Gate area is the shop of Shankar Mithaiwala. Try the poori, khasta kachori and chhole bhature. If you like traditional food, flavoured with a bit of heeng, this is the place you should visit. The dahi chaatis to die for, while the frothy lassiin tiny kulhads is so great, it will make you order a second helping. If youíre lucky, you might get to tuck in on moong dal halwaand gajar ka halwaas well.