India is not only home to diverse cultures and contrasting topography. It is also where long-lost recipes meet fusion food, and fine dining experiences go hand in hand with street-side stalls. Indulge in familiar dishes like butter chicken or discover lesser-known gems like the blue cheese naan on these 10 food trails. By Tanvi Jain & Rashima Nagpal
STREET FOOD in Mumbai
As modern and sophisticated as Mumbai is, Mumbaikars cannot do without its dynamic street food culture. Nothing beats a serving of vada pav (deep fried potato dumpling placed inside a bread bun sliced in half through the middle) and cutting chai after a long day. The countless idli-sambar joints scattered across the city continue to be breakfast hubs for locals who hustle to work every morning. South Indian fare can be found easily in the suburbs of Mumbai, but Café Madras takes the cake in this category. Much like its overarching cosmopolitan character, the street food scene in Mumbai also draws from several cultures. One of the other popular street snacks, the pav bhaji, is said to have its origins in the US. Food historians trace its history back to the 1840s, when Mumbai merchants trading cotton made fortunes, thanks to the global shortage caused by the American Civil War. These businessmen started work early and finished late, so local hawkers created a fast- food snack of curried vegetables and mashed potatoes, with a side of buttery bread roll, for traders to munch at the end of a long day. Cannon Pav Bhaji, opposite Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, which opens as early as 7 am, is a popular joint that serves up a mean plate of this snack. Roadside sandwich stalls are likely to catch your fancy if you’re visiting for the first time. Save some space for this bestselling snack at the Sai Ganesh Sandwich Stall near St Xavier’s College that offers over 50 freshly-made varieties.
Almost all major international airlines operate direct flights to Mumbai.
From sleek properties, such as the 60-room The Park Mumbai (starts from INR 9,000/US$126), to some of the most iconic hotels in the country, such as Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai (starts from INR 29,000/ US$405), Mumbai has no dearth of stay options.
FINE DINING in Delhi
Once you’ve had your fill of the cultural riches of the national capital, spend some time on its impeccable gastronomic experiences—those that are marked by the clink of glasses and cutlery, where lavish upholstery and luxurious decor ushers you in, and secret recipes and marvellous presentation take over. A trip to Delhi is incomplete without a meal at Indian Accent— the first Indian-origin restaurant to have made it to the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Helmed by the extraordinary Chef Manish Mehrotra, Indian Accent is known for its innovative take on Indian cuisine (think blue cheese naan and galautis stuffed with foie gras among other things). From The New York Times columnists to Michelin star chefs, the restaurant has a long list of admirers. At Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, regional Indian cuisine dons a modern avatar, but the keyword at this elegant restaurant is molecular gastronomy. One of the corridors of Roseate House leads to Kheer, a glorious 250-seater restaurant that brings to life flavours of India’s regal past.
Delhi is well connected to most domestic and international airports.
TEA TIME in Darjeeling
Darjeeling tea is a variety used widely across the world. It makes sense then, for tea enthusiasts, to embark on a journey through the estates that grow these tea leaves
of global repute. At present, close to 46,000 acres of Darjeeling are covered with tea gardens. Black and oolong, China and Assam, green and white—there are many varieties that come out of the 80-odd tea estates in and around the city. While many estates have adopted the Crush, Tear, Curl (CTC) method of producing tea, some continue to charm with their traditional processes. For an immersive experience, stay at one of the residential tea gardens where the process is demonstrated. They also offer insight into the life of tea workers who carefully nurture the delicate plants and hand-pluck the shoots at the time of harvest. Enjoy the variety of bird life, butterflies, and flora that make up a tea estate’s ecosystem. Relax by the rivers in the vicinity and paddle in the rock pools, as you enjoy a cuppa fresh from the farms.
The Bagdogra International Airport in Siliguri is the closest one to Darjeeling (70.4 km) and is well connected to major Indian cities. Druk Air operates international flights to Bagdogra.
TIBETAN TRYST in Dharamshala
IN 1959, WHEN the 14th Dalai Lama went into exile and moved to India, many a civilian Tibetan followed him and found refuge in different parts of the country. This marked the beginning of the Tibetan settlement in India. Gradually, the hill station of Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh became the official hometown of the Dalai Lama. Ever since, Dharamshala and its suburb of McLeod Ganj has become a hub of Tibetan population. Hence, you find the most authentic flavours of soul-stirring Tibetan cuisine here. Think home-style tingmo breads, thenthuks and thukpas (vegetable or meat broths with noodles), yogurt infused curries, sinful deep-fried shabhalay (deep fried stuffed mince pockets), and much more. Many restaurants such as the Tibet Kitchen at Jogiwara Road serve these delicacies. Owing to the welcoming nature of the region, people from all over the world have come to call Dharamshala home. And so, unsurprisingly, multi-cultural cafes have added to its enticing culinary landscape. Some of the popular names include Illiterati, Namgyal Café, Woeser Bakery, and Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen.
The nearest airport to Dharamshala is in the city of Pathankot (88 km). Regular flights connect major Indian cities to Pathankot.
Fortune Park Moksha boasts beautiful views of the snow-capped Dhauladhar mountain range (starts from INR 5,949/ US$83) and The Exotica offers luxury cottages and deluxe rooms (starts from INR 8,000/US$111).
TEMPLE RUN in Odisha
Odisha’s food is unlike any other. A potpourri of cultures, flavours, and cooking techniques, it fascinates you. And in the cities of Bhubaneswar and Puri, the experience goes well beyond flavour. Famous for their age-old temples, both cities are replete with folklore and tradition. For instance, it is said that Lord Jagannath appeased his wife with a rasgulla, at the Jagannath Temple in Puri, after he returned from a nine-day pilgrimage. A dozen other tales will crop up as you sit down to eat a 56-course meal in its corridors. It takes no less than 752 wood-fired stoves and over 600 cooks to prepare these holy dishes, collectively called mahaprasad, for the thousands of pilgrims visiting each day. Likewise, in Bhubaneswar’s Ananta Vasudeva Temple, a similar platter that includes dishes such as plain rice, ghia anna (lemon spiced ghee rice), khechudi (asafoetida-laced khichdi), kanika (sweet rice with warm spices), dalma (dal cooked with indigenous seasonal vegetables like plantain, gourds, eggplant, and drumstick), mitha dali (sweet dal), saaga (lightly seasoned, braised leafy greens with coconut), accompanies the centuries-old temple rituals.
Bhubaneswar’s Biju Patnaik Airport is well connected to major Indian cities. Puri is 60 km from Bhubaneswar.
SPICE ROUTE in Thekkady
A trip to Kerala is complete until you go on a full-fledged spice trail. It helps you understand where the state’s penchant for aromatic and pungent gravies comes from. For a better perspective, we need to go back a few thousand years when the state’s fame as the land of spices fascinated many explorers who chanced upon its shores, including Vasco Da Gama whose love for Kerala’s pepper resulted in new trade routes. There are spice warehouses scattered across Mattancherry, the old Jewish town in Kochi that tempts you with the fragrance of the finest ginger, turmeric, cardamom, pepper, and more. In Thekkady, a town that literally smells like a heady mix of spices, most of the resorts come with a spice garden of their own. Spice Village, modelled on the dwellings of the native Manan tribe offers cooking classes that revolve around local spices. Walk around Abraham’s Spice Garden in Spring Valley, Thekkady, and stock up on fresh cardamom, vanilla, pepper, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.
Madurai airport is the nearest airport to Thekkady (150 km) and is well connected with major cities of India. The nearest railway station to Thekkady is in Kottayam, located 107 km away. The railway station in Kottayam is well connected to major cities across India. You can hire a cab from Kottayam to get to Thekkady.
Quaint cottages surrounded by waterfalls and spice scented plantations make Cardamom County an ideal stay option in Thekkady (starts from INR 13,500/US$188). You can also choose to stay in the rustic-chic quarters of Spice Village (starts from approx `18,840/US$263).
PORTUGUESE TRAIL in Goa
Starting with the bread called pao, the Portuguese influence in Goan food is undisputable. This tiny coastal state was under Portuguese rule until 1961, decades after the rest of the country received independence. So, every lane, house, and dish in this party capital boasts a dash of Portuguese flavour. Potatoes, tomatoes, pineapples, guavas, cashews—Portuguese have contributed significantly to Goan cuisine, and their spicy peri-peri chilli is as important as any other condiment in the country.
It is impossible to land in Goa and not come across these dishes—arroz doce (a Portuguese derivative of kheer), feijoada (pork and beans stew), vindaloo—a spicy curry whose name is derived from the Portuguese term for garlic and wine marinade (vinho e alho)—and chorizo sausage.
Horse Shoe Bar and Restaurant, located in Rua de Ourém, is a bistro where a single chef prepares all the classic Laso-Indian dishes and offers you the best version of bacalhau (dried and salted cod) and bean-and-pork feijoada. For a plate of scrumptious and budget-friendly vindaloo, head to Viva Panjim, a small eatery inside an old Portuguese-style house at Rua 31 de Janerio.
Goa airport is well connected to most major cities in India. Many buses ply from Goa to towns and cities in neighbouring states, such as Mumbai, Pune, Belgaum, Hubli, Bengaluru, Mangaluru, etc.
COFFEE BREAK in Coorg
This misty South Indian hill station is a paradise for bean lovers. Beautifully manicured coffee gardens await you here. There’s a local saying in Coorg that a planter not only puts a lot of hard work into growing coffee, but also dedicates his entire lifetime to it, as the beverage needs to be taken care of like a child. Drop by any of the plantations here to get a peek into the stages of coffee production—pruning, picking, drying, and so on. Coorg is home to the world’s best mild java and is the leading producer of mainly two types—Arabica and Robusta. You can stock up on both these varieties at any shop in the town. February marks the beginning of the coffee season here, and by November, the white blossoms turn into ripe red coffee cherries. At just `500/US$7, you can enjoy a tour of a plantation. At Ama Plantations Trail, sip on a cup of hot coffee while the guide takes you around the beautiful estate, which has well-appointed heritage bungalows, some over a hundred years old.
Mangaluru (137.8 km) and Bengaluru (248.5 km) are the two nearest airports
to Coorg. Both are well-connected to the rest of the country.
The Windflower Resort and Spa is situated amidst 25 acres of coffee estate (starts from INR 12,600/ US$176). The Tamara Coorg is home to the most aromatic coffee, cardamom and pepper plantations, beautiful streams, and gushing waterfalls (starts from INR 14,000/US$196).
COASTAL CIRCUIT in Kochi
Queen of the Arabian Sea, Kochi, is the ideal destination for a beach vacation. Be it sunbathing at Cherai beach or enjoying lush greenery at Fort Kochi beach, the city has much to offer beach lovers. One of these offerings is its coastal cuisine that will have you coming back for more. From prawns and lobsters to local favourites like karimeen (pearl spot), ayala (mackerel), and mathi (sardines)—Kochi serves up a wide variety of seafood. Karimeen pollichathu is one of the star dishes, where marinated pearl spot fish is wrapped in banana leaf and grilled to perfection. The Grand Pavilion located at MG Road, Ernakulam is famous for its authentic Kerala cuisine, especially the pearl spot preparations. In fish molly, the catch of the day is cooked in a coconut milk-based gravy. Mary’s Kitchen located at KB Jacob Rd, Fort Kochi, serves the best fish molly in the city. Apart from enjoying the delicacy, visitors can also enrol for Mary’s cooking classes, and learn to make some authentic Kerala dishes. Don’t forget to sample a plate of fish peera, where sardines are cooked in grated coconut.
The nearest Cochin International Airport is located 30 km from the city and is connected to major cities in India.
At Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty, you can book suites and villas facing the backwaters (starts from INR 10,000/US$139). Taj Malabar Resort & Spa, situated on the Willingdon Island, provides a magnificent view of Cochin Harbour (starts from INR 8,500/US$118).
DESSERT SAFARI in Kolkata
To end your culinary journey across India on a sweet note, head to Kolkata—the City of Joy will definitely give you a sugar high. Start off with rosogolla (a syrupy dessert of ball-shaped dumplings of cheese curds and semolina dough). If you are daring enough, sample the dish in other interesting flavours—green chilli, lemon barley, cappuccino coffee, gundi paan or sweet paan, and sizzler. When in town don’t forget to visit the Mishti Hub in Eco Park to try some of these varieties. Next, get your hands on the winter dessert in Kolkata—nolen gur (jaggery extracted from date palm trees). This delicacy becomes a part of everything, from cocktails to puddings and even chicken. Sandesh, a dessert made of milk and sugar, is one of the most widely known and appreciated sweet recipes of Bengali cuisine, and no household ever runs out of it. During the rice-harvest festival in Bengal, you can catch the whiff of patishapta everywhere. It is the Bengali variant of crêpe, with a filling of jaggery and grated coconut, served with or without milk. Every sweet shop in Kolkata also boasts the famous lobong lotika, a crispy dessert in which dry fruits and grated coconut are enclosed like an envelope and sealed with a single clove.
Netaji Subhash Chanda Bose International airport is around 17 km from the heart of the city. Kolkata is connected to Delhi and other major cities by superfast trains like Rajdhani and Shatabdi as well.
The Oberoi Grand Kolkata is situated in the heart of Kolkata and is close to major landmarks (starts from INR 12,500/ US$174). ITC Royal Bengal offers the elegance of a noble home (starts from INR 14,500/US$201).