Banaras – Food & People

Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat
Tamatar Chaat- Kashi Chaat Bhandar
Tamatar Chaat- Kashi Chaat Bhandar

Banaras: The city of legendary street food and warm people. Things to do in Banaras/Varanasi.

It’s been more than a month, since I visited the ancient city of Banaras ( Read Best Places to Eat in Banaras ). With its busy lanes always bustling with people and its various offerings, Banaras is easy to love and abhor in equal measures. So, if you’re looking for some time to think and relax in peace, it might not be the place for you.

Honestly, I remember doing umpteen trips to Assi Ghat from Dashashwamedh Ghat and finding it irksome to deal with the chaos. Constant honking, human traffic jams and crazy driving, they can drive you nuts! Nevertheless, if you were looking to meet the nicest people, people from different ethnicities and especially, avid food lovers, then there’s no place else you’d rather be.

One can actually trace down their way through various shops of kachoriwalas, lassiwalas, chaiwalas, paanwalas, mithaiwalas and even dosa-idlywalas. People living here, live to eat.

For the locals, an early morning Kachori breakfast is just as important as reading a newspaper. This is followed by freshly made (and coated in sugar syrup) Jalebis. And, if its wintertime, a cup of Malaiyyo is absolutely indispensable. This frothy air like dessert made up of milk, saffron, sugar and nuts is the prized possession of Banaras. Though, Delhi has its poor cousin called Daulat Ki Chaat, no self respecting Banarasi will ever eat it.

Another indispensable part of the local Banaras flavour is regular supply of tea. throughout the day. That’s why there are tea stalls with cult status amongst tea lovers. And come noon, it’s chaat time in Banaras. Available throughout the day, chaat to Banaras is what sweets are to Bengal. I found people sitting at the Chaat Bhandars and eating to their heart’s content, any time of the day. I’ve heard people organize chaat parties at their places just like how the English plan high-tea for their guests. Tamatar Chaat, Chivda Matar, Palak Patta Chaat, Aloo Tokri Chaat, Samosa Chaat – there’s no such thing as enough chaat in Banaras. Tamatar Chaat, the most celebrated one, is served hot. Traditionally, it was made of crushed Aloo Tikki, ripened tomatoes caramelized along with tikkis, makhanas, sugar syrup and namak pare on top. Kashi Chaat Bhandar and Deena Chaat Bhandar are famous for serving the best versions of it, but each chaat bhandar has its own take on how to make it and it’s just as tasty. This fried, sweet, salty, tangy and chili mix of chaat reaffirms the city’s status as a ‘paradise for vegetarians’.

I was also amused to see many Idly-dosa counters near Dashashwamedh Ghat. The city of temples and prayers became home to many Tamilians many years ago. Now they have schools, guest houses and restaurants all over the city, where they dine, day and night. Piping hot dosas, vadas, Nariyal Laddus and idlis for breakfast, there’s plenty of food for them to feel at home.

Not far away from these South-Indian counters, there are shops serving sweets made of chenna, just like how they would make it in Bengal ( Read about my first Bengali Meal in Kolkata. I found these old sweet shops selling sandesh, barfis, pedas and pantuas.

Dairy products in Banaras are much celebrated, whether it’s Malaiyyo, Barfi or a glass of Lassi. The hand churned sweetened Lassi is best for your palate when you’re done eating fried kachoris and chaat. Being Lord Shiva’s Kashi, there’s plenty of Thandai, the drink Lord Shiva loved indulging in. There are quite a few government-licensed shops selling Thandai with Bhaang (Read Where you can find Bhaang Lassi in Delhi.

Rich in culture and history, this place attracts a lot of foreign tourists. A Korean author went back to Korea and wrote a book about his experiences in this fabled city. As a result there are many Koreans (as well as Japanese), who can be found eating at the various ramshackle eateries or indulging in Butter-Toast with sweet milk Tea. There are even dance schools, where many Japanese girls learn traditional dance forms like Kathak.

Locals have become so accustomed to different cultures that they welcome everyone with open arms. For years Banaras has been home to Tamilians and Bengalis. Besides, one of the most heartening features about this city is its Ganga-Jamuna culture, where Hindu-Muslim do not just co-exist but live in harmony. The city of Banaras, housing myriad people, has definitely become richer by being crowded and exudes love through its space, food and people.

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