— Sayantan Sharma
Eating out during travel could be very exciting. Out of the cool environs of a restaurant, or the warmth of the home, a quick meal in the dhabas and stalls could be a completely new experience. It provides a welcome change for our taste buds rubbed over by the same common items and spices that we are so used to. Above all it gives a great sense of achievement in discovering a new treat, unsung and undocumented in the innumerable food guides or in the all pervasive world wide web. I am also proud of such finds that I happened to make during my outings. I share my experience with the hope that you would feel the same excitement when you yourselves get a chance to encounter them during your journeys.
Being a member of the small group of trekkers at TIFR, most Sundays during the monsoons gave me an opportunity to eat-out. A small foodstall in Karjat used to be our usual hangout for breakfast. Our valiant trekkers would reluctantly pull themselves out of the first morning train with sleepy eyes cursing their luck of missing out the weekend slumber. The hot steamy kanda poha with subtle tinge of lime and the red-hot misal pav contributed a lot to boost the sagging morale of my trekmates. One of our most enthusiastic members would swear by the misal pav-he would not even start the uncertain day without a fair share of it. The spicy tea with its fresh aroma would be a perfect ending to our small breakfast. This tea was much more refreshing than what you get in the cities and you have to come to the Sahyadris to enjoy it. The tea provides a perfect start of our trek on the misty and rainy day.
Most often the treks would be longer than expected, due to us losing our trails in the forest amidst the clouds and rain. The ration in our backpacks would most often be depleted but then the small villages perched on the slopes of the Sahyadris would come to our rescue. I had some of the very tasty lunches in the small home of a kind villager. The menu was simple with very basic vegetables and spices but it tasted simply superb. The steamy coarse rice with the curry and generous spread of kanda tasted heavenly in the warmth and company of my trekmates. Once we were late in our expeditions and a kind villager offered us chicken curry for the dinner. The twilight was fading and we had to trek further down to get back but our leader was very much reluctant to turn down the invitation. Circumstances prevailed upon him and he politely rejected the invitation but he promised with a heavy heart that we will come back again… but alas we are yet to fulfil his promise.
Travel to faroff lands not only enriches ones experience but at the same time pampers the taste-buds as well. A small dhaba in the picturesque Rudraprayag offers you with one of the tastiest dal-chutney. A small lonely shack in Lahaul by the mighty Manali-Leh highway offers you with great momos and fries. Plus perhaps the best ambience for eat-out under the shade of the clouds running aimlessly above you with the serene Himalayas in the background. The holy cities of Haridwar and Varanasi not only give you spiritual enlightenment but also gastronomical bliss. The small hotels on the lanes of Haridwar make sure that you attain ultimate satisfaction during your tryst with the divine. The narrow lanes in Varanasi that lead to the temple of the all pervasive Vishwanath has a very famous rabri shop. It offers one of the best rabris in the country, hot and fresh, heavenly for the connoisseurs… it is rumoured that even the great Lord is a big fan of this rabri. All the famous cities in our country carefully hide its famous eateries from the eyes of the travellers… a trick of the trade maybe. Once you find them out in the dingy markets or the narrow dark alleys, it is a true revelation. A sweet shop lost in the din and the bustle of the market in Jaipur produces some very delicious onion Kachoris. And most of you would agree that narrow lanes of Old Delhi and Bhendi-bazar in Mumbai are pilgrimage sites for the foodies.
To take us to these far off places, railways are still most popular among us. Long train journeys, sometimes stretched further due to delays, could be very well boring without those food stalls on the platforms. The delicious poha from a small stall in the Ratlam station or the tasty puris from a nondescript cauldron on a corner of the Rajahmundry station, the sweet pedas of the Mathura or the hot dal-vada from the Anantapur station, all do their bit to assuage the pangs of hunger of the anxious dishevelled traveller.
Hungry after reading so far? Go out and discover your own favourite food place waiting for you.