India’s culinary heritage makes the country a paradise for foodies. The rich tapestry of flavours makes you step out of your comfort zone and dive into the ocean of flavours waiting to be explored. People have been known to make road trips to sample their favourite foods in another state.
And nothing beats the charm of a petrichor-filled long drive in the monsoon with Sanu and Rafi songs playing on loop on the audio system, and wind in your hair.
Food remains one of the major reasons to travel and yet, it would take us several lifetimes to try every dish this country has to offer. Where does one even begin? Knowing how overwhelming the choice can be, we spoke with a few foodies who were happy to share their food road trip experiences with us.
These are people who would not mind travelling from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Assam to Gujarat, only for their love for good food. We hope they will help you nudge in the right direction and plan a food-to-drive-for outing soon. Look out for the second part of this series to know more about such hidden gems!
Chennai to Nellore for Nethi Dosalu
Abhinaya Saahas has taken many road trips from Chennai to Nellore just for a taste of nethi dosalu. Every time the sky turns cloudy, and the heavens open up, the Content Specialist and her family wake up as early as 5 am and leave for Andhra Pradesh’s Nellore to reach just in time for the 8am breakfast.
Saahas fondly recalls how she had taken her husband on the same road trip after their wedding. “It has become a tradition of sorts where I take new additions to my family on this road trip and nurture lifetime relations with them in between bites of crispy nethi dosalu,” she says.
Nethi dosalu is a dosa redolent with ghee and filled with a really spicy Andhra special chutney. It’s popularly known as ghee karam dosa.
The roadside joints also serve hot idlis and vadas but Saahas and her family go there primarily for the dosa.
OT Recommends: In Nellore, you must also try the popular Nellore chepala pulusu, a fish curry that everyone in Andhra Pradesh swears by. Seafood lovers must not leave without tasting the variety of prawn dishes. The Nellore royyala vepudu is the most popular one. If you have a sweet tooth, this Andhra town is also famous for malai kaaja.
Gandhinagar to Ahmedabad for Non Veg at Bhatiyar Gali
While some people travel from Ahmedabad to Gandhinagar just to have the paranthas at popular outlet Parantha Factory, mostly it’s the other way round. Mumbai-based engineer Shubham Saxena talks about his days as a student in Gandhinagar, and sneaking out of his hostel with friends to satiate late night cravings for some hardcore non vegetarian at Ahmedabad’s Bhatiyar Gali.
The narrow alley near Teen Darwaza is known for serving delectable Mughlai cuisine. Saxena and his friends would leave their campus as late as 11pm and still manage to find their favourite eateries open. “I like going to ZK Fry Centre, for the keema, chicken tikka and roti. It was my set order,” he says, He still travels all the way to Ahmedabad from Mumbai just for Bhatiyar Gali’s chicken.
A meal is not complete unless you end it with a mouthwatering dessert. “Next to the non-veg shops in Bhatiyar Gali stands a falooda stall, which serves possibly one of the best kulfi faloodas that I have ever eaten,” he says.
OT Recommends: You can’t visit Bhatiyar Gali and not have the one-of-its-kind tiny bera samosas that come piping hot with a spicy meat filling. Equally popular are the tava biryani, bheja masala, chaap fry, bhuna gosht, chicken angaar and deep-fried meatballs. Bhatiyar Gali comes alive post sunset, and late at night is possibly the best time to visit this alley filled with old-world charm and inviting aromas of mixed spices.
Delhi to Almora for Pahadi Cuisine
Not much is known about pahadi food and although it varies across mountain regions, local ingredients, innovative methods of cooking (developed by a life in difficult terrain) and a subtle expression of flavours are common elements everywhere. Delhi-based LGBTQ activist and scribe Anindya Tripathi once travelled to Almora, only to eat at Joshjus Restaurant. The food was so good that she had to cancel her plans to visit Jageshwar and Munsiyari. “I ended up staying in Almora for three days just for the food,” says Tripathi.
Among the pahadi delciacies that she tried, it was the unique bhaang ki chutney that really stood out. “It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever had,” Tripathi remembers. The seeds of the bhaang plant are dry roasted and then made into a paste. The paste is then sieved to remove the husk. It is then mixed with lime, salt and chillies. It goes perfectly with the earthy madhua roti. The flavour of stone-ground bhaang seed is heavenly, she says.
“I relished several specialities at Joshjus including rai ka raita, bhat ke dubke, madhua roti and bhuna chicken. The locally consumed grains like bhat and madhua added a very authentic appeal to the dishes that used local herbs like jambu (a citrus herb used for tempering)."
The food came as a welcome departure from what North Indians are usually accustomed to, she says.
Joshjus restaurant prides itself on authentic home-style food that uses basic spices and indigenous methods of cooking. Most of their food is cooked on firewood using clay pots. “This is one of the many trips that I have undertaken just to experience different cuisines and find authentic recipes,” says Tripathi, who is also a cook at heart.
OT Recommends: While most restaurants in Almora serve the usual north Indian fare, they would love to treat your palate with authentic Kumaoni food. You must find a way to taste bhatt, a locally grown black soy bean. Another favourite of pahadis is dubuk, which is best served with rice, bhang ki chutney and crushed raddish. Dubuk is essentially prepared with a fine paste of bhatt ki dal and slow-cooked in an iron kadhai. When it comes to desserts, don't miss sampling Almora’s bal mithai, a brown fudge prepared with roasted maava and coated with white sugar balls.
Mumbai to Lonavala for Corn Bhajia
Lonavala and monsoons is a match made in heaven. What makes the combination all the more special are crispy corn bhajias with hot chai at Tiger Point. Roshni Singh, a PR professional fondly remembers the many trips she has taken to Lonavala just for her favourite corn bhajia.
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The Mumbai-based professional has battled low visibility during monsoons just to savour what she terms as a perfect snack for a monsoon road trip. “Corn bhajias are fritters which you won’t find anywhere else in India, and one of my main reasons to visit Lonavala in monsoons is getting to enjoy these crispy and crunchy pakodas,” Singh says. The dish has corn kernels tossed in spices and coated in a batter of corn flour and gram flour and deep-fried. They are sprinkled with the chilly powder that's used as a topping on vada paav and served hot with either chutney or tomato ketchup. And a cup of tea, of course.
OT Recommends: Needless to say, a trip to Lonavala is not complete until you have picked up a few boxes of the famous chikki. Made from jaggery and any combination of peanuts, sesame seeds, rajgira, the crunchy and sweet Lonavala chikki is one of India’s favourite snacks.