My most memorable food holiday was actually a field trip to ‘research’ the cuisines of Benaras aka Varanasi. It began with a kachori breakfast at Chachi’s, washed down with pehalvan ki lassi at Lanka, and ended with a mind-blowing dinner at the home of art historian Rai Anand Krishna, scion of an old family and custodian of the city’s pluralistic cultural heritage. The menu included nimona that paired green pea and badi and aleek matsya mimicking fish — the most sublime avatar of vegetarian paturi — and namak ke baingan. The hours in between went by in a daze, splurging on chaat without compare and sampling (read gluttonously gorging on) sweets that have no peer. Malai ka puda and madgal that occupies the twilight zone between a halva and a kalakand. The weekend extended itself to the following weekend, allowing us to discover the non-vegetarian repertoire of the city of light. From alu ka salan to Bihari kebab, each dish had a distinct identity and its own seductions.

Benaras, I discovered during this short trip, is a confluence where diverse culinary streams mingle. It’s a city inhabited for centuries by not only those seeking salvation but lovers of good life. Hedonism here transcends class barriers. From rabri to paan, tikki to thandai, everyone from wrestler to rickshaw puller has his favourite place to get his fix. Benaras, the city of Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan, thumri and kajari, is also a mecca for lovers of food.

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