Culinary tours in India

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Ahead of Independence Day, Indian Link brings you India that is off the usual tourist map, and away from the beaten track

CULINARY TOURS IN INDIA

Food walks in various cities

Apart from having several tourist sites and being gateways to other travel destinations, metros such as Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata have a rich and distinctive culinary character. Old Delhi’s chaat, parathas and tandoori delights; Mumbai’s toast sandwiches and ‘desi’ iteration of the burger, vada pav; and Kolkata’s rolls, street-style Chinese and the spicy snack of jhal-muri are but starting points for someone who wants to explore each city’s yummiest dishes.

In each of these cities, and a few others as well, food walks are slowing becoming popular. Typically, they have a handful of participants being taken to a curated list of eating places by a professional guide. The tours can last anywhere from three to five hours.

Just like the food in India, the variety in these food walks is amazing. In Delhi, for instance, the most popular one is the one through the narrow lanes of Old Delhi to sample some lip-smacking dishes such as gol-gappe (fried pastry filled with potatoes and dunked in tangy mint-and-tamarind water), chhole bhature (spicy chickpeas with fried bread), paranthas (stuffed breads baked in a clay tandoor or shallow fried in a skillet), aloo chaat (fried potatoes garnished with chutneys and dry spices) and dahi bhalla (lentil dumplings in curd).

Then, there’s a tour that only covers Indian sweet dishes such as the sticky-saccharine jalebi, the cool and creamy kulfi or the sumptuous falooda. There are culinary classes in which a professional chef teaches participants some dishes and shares a few recipes. Looking for something simpler? Some travel operators even arrange visits to a typical family where one can learn how to prepare home-style snacks or meals.

Mumbai is a city on the move and street food is very popular here. Many food walks take you around South Mumbai that is full of colonial-era buildings and beaches. So, it’s a feast for the eyes as well. Apart from the celebrated Bombay sandwich (sliced veggies, couple of chutneys, plenty of cheese), pav bhaji (spiced mixed veggie mash with fluffy bread) and vada pav (spicy potato patty and chutneys stuffed inside a bun) are two of Mumbai’s yummiest contributions to street food.

During the month of Ramadan, night tours of the Mohammad Ali Road, which has snack shops and restaurants operating until dawn, are available.

Culturally rich Kolkata is gastronomically rich too. Food walks here give you a taste of jhal muri (puffed rice snack), kathi rolls (wrap with a filling of mutton, chicken or vegetables), fish fry, tele bhaja (fritters), and, of course, Bengal’s fabled sweets.

Cooking holidays

If one evening of sampling a selection of foods doesn’t satisfy your culinary cravings, there are several culinary tours that span various regions across a week or even more. While some are confined to just one part of India (North India is very popular), some take you across states. On one tour, for instance, you can start in Delhi, and eat your way across Rajasthan, Gujarat and Mumbai and end in Goa. Culinary tours of Kerala are also catching up, because of the southern state’s centuries-old history of spice cultivation.

On these culinary holidays, travellers typically get an insight into a region’s culinary character along with its tourist attractions. For example, you may stay in a restored palace in Rajasthan and get cooking lessons in its kitchen from the chef there. The beauty of such tours is that the ingredients are locally sourced, and in some cases, even you may get to do the sourcing!

One unusual stop on the tour could even be cooking in a temple community kitchen. The food here is, of course, pure vegetarian; sometimes even onion and garlic would be out of bounds. To create tasty dishes even with these limitations is a delicious challenge.

Many tours will also take you to popular restaurants in select destinations. Others will give you access to a family’s home where you can get a hands-on training of a home-cooked meal and may be even score a recipe that has been passed down through generations.

India: Food experiences

  • Learn about the intricacies involved in the serving of a banana leaf meal – it’s not really as random as it looks.
  • Ask about the fascinating story behind the invention of the galauti kabab.
  • Make a trip to Udupi Temple to see how cuisine can be associated with worship and purity.
  • Discover the Tamil origins of the English Mulligatawny soup.
  • Find out where the southern dish Chicken 65 got its unusual name.
  • Get through an entire meal with your ten-piece cutlery – your fingers.
  • Tick off as many varieties of naan as you can.
  • Go for langar, or free hot meals, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar – it is the largest free kitchen in the world: you might understand that the Sikh taxi driver in Darwin, who regularly feeds the hungry, does so out of a sense of ‘seva’, ie, service to society.
  • Try some kehva if you can find it: this is Kashmiri herbal tea, served with Kashmiri bread.
  • Tick off as many varieties of kulfi as you can.
  • Bheja Fry is the name of a popular Bollywood movie as well as a Mumbai street food item. Find out what the main ingredient is.
  • Discover the intriguing story behind the invention of the veggie burger vada pav.
  • Find out if Bibinca is the name of a Bollywood starlet, a Goan dessert, a suburb in Gujarat, or a Maharashtrian river.
  • Watch the amazing dabbawalas of Mumbai doing their lunch deliveries.
  • Learn to make a fish curry, Bengali style.
  • Find out how the tandoor oven was invented.
  • Learn to roll out a roti – in a neat circle!