Food is perhaps the most exciting and rewarding lens I can use to explore a place. If you’ve kept up with my journey on Tripoto or any of my social media, you know about my obsession with food. Whenever I am planning a trip, the cafes, restaurants and street food joints are the first things I research about the place. And my itinerary revolves around these places.
Naturally, that’s what I did for my trip to Varanasi last week. And since I am a big proponent of eating the street, that’s what I started looking for. But despite spending hours online, I was able to find very few genuine street-food options. I figured I would have to do the rest of my research on ground.
Our culinary journey began from the first day itself and we explored a number of cafes within just 24 hours of being there. On the morning of the second day is when we set out to explore the town on foot.
While looking for local eats, I noticed a few things that helped us get to the best (and mostly obscure) food joints. These usually don’t find their way on to the internet because, well, no-one these days goes to any place that doesn’t have online validation.
I’ll share my tips with you guys and then also talk about the places we ate at. Most of these also don’t have names because they were food carts on the street. But I’ll give location references so that you can find them easily if you’re in Varanasi.
Here's how to find the best food joints (anywhere) without the internet
1. Talk to the locals: Strike up a conversation with the rickshaw-puller, hotel staff, small-shop owners and even locals on the streets. Every single amazing place we found in Varanasi, we found it this way. And while tourists and tour guides will also be helpful, they will mostly recommend the more touristy places, which don't end up serving authentic flavours as they tend to cater to a wider palette.
2. Go where the locals eat: After you've found out where the locals eat, head to a few to weigh your options and eat at the stalls/street food joints where you find the largest crowd of local people. Any place you travel to, you’ll easily be able to make out locals from tourists within a day of being there. You will find the most authentic-tasting dishes here. And if it usually has a huge crowd, it means the food is fresh and prepared daily, which reduces your chances of getting sick.
3. Walk around: If you end up exploring a place in your car or some form of public transport, you will never come across lanes and by-lanes which are usually hotspots for local eateries. Walking allows you to explore a place more fully. We discovered our favourite breakfast spot in one such small alleyway and it was amazing.
4. Keep your senses open: Now this sounds like a very obvious point, but sometimes in order to try one thing, you might miss out on a number of other experiences nearby. While on hunt for the perfect breakfast in Varanasi, we were eating fried idlis at this small stall when we noticed another stall across the road selling chai in earthen pots. A number of local people were waiting in line to get their fill. We immediately knew that is where we wanted our morning cup of tea from and it was a great decision.
The best food in Varanasi, according to me
1. Puri, sabzi and jalebi: A small hand-cart stationed at a fork in the Godowlia-Luxa road (opposite Avani General store) was where we got our first meal of the day. When we reached, it was crowded with locals trying to get their hands on a plate or two of the staple Varanasi breakfast item. Suggested by the good-hearted manager, Raj, at Zostel, we were glad we came across this place.