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Roughly 125 miles south of Delhi in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Agra is, like much of India, a study in contrasts—where the truly spectacular Taj Mahal and impressive Agra Fort loom large and grand over a dirty, congested city where bicycles and tuk-tuks compete for street space with wandering water buffalo, monkeys, goats, and donkey-pulled wagons. This was India’s capital for more than a century under the Mughal empire, whose most magnificent relic—the Taj Mahal—has proven both a blessing (huge amounts of tourism) and a thorn (nearby factories closing due to anti-pollution regulations) to the local population. The persistent touts and inflated souvenir prices, especially in the busy Taj Ganj hotel area, make it easy to write Agra off as another over-stimulating tourist city, existing to rip off visitors to India’s single biggest attraction. But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover fascinating market lanes, terrific shopping, and excellent local food, from the ubiquitous petha sweets to streetside-fried parathas and other Mughlai specialties. Hey, you might be here for the Taj—but you gotta eat, too.
Note: It may be helpful to hire a local English-speaking guide if you wish to pursue all of these Agra foods, as some addresses are vague and difficult to find (plus translation is always helpful). Inquire at your hotel about hiring someone for the day.
India’s increasingly high-profile capital city is every bit as crazy-complicated as the country itself, a dynamic crush of humanity at turns glittery and cosmopolitan (see India: fast-growing economy) and dysfunctional and destitute (see India: developing nation, corruption). It’s where perpetually traffic-clogged, tree-lined highways, the sides of which see a virtual stream of homeless migrants, lead to affluent gated communities and overcrowded Islamic enclaves, high-end shopping malls and magnificent centuries-old tombs, forts, mosques, and ruins that speak loudly of another era—certainly one no less complex than now. For Delhi, having lived through a roller coaster of dynasties and empires, is said to have been the site of eight cities, from the 11th-century Lal Kot (now the beautiful Qutb Minar complex) through the Mughals’ 17th-century walled city Shahjahanabad (now labyrinthine Old Delhi) to the British-built New Delhi of today. It’s never been a simple, or easy, place to be—not for the diverse population of 22 million (give or take) living under its smog-dulled sky, nor for travelers passing through.
But “Dilli,” in the fond words of one former resident we know, is “a grower not a shower.” And nowhere is that truer than in the culinary realm, for melting-pot Delhi seems to lack its own cuisine on the surface. Look closer, though, and you find myriad examples of “typical Delhi foods”: the Mughlai- and Punjabi-derived dishes (the bold spices, creamy curries, and hearty breads that dominate northern India), the tangy-spicy street chaat, the Muslims’ kebabs, the Hindus’ vegetarian specialties. Like fellow capitals Mexico City and Bangkok, Delhi is a food culture to the core: Good eats are everywhere—on street corners, in temples, on trains, in restaurants of countless cuisines—and when people aren’t eating, they’re drinking (tea, usually). Also like those culinary giants, it helps to ease into Delhi food, which can be intimidating and highly regrettable if you eat the wrong thing in the wrong place. Well, we’ve done the delicious dirty work for you. It’s time to dive into Delhi.
For a fast and furious tour of North India, watch our one-minute video!
Note: The general rules of eating in countries like India include: Never drink the tap water, including ice. Choose established venues, or eat where lots of locals are eating. Avoid raw, unpeeled fruits and vegetables. Always wash hands before eating. Check that vaccinations are up-to-date before traveling. While EYW has chosen established venues and has safely eaten at every one of those featured in our “Where” sections, we cannot be held responsible for any health issues arising from our suggestions. Please see our Terms & Conditions
Known as the City of Lakes, Udaipur is often hailed as the gem of Rajasthan, in the country’s northwest corner. Unlike much of that immense, arid state, which encompasses the inhospitable Thar Desert, Udaipur is dotted by manmade lakes—the most beautiful of them Lake Pichola, its sparkling, peaceful blue waters reflecting many an ornate palace. There’s an undeniable romance about this city, and from the rooftops gazing out over the gleaming centuries-old havelis and their intricate carved balconies, the labyrinthine streets and the hilly horizon, you’d almost think you were in an old European city—until your eyes rest on the turrets or soaring temple behind you.
In Udaipur the pace is slow, the weather balmy, and the food, like everything in India, reflective of its unique history: Founded by the Sisodia dynasty in 1559 as the new capital of Mewar, the south-central region of Rajasthan, Udaipur still has a cuisine dominated by Mewari influence, which in turn was dictated by the area’s rugged topography and harsh climate. Expect interesting dishes incorporating hardy indigenous ingredients like legumes, wheat, gram (chickpea) flour, garlic, curd, and coriander in delicious ways. In this snapshot we examine three typical dishes of the region, beginning with its famous three-in-one signature meal, dal baati chorma.
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