2016 is drawing to a close and it’s time to start planning ahead: foods to eat, places to explore, experiences to collect, memories to make. India is a treasure trove of cultures and cuisines, some of which are still waiting for their moment in the spotlight, while some others promise to never go out of vogue. For those of you planning to travel across the country to experience new and different kinds of food, we have made the ultimate list of gastronomic destinations to cover in 2017. Have a look:
1. Lucknow, UP
Travel to the place that has given Indian cuisine all the different kinds of kebabs and a lip-smacking version of the biryani, that it boasts of. Traipse through the small markets where food is available in humble little eating joints that are worlds apart from your swanky five stars restaurants, but are, nonetheless capable of serving you a royal feast. Lucknow is a meat lover’s heaven and if you haven’t traveled to this city of Nawabs yet, you must do so in the coming year. The main attractions of the Awadhi cuisine include Kakori and Galouti kebabs, qormas, kaliya, nahari-kulchas, zarda, sheermal, roomali rotis, warqi parathas…. sorry, what were we talking about? ALSO READ: 9 mouthwatering delicacies one must try in Lucknow!
2. Nagpur (Vidarbha), Maharashtra
Chicken Saoji from Vidarbha. Credits: Svasara Jungle Lodge, facebook.com
Away from the coastline and situated in interior parts of Maharashtra, Vidarbha region boasts of a relatively obscure Varadi cuisine, which is known for it distinctive use of powdered coconut and gram flour (besan) in its dishes. Mutton and chicken are famous with the Vidarbhis, who also relish vegetarian dishes with equal delight. Typical vegetarian Maharashtrian cuisine uses wheat, rice, rice, jowar, vegetables and lentils and some of the sepcialities of Varadi cuisine include jhunka bhakar pithla eaten with Bajra flatbread and garlic chutney, patodi rassa bhaji and goda bhaat (masala rice).
Carnivores might find the Varadi Saoji mutton and chicken intensely satisfying, although we must warn you, the spicy curries are not for the faint of heart. There are a lot of places serving authentic Varadi food in Nagpur, making the city one of the best food destinations in our list. Also, while you’re in the land of oranges which is also the city that gave us Haldiram’s, don’t forget to indulge in the best Santra Barfi (orange fudge), you’ll ever taste.
3. Udupi, Karnataka
Tomato bhath are a part of Udupi cuisine
How about traveling to the place that has a universally popular cuisine named after it? While Udupi restaurants churning out some veritable South Indian dishes are a common sight in every major city, the place located in coastal Karnataka, still remains one of the best food destinations in India. If you’re still not convinced and want to visit your nearest Udupi restaurant instead, allow us to indulge you for some time, to convince you about why you NEED to travel to the city. ALSO READ: 10 Best restaurants in Bangalore that locals swear by!
While what you might normally have been eating at your favourite Udupi restaurant might be some very delicious idli, sambhar, dosa and rasam, the cuisine is hardly only about these dishes. There are a variety of different sambhars and vegetable rasams like Koddelu (sambhar made from only green vegetables and locally available ingredients), Menakshi and Huli (variants of Sambhar), tomato bhath, as well as- get this- Udupi dry curry! Yes it’s a thing, and you will only have to travel to Karnataka to find out about it. Moreover, they also a particular sequence in which the dishes are served, to give you the maximum culinary satisfaction out of your meals.
4. Amritsar, Punjab
Choole kulcha in Amritsar
Amritsar will spoil you for choice, with its endless hole-in-the-wall dhabas that are nonetheless excellent, and churn out the best and the most waistline-destroying food in Amritsar. Lacchha parathas with butter chicken or maa ki daal, and stuffed kulchas- everything served with oodles of melted butter of course- are some of the main attraction of street foods in Amritsar. Don’t forget the humongous Bhature served with piping hot and perfectly spicy chhole. Then there’s the thickest lassis with a fat layer of creamy and fluffy white butter and Amritsari jalebis to finish off your culinary escapade. For the spiritual folks, traveling to the city as a pilgrimage, the langar served at the Golden temple is a taste of heavenly grace itself.
5. Mandor, Rajasthan
Rajasthan is an evergreen travel destination, not just for tipsy toes within the country, but from all over the world. The rich heritage and food culture of Rajasthan is unmatched, making the state a regular feature in most travelers’ bucket lists. Located a little way away from Jodhpur, this little town is a food lover’s delight with some of the best Rajasthani dishes available in their native avatar. The traditional daal baati churma experience is available here, accompanied with some very rich flavours, making this place one of the best food travel destinations in the country. ALSO READ: Honeymoon in Jaisalmer: Your offbeat romantic getaway in Rajasthan
The humble baked wheat flour dough, eaten with panchmel dal (nutritious mix of five kinds of lentils- moong dal, chana dal, toor dal, masoor dal and urad dal – tempered with cumin, cloves and other flavourful spices) and the sweet churma, has been the staple of the state, since times immemorial. In Mandore, one can experience the best of this food amidst a town full of royal cenotaphs, temples, a ruined fort and other monuments, all located in very green settings.
6. Kohima, Nagaland
The flavours of Naga food are befitting of the warriors that they’re meant for
Naga food has been excoticised by many over the years, but in reality, the food is naturally representative of the warrior tribes that it’s traditionally meant for, as well as involves a certain degree of depth and sophistication. If you want to taste some cliche-free and veritable Naga dishes, you must travel to Kohima and experience their food in one of their weekly markets, where you can find stalls serving up fresh pooris made of sticky rice along with beef intestines and dried beef ghalo. ALSO READ: 5 awesome things to do in the sequestered Nagaland!
There are sixteeen tribes in Nagaland, all with a different style of cooking and varied dishes, although some things overlap. When you’re in Kohima, you must make sure you try out their smoked pork dishes, Chokibo (snails), fish cooked with bamboo shoots, Akhuni (cakes of fermented soybean), as well as their famous rice beer or Zutho. For the more adventurous non-vegetarians, bush meat or dog meat is highly recommended. The cuisine promises to make you get lost in its organically strong flavours, independent of the spices, unless, of course, it’s the bhut jolokia or the Ghost chili — the Naga King chili which is the hottest pepper in the whole world!
7. Srinagar, Kashmir
Yakhni or yogurt mutton curry from Kashmir
The food of Kashmir is incredibly varied and the flavours and the preparation depends on the region that your’re in. To experience the varied culinary offerings of Kashmir, is a thing that must be present in every food lover’s bucket list. The Kasmiri Wazwan– a multi-course Kashmiri meal- is a feast meant for Kings, but cooked in humble nickel-plated copper vessels over wood fired chulhas. A vaste waza (master chef or head chef) supervises the cooking of the thirteen different meat dishes which make an entire wazwan, that is typically served to weddings guests.
Other popular attractions include the Kashmiri Kahwa, various kinds of flat breads cooked over tandoor, Yakhni (yogurt lamb curry), Rogan Josh, Dum olav (Kashmiri Dum Aloo), Aab Gosht amongst others. One must not forget to try out the Ladakhi food which consists of yummy momos, thukpa, Thenthuk (noodle soup which is a variant of thukpa) and much, much more.
8. Udvada, Gujarat
Parsi Dhansak curry from Udvada in Gujarat
Whenever you think of Gujarati cuisine, you almost always think of it being vegetarian and sweet. But as with the rest of the country, there is much diversity in Gujarat too and its cuisine reflects that. In fact a large number of minorities in Gujarat prepare and consume some delectable non-vegetarian fare. The Parsi community that has struck roots in southern Gujarat (closer to the Maharashtra border) several centuries ago, is one such example. Whether it is patra-ni-machchi (fish wrapped in banana leaf) or the famous dhansakh (a curry made of vegetables, mutton and pulses), Parsi cuisine is best sampled in Udvada, which is home to the holiest fire temple and receives pilgrims almost every weekend. ALSO READ : Driving down to Udvada and Navsari is the best thing you will do this weekend
9. Kolkata, West Bengal
Kolkata jhaal muri
We’re sure that another Bengali you say ‘Machchhi bhaat’ will first want to throw something at you, and then just genially volunteer to take you a gastronomic trip around the city of Joy, to make you explore food beyond the cliches. Bengalis love their fish and rice and are non doubt partial towards their fish curry dishes, but they also favour chicken and mutton in equal measure (if not more). The Bengali mutton kasha or kosha magsho, which is cooked with potatoes, bay leaf and yogurt, is one dish you must experience in the city.
Other food attractions in Kolkata include the Parsi dish paturi, ilish or bhetki fish wrapped in banana leaves and cooked, Kebab roll which is a bonafide Kolkata invention, and the wide array of confectionaries, include creamy and fluffy Rosogullas, sondesh, mishti doi (yogurt sweetened with jaggery) and Rasmalai.
10. Tirupati in Chittur, Andhra Pradesh
Sticky rice sweets from Andhra Pradesh
What makes Tirupati and not Hyderabad a food destination worth exploring for us, is the variety of foods available in the pilgrim town, which is a mix of both Tamil and Telugu cuisines. The town’s food has been influenced by both the states as it was a part of Tamil Nadu before 1953. Both the cuisines see a generous use of Cardamom, curry leaves, chili peppers, cinnamon, mustard seeds, peanuts and coconut milk, besides tomato and tamarind for flavouring the curries. ALSO READ: 51 incredible places to visit in India before you die!
All pilgrims must, at least once, eat the temple. The traditional community dining experience involves being seated on the floor, having the food served on a banana leaf which involves daddojanam (curd rice), pulihora (tamarind rice), vada and chakkara-pongal (sweet pongal), miryala-pongali, Appam, Payasam, Jaggery, Murukku, Dosa and seera (kesari). It’s considered auspicious to eat within the temple premises.