Winter is the time for some outstanding food walks in India, combining history, heritage and a love of food, put together by a bunch of passionate storytellers. Lounge takes you on a virtual tour
Winter is the time for some outstanding food walks in India, combining history, heritage and a love of food, put together by a bunch of passionate storytellers. Lounge takes you on a virtual tour.
ON A HERITAGE ‘MISHTI’ TRAIL IN KOLKATA
As part of the walk, you don’t just taste sweets, you also get to meet the owners of the shops and the artisans, who craft these desserts
November brings with it a slight nip to the air of Kolkata—perfect enough to embark on long walks through the city. For those interested in history, there are enough old baris and paras to explore. However, one interesting way to view Kolkata’s heritage is through the lens of its mishti, or sweets. You could visit centuries-old shops such as Girish Ch Dey and Nakur Ch Nandy, popularly known as Nakur, which has been doling out a variety of sandesh since 1844, or head to Maa Kali Mistanna Bhandar in Naktala for a really good gajwa—a kind of bhaja mishti, or fried dessert, made by deep frying sweetened pieces of chhana or cottage cheese, flour, semolina and kheer.
While a simple visit would yield sweet results too, you would be deprived of the many stories and secrets of these desserts and their makers. That’s where Sibendu Das steps in. A content consultant with a real estate firm, he has been chronicling culinary stories and lesser-known food practices from across Bengal on his Instagram account, Pickle to Pilaf. The heritage mishti trail, which he started last year, is an extension of this study. As part of this, you don’t just savour sweets—some well-known and others rare and unique—you also get to meet the owners of the shops and the artisans, who craft these desserts.
The popularity of these walks has grown organically and via word of mouth. When Das would post images from his sojourns across the city, Das would get a lot of queries from friends and colleagues, who wanted to tag along. “Last year, my Mumbai-based friends, Rhea Mitra Dalal [baker-caterer-food consultant] and Radhika Radia, who runs Mythopia, a platform for discussion on art, culture and mythology, pushed me to take walks up in an organised way,” he says. A trial run yielded some valuable feedback from people, and in November, last year, he did his first commercial mishti walk. The first season of the walks, conducted on weekends during winter, lasted till April 2023, and he has just embarked on the second season.
He takes participants to some of the oldest parts of Kolkata, which are not always accessible by vehicle. You end up navigating narrow alleyways, almost stepping into people’s backyards, to reach your destination. “We hop across neighbourhoods in Kolkata in a car, park somewhere and then walk around in the locality,” says Das. The trail usually starts early, between 7.30 am-8 am, with a hearty breakfast at Mejda-r Dokan in Notun Bazaar so that you don’t feel heavy and saturated from all the mishti to follow later in the day. “When I started designing the walk, I realised there was so much I could do with mishti. I wanted to tell the story of Kolkata through its sweets,” says Das.
So, he doesn’t just take you to sweet shops but also to markets that the mishti makers buy ingredients such as milk, chhana, khoya from. “There is a fourth ingredient, which isn’t discussed as much—safeda, or what Bengalis call sobeda atta. I have grown up hearing chikoo being called sobeda in Bengal. So, when I heard of sobeda atta, I thought it was made from the fruit. But when I went to the market, I realised that this flour, used as a binding agent, was a combination of rice flour, semolina, and more,” explains Das. The kind of rice going into the flour differs from sweet to sweet—ranging from fragrant to parboiled. During the walk, you get to interact with the suppliers and hear their stories. For instance, you get a glimpse of the chhana network, which runs through Bengal. Suppliers from different districts of the state make chhana with fresh milk in the morning and get it to the city via the suburban railway network. “Post 2 pm, across north Kolkata, you will find vendors set up in what is called the chhana patti, or channa lane. By 4 pm, they would have sold their entire stock,” says Das.
While sampling mishti all through the day, your palate can become inured to the sweet taste. Das offers palate cleansers in between each tasting, be it ginger and sprouts salad or carrot sticks with chilli sauce, to offer a break.
Winter also brings with it the wedding season. And at this time, you will find totto, or trousseau, being arranged across the city. As part of this, special mishti is exchanged between the families of the bride and the group. These sweets are very different from the regular ones. Artisans spill their creativity into these desserts, crafting bride groom figures, fish and conch shells from sandesh. The trail allows you a glimpse of the process as well. The walk goes on till lunch time, and if participants want, they can end the trail with a meal at a pice hotel, set up pre-independence by an Odiya family. “You sit on a mat on the floor and eat out of huge metal plates. This is an optional experience and not included in the walk price,” says Das.
While scheduled walks are priced at ₹1,500 per person (inclusive of vehicle fare), the cost of the customised walks differs from group to group. Das has also started tweaking walks according to specific requirements. For instance, for those who have only an hour to two to spare, Das does a focused mishti doi tour, as part of which you get to sample seven to eight different kinds of doi in Kolkata. “I could do just a rosher mishti (syrupy sweets) or a bhaja mishti trail. I keep in mind that participants could include those who have been brought up in Kolkata, probashis or Bengalis who are now based elsewhere, and new visitors to the city. The walks cater to all of them,” he adds.
HIC HIC HISTORY OF DRINKS IN MUMBAI
Priyanko Sarkar starts the Past Forward walk at Flora Fountain.
A sweltering evening is not ideal for a walking tour of the maximum city, but a group of about 10 were ready, coffee in hand. We were led by drinks writer Priyanko Sarkar (who has written for Lounge on occasion) through the tree-covered lanes of dockyard in Colaba, bustling roads of Fort and the historic Taj Hotel that overlooks the sea, making multiple pit-stops as Sarkar explained the connecting themes: alcohol, cocktails and Mumbai’s ice trade. The Popular weekend walk, Past Forward, explores the history of alcohol and water in Mumbai, and while the city is filled with heritage and food walks, this is the only one that spotlights Mumbai’s alcohol story. On the walk we learned, for instance, that the oldest licensed bar in the city is the Harbour Bar at The Taj. It has a cocktail, From The Harbour, that was created in 1933 by an American who wanted to commemorate the end of the prohibition era in his country with a stiff drink. The walk ends on a high note at Colaba’s Smoke House Deli with a drink, Cool Your Sol, a cocktail created by Sarkar in collaboration with the restaurant; a refreshing gin-based drink made with cucumber cordial.
Intrigued by this experience, I signed up for another alcohol-focused walk, Gandhi to Gangsters, also by Sarkar. This one unpacks Mumbai’s prohibition era, underground establishments, and gangsters who rose to power on the back of the illegal liquor trade. Centered around the Dhobi Talao precinct, it starts at Metro Cinema and fittingly ends near the office of the commissioner of police.
I lived in this area about 20 years ago and never once suspected that it could have a link to the city’s alcohol history. In the 1950s and 1960s, it became famous for the so-called “aunty bars” during prohibition. As the name suggests, these places were run by women whose husbands were out at sea on cargo ships, or were unemployed. The wives took on the responsibility of earning an income by opening their tiny houses to people from all walks of life and served them drinks, usually made from scratch at home. Sarkar emphasised while there are many popular modern bars that feature drinks from the prohibition era in America, there are none that represent Mumbai’s socioeconomic connection with alcohol. Now, that’s an idea that can stir conversations and new menus.
Past Forward costs ₹1,250 and includes a special cocktail, Gandhi To Gangsters costs ₹800. Contact Priyanko Sarkar on Instagram @priyanko.
TAVERNA AND TRIBAL TALES FROM GOA
Once upon a time, Goa’s tavernas were popular chill-out spots. It’s where people gathered to have a cop (shot) of urrak and feni, exchange gossip and news about the village, and perhaps, bet a little. These tavernas served different clientele at different locations across the state. Today, a few tavernas exist, having fallen by the wayside in the surge towards development and modernity.
Yet, they are still places worth visiting for a feel of the Goa of yore.
In 2019, experiential travel company, Soul Travelling launched a Secret Food & Taverna Trail in Panaji, aimed at telling stories of these tavernas. “We wanted to create a pub crawl but with a side of Goan culture,” says co-founder, Varun Hegde.
The offshoot of this is a taverna trail, customised to only include tavernas, and includes visits to about five such places. Each of them has some story to narrate—there’s one known for serving only one dish, xacuti; another has different varieties of feni; yet another has been renovated into a modern pub that has bookmarked its place as the city’s most popular tourist spot. “It’s not just a pub crawl. We tell you stories, organise fun activities like ‘guess the flavour of feni’ or make a cocktail, and you can even speak to the owners and learn about their history,” adds Hegde.
There’s good food to be found everywhere in Goa, even deep in the forest. Down south, Soul Travelling conducts another tour that introduces people to a different kind of history, that of a tribal community.
The Tribal Food Trail in Canacona is a half-day experience (on enquiry only) that offers an introduction to Goa’s Velip community. The bonus: it happens deep in the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary. There, you are introduced to a proud member of the Velip community who offers your breakfast, with a side of history. Later, you take a walk in the forest to see some sacred groves, and forage for roots and wild vegetables. If conducted in the monsoon, you even get to go fish at a nearby stream. Once back from your walk, you will learn how to make simple dishes like donne (steamed rice sweet). Lunch is a treat containing local rice, aamil (ragi porridge), karanda (air potatoes), bhakri, chirko (guinea arrowroot) and more.
“Initially, this trail was meant to be about Canacona. But, when we met Devidas from the Velip, we realised he had so many stories to tell, and he was so proud of his identity…we thought about sharing it with others,” adds Hegde. Though focused on food, you also get to learn about the community’s farming practices, and local crafts.
The Taverna Trail costs ₹2,199 plus GST per person; Tribal Food Trail costs ₹2,499 plus GST per person. Contact www.soultravelling.in
A PIECE OF THE REAL LUCKNOW
Food and history come together during the walk
(Courtesy Rahul Dewan)
These are the things I would plan for you if you were my house guest and I wanted to show you Lucknow,” says Anubhuti Krishna about the two-day walking tour of Lucknow, involving both food and history, that she and her husband Debashish Kar have been organising in the city of her birth. A travel writer (whose words have often appeared in Lounge), Krishna started organising the tour on a whim earlier this year, taking her first group of tourists around Lucknow in June after announcing it on her Instagram. Despite keeping it low-key and the intense summer heat, 18 people showed up—some locals and others coming from out of town. Now, it has become a fixture every couple of months, and slots get filled up quickly. “We try not to take more than 15-16 people in each group, deliberately keeping it small and intimate,” says Krishna.
The first day’s activities are concentrated around Hazratganj, the bustling heart of Lucknow, beginning at the General Post Office and Philately Museum and including chai-samosa breaks and a traditional home-style Lucknavi lunch at a resident’s home, made using 200-year-old recipes. In the evening, Krishna and Kar meet the group at the St Josheph’s Cathedral and take them on an architecture walk of the area, followed by a chaat and kabab trail. The next day, there’s more food and history: the Bada and Chhota Imambaras, Residency and other parts of old Lucknow, a traditional Lucknavi breakfast of kachori, aloo, dahi-jalebi and lassi. On the last evening, there is a baithak with music and memories at a Lucknow resident’s home followed by a dinner of more kababs and kormas.
“Most of our guests are from other cities, so we try to find the lesser known places, and try to show them the real Lucknow through the lens of someone who grew up here. We take them to five different places for kebabs, for instance, where each place specialises in one particular kind of kebab,” says Krishna. “We know where to find the best paani ke batashe or malai makkhan… which street corner has a vendor selling roasted singhara (water chestnuts) in winter, who makes the best paan.”
The tour includes some shopping as well: visits to chikankari stores and one of the oldest perfumers in the city—Sugandhco in Ameenabad, which is over 150 years old. Ram Asrey Sweets, a 200-year-old mithai shop, makes the best malai paan in the city, Krishna believes, and guests almost always carry away boxes of laddoos and packets of namkeen. “The attempt is to make sure you take away a piece of Lucknow with you after the tour—and it doesn’t have to be something physical,” says Krishna.
The two-day tour costs ₹7,500 inclusive of meals. The ‘baithak’ is optional and costs ₹1,500. Contact Instagram.com/lucknowwithanubhuti/
ON A KEBAB TRAIL IN OLD DELHI
Qureshi Kabab Corner, located on the main Jama Masjid road, is known for its mutton ‘seekh’ and fish ‘kebabs’.
(Photograph by Nitin Sreedhar)
What is it about kebabs and old Delhi? No one has a definite answer. Yet people show up here from all over the world for a taste of these cooked meat dishes.
I recently joined Anubhav Sapra, founder of the tourism company Delhi Food Walks, on a special kebab trail from Sui Walan near Jama Masjid to Chawri Bazar. Sapra says this niche walk is enjoyed best during Ramzan and winter months. “The vibe and feel during Ramzan is different,” adds Sapra, referring to the numerous delicacies on offer during the holy month.
After an e-rickshaw ride from the Chawri Bazaar Metro station, we disembark in front of Jama Masjid. While most other shops are closed for the day, the streets are now lined with tandoor grills, dry fruit stalls, attar sellers and neon light shop signs that illuminate this cauldron of food in Old Delhi.
We make our way through the crowded Matia Mahal road to reach our first stop: Kaley Baba Kabab Waley, located in Sui Walan. Their speciality is the sutli seekh kebab— just ₹15 for one seekh— that is tied with a thin piece of string to hold the soft meat together. Hold the kebab from one end and the other piece just rolls down the string, performing almost a pirouette on to your plate. As a sign of goodwill, shop owner Naseemuddin refuses to take any money from us. People are always warm in this part of the city—a common theme during the walk.
There are kebabs shops on every corner here. Some are on makeshift stalls, some in spaces where only the kebabchi (the person who cooks them) and the grill can fit in. Babu Bhai Kabab Wale, in Chitli Qabar, is one such modest shop where you get kebabs for just ₹30 a plate. The curd-based chutney elevates the taste here, along with a splash of butter.
Butter is a key ingredient at Aslam Chicken, in Matia Mahal, renowned for its butter chicken. But their chicken seekh kebab is a revelation. “We use all natural ingredients in our kebab,” says Arbaaz Khan, who is part of the family that owns the restaurant. “Green chilli, yellow chilli, homemade spices and chicken keema—that’s it,” says Khan, as I taste the kebabs that sit on top of a golden layer of butter. Four pieces of their chicken seekh kebab cost ₹200.
Quantity and quality differ. Another shop for kebabs here, says Sapra, is Qureshi Kabab Corner on the main Jama Masjid road. “The amount of meat and quality is value for money,” adds Sapra. We go off track here to try the fish kebab, made of surmai fish; it costs ₹280 for four pieces.
A relative newcomer to Jama Masjid’s food circle is Zahra Restaurant and Café. While this place, located close to Karim’s and Al Jawahar restaurant, is known for its Hyderabadi chicken biryani, you cannot miss their deep-fried chicken shami kebab ( ₹260 for 4 pieces). The kebab has a lovely golden crust on the outside. When you slice it open, it’s fibrous and wonderfully chewy. Sapra recommends pairing these with the chicken biryani for maximum taste. Their chicken tangdi kebab, ₹170 for 2 pieces, is another delicious preparation.
Our last stop is Sangam Kabab Corner, located on Gali Qasimjan, opposite the Hamdard Dawakhana of Lal Kuan. Their succulent buff kebabs sell for ₹15 per piece. Shoprunner Adil pairs them with a fiery green chutney and a dash of lemon. Demand is high, even for a weekday. People show up to buy the kebabs in bulk. Adil sets up shop around 6pm. By 11pm, they are out of kebabs.
Sapra and I ended the walk with a last-ditch attempt to have a taste of the renowned bade miyan ki kheer at the Old Kheer Shop, which is not too far from Sangam Kabab Corner. The shop has sadly closed for the night. Next time, perhaps? That’s the thing about old Delhi – it keeps you coming back for more.
The kebab trail costs ₹2,500 per person and includes all the food on the walk. Contact Anubhav Sapra @delhifoodwalks on Instagram.
SCENES FROM A NIGHT MARKET
Bengaluru’s Pete area has been cosmopolitan for centuries.
The sun has gone down by the time the tour begins at the ancient Anjaneya Temple on the tautologically named Avenue Road in Bengaluru—going by local legend, it was built by Kempe Gowda I, the founder of Bengaluru, and could be over 400 years old. It’s 6.30pm, but the day’s business doesn’t show any signs of winding down in the pete, the city’s oldest commercial district. We are on a walking tour called Pete By Night, a 2.5km-stroll through the busiest hive of shopping lanes in Bengaluru, with entire streets dedicated to rows of shops selling only one thing—fabric, utensils, jewellery, flowers, fruits and vegetables—organised by local travel experience company Gully Tours.
The pete area has been cosmopolitan for centuries, as merchants and artisans from across India came here to work. This is reflected in the street food as well; for instance, in the Bengali sweet shops catering to jewellers from West Bengal who settled here decades ago. One of the first food stops we make is a vada pav stall in Anchepet, which our guide Parvathi Bhat uses to tell us about the Maharashtrian influence in the area. Our next stop is the State Bank of Mysore building—constructed in 1923 at what was initially the location of a lunatic asylum. Over the next couple of hours, we are immersed in the history of the city via its buildings like Mohan Building, built in 1909 by businessman Haji Sir Ismail Sait, with textile shops and warehouses; Chickpet’s Rukmini Hall, a sari store established in 1942; and end up back on Avenue Road to visit the The Rice Memorial Church. Along the way, we have stopped for dosas at the popular darshini Lakshmi Natraja Refreshments; thick, dry-fruit laden shakes at Shyam Mishra Juice Centre; and snacked on jalebis from a thela. Even for a hardened Bengalurean, this is a side of the city seldom seen come alive through masterful storytelling.
The Pete By Night walk from Gully Tours costs ₹999 and includes all food on the tour. Contact www.Gully.tours