Varanasi and Agra (Gourmet Chick in India)

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Crossing over the border from Nepal to India the landscape and the people changed almost instantly.  Everything was hazy with the heat and dust but the brightly coloured saris stood out in stark contrast to the landscape.  We threw ourselves in the deep end by starting our trip to India with a visit to its holiest and craziest city, Varanasi.  In Varanasi people come to bathe in the Ganges and also to cremate their dead at the open air burning ghats.  It is colourful and confronting and there is nothing else quite like it in the world.

Morning time along the Ganges

From here we caught an overnight train to Agra complete with chai wallahs and sleeping compartments with sheets, blankets and powerpoints to charge laptops and mobile phones.  Agra is famed as the home of the Taj Mahal which did not disappoint.  The beautiful mausoleum was captivating from every angle and sets a pretty high standard for all men given Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built it in honour of his dead wife.  Get cracking MTV boyfriend!

Perfect symmetry at the Taj Mahal

Just like the colours changed when we crossed over the border so did the food.  Suddenly there was an explosion of spices and flavour from the plainer Nepalese food.  To start off we went easy on the street food hoping to harden our stomachs to avoid Delhi belly.  So street food aside, these are my picks of where to eat in Varanasi and Agra:

Varanasi

 
Brown Bread Bakery
An oasis from the craziness that is Varanasi, Brown Bread Bakery has a chilled out vibe complete with a totally organic menu, free wifi and a cushioned floor area to lounge around on.  The Indian menu was good with a vibrantly spiced chicken curry (Rs 120/$2.30) but where Brown Bread Bakery really excelled was its sundaes.  Each day a different one was half price (Rs 60) and the pick of the bunch was the brownie sundae with its crumbled chocolate fudge, rich chocolate sauce and creamy ice cream.  Any chocolate induced guilt was assuaged by Brown Bread’s support of various charities in Varanasi. 
 
Chicken curry at Brown Bread Bakery
 
Essentials
Details: Brown Bread Bakery, D 5/127 Tripura Bhairavi (near Golden Temple) Dashaswamedh, Varanasi, India (Ph 09792420450 / 09838888823) .
Damage: Such a bargain my mother would approve.
7/10.  
 
Tiny street food stalls line the sides of Varanasi’s alleyways
Pizzeria Vaatika Cafe
Pizzeria Vaatika Cafe sits in a shady garden overlooking Assi ghat.  The pizza here is the real deal, made in a wood fire oven with a thin crust.  However, my pineapple, capsicum and onion pizza (Rs 120) could have done with a bit more char and a wider choice of toppings would also be good (the “mixed vegetable” pizza was identically topped to my order, just minus the pineapple).  
 
 
Essentials
Details: Pizzeria Vaatika Cafe, Assi Ghat, Varanasi, India 
Damage: Such a bargain my mother would approve. 
5/10
 
Thali at Keshari Ruchikar Byanjan
Keshari Ruchikar Byanjan
KRD as I will call it for the sake of brevity is known for its thalis and the Panjabi Thali (Rs140) we tried did not disappoint.  It was a veritable feast on a plate as good thalis should be with crisp poppadums, fluffy naan bread, a satisfying vegetable kofta and a spicy paneer curry.  On the downside the raita was a bit watery and the dahl lacked flavour.  You win some and you lose some.  The restaurant is on the first floor so a little removed from the craziness of Varanasi and was filled with Indian families dining on our visit, always a good sign. 
 
Essentials
Details: Dasawamedh Ghat Rd, Varanasi, India
Damage: Such a bargain my mother would approve.
7/10
Pakora and beer with a view of the Taj Mahal (it is the domes in the background)  at Saniya Palace Hotel in Agra

Agra


Saniya Palace Hotel
The Taj Mahal is Agra’s star attraction and from the rooftop of Saniya Palace Hotel it’s possible to spend all day looking at what is considered the most beautiful building in the world.  An international menu is served up amongst pot plants, under a bamboo pergola but the Indian food is the best bet.  Crunchy pakoras (R60) were perfect beer snack material alongside a large bottle of Kingfisher (R150) while the vegetable korma (R100) was subtle and multi layered.

Essentials
Details: Saniya Palace Hotel, Chowk Kajziyan, Taj Ganj, Agra, India (Ph +91 562 3270199)
Damage: Reasonable
7/10

We visited Agra at Eid and this goat was dressed up for the occasion

Joney’s Place
This tiny hole in the wall is a travellers institution with its brightly painted walls and cheap as chips menus.  The lassis at Joney’s were sensationally creamy, particularly the banana and chocolate version (Rs25) while the toasted “jayfelle” (Rs25) oozed melted cheese and fresh tomato.

Essentials
Details: Joney’s Place, Taj South Gate, Agra, India.
Damage: Such a bargain my mother would approve
6/10

Sensational lassi at Joney’s in Agra

Gourmet Travel Tips

  • We caught a ten hour bus from Lumbini in Nepal to Varanasi but the easier way to get to both Varanasi and Agra would be to fly into Delhi (£500 from London return with Kingfisher) and then catch a train.  
  • In Varanasi we stayed at Kedareswar Guesthouse, a simple but charming place which faced right onto the Ganges.  The lovely owner Mintu organised boat tours and was helpful with restaurant tips.  Most importantly, in the dust and dirt of Varanasi this place was so clean that you could just about smell the lemon scent they used.  Details: Chowki Ghat, Varanasi, India (Ph +91 2455568).  Damage: Rs 2,200.  Reasonable.  8/10. 
  • In Agra we stayed at Hotel Sheela Inn the sister hotel to the perennially booked out Hotel Sheela.  The hotel was no frills but clean and very close to the Taj Mahal east gate.  It also had a nice roof top terrace for breakfast with Taj views if you looked carefully.  A good budget option.  Details: Taj East Gate, Agra, India.  Damage: Rs 800.  Such a bargain my mother would approve.  6/10. 
  • The Taj Mahal is best viewed early in the morning or at sunset.  We opted for the morning session.  The nearby Agra Fort is also well worth a visit.  
Our room at the Kedareswar Guest House in Varanasi – I highly recommend for a budget option
 

8 comments

  1. Another great post! India moving higher up the wish list. The lassi reminds me of cold Milo and milk, my favourite drink as a kid 🙂

  2. I love your description of Varanasi – holiest and craziest! Fascinating place, no? x

  3. Love following your journey! I am practically transported and tasting the meals along the way. One day I will get to India

  4. Gosh, I miss India so much! Lovely post!!!

  5. Claire – It is a little like cold milo and milk – childhood memories

    Kavey – Yes it was very intense but very interesting at the same time.

    The Single Eater – You should – it is an amazing country to visit.

    Andi – Thanks very much.

  6. The pictures are beautiful and I wish I was home right now with my family. Great post!

  7. […] I am starting to warm up to the idea!  And with food like the variety that Gourmet Chick ate during her visit to India, I may not be able to resist for […]

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