Varanasi - Food & Music

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Through squinted eyes and tightly shut mouths we pushed through swarms of mosquitos along the ghats at night, hopping around dark mounds of things that could have been sleeping people, to a traditional Dhrupad music concert, 5 ghats down the river. We pulled off our shoes and sat on a big white sheet on the floor, decorated with splatted mosquitos.


A flutist played a huge bamboo flute, one song for 30 minutes, and perhaps the most beautiful piece of music we've ever heard. So beautiful that nobody in the audience seemed remotely bothered by the hundred thousand mosquitos that were feasting away on any uncovered flesh.

 This isn't a clip from the concert we went to, but it is Chetan Joshi playing at another one.


A large amount of our time in Varanasi was spent in the little open kitchens that line the alleyways, eating. Cracked chairs and crumbly tables. There aren't many pictures of the food because we were busy eating it.

Chole bhature - Spicy chickpeas with roti (fried bread). The bread arrives inflated on your plate like two space ships or summink and you have to stab it to free the steam. Commonly served at one of India's versions of a fast-food restaurant where they serve really good food, really cheap and are jam-packed all day long. (Full meal roughly 70 rupees = 70 pence). A guy walks between the tables with two sauce-dribbled saucepans strapped to him, and ladles your sauce-bowls full when they are nearing empty.



Aloo tikki chaat - found at a street stall where a man has pushed along and parked his huge wok. Fried potato patties in chana masala (chickpea gravy) with green chilli, tangy tamarind sauce, yoghurt, fresh coriander and crushed up crispy bits on top.

  14. angusfulton / varanasi

After trawling the depths of the old city alleyways we eventually found the steamy, crowded place we'd passed a few days before. Angus had been determined to re-locate it and eat whatever it was they were all queueing up for. He liked thayir idli so much he had 3 portions in a row. Idli (steamed round things made from a batter of fermented black lentils and rice) in sweet curd with green chilli and crunchy boondi (sweetened, fried chickpea flour) on top.

10. angusfulton / varanasi

We found heaven in laung lata - folded pastry with a fruit and nut inside, deep-fried and soaked in a syrup bath. Served hot and sticky. Would probably be illegal in the UK.

Misc. orange squares - discovered at pinnacle moment during our Maha Shivrati experience. Reckoned we were tasting something from another planet. Found out later it was carrot halwa.

  India food - angusfulton

Invited to join in we'd squeeze on with all the men squeezed together on road-side benches, for steaming chai, poured from a giant silver teapot to little terracotta cups or glasses.
How to chai: black tea, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, fresh ginger, cinnamon, mostly milk, straight from the udder, probably cow, maybe buffalo, maybe goat, a little water, a lot of sugar. Heat together until it boils furiously, skim off skin, or don't skim off skin, add more sugar.

  9. angusfulton / varanasi

Paanwallas sit with their perfectly straight backs and lotus legs in little wooden podiums all day doing the paan ritual: slices of betel nut, coconut, rose petal jam, lime (edible calcium carbonate), cardamom, fennel seeds, nutmeg, anise, camphor, katha (a paste from the acacia tree), candied fruits, nuts... Applied rhythmically at high speed to a heart shaped betel leaf which is folded and fastened with a clove. Common optional addition of chewing tobacco. The parcel is chewed whole for stimulative / psycho-active effects, and then spat out or swallowed (if you're Angus, who became a short-term paan addict).

Thali - a round plate with roti (bread) in the middle surrounded by dishes: dal, rice, papadum, yoghurt, aachaar (pickle, usually lime and mango), vegetable curries and a sweet of some sort. Dishes are refilled when empty. The contents vary between regions and restaurants. We ate a lot of thali, all were great, some were seeeriously phenomenal taste explosions.

  India food - angusfulton

Malai - buffalo milk boiled and cooled. Cream, basically. A good lassi should have a big dollop of this on top.

 12. angusfulton / varanasi

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