Varanasi or Banaras is one of the oldest cities in the world and it is inhabited since ancient times. Most of the people visit Varanasi to visit the temples of Banaras, to explore the Ganga river and its ghats, they take boat rides in the Ganges, meet & see the life of sadhus and some try to discover themselves in the spirituality of city. You have any reason to visit Varanasi but one thing which everyone does is eat food. To experience the essence of the city you have to try the street food of Varanasi.
The food is an integral part of Varanasi’s culture. Varanasi’s street food is influenced by the different parts of India and the world. It evolved with time but kept its original flavors. There are food joints nears ghats and on every other street of the city. Some of the streets are popular for one particular food and shop.
With time and an increase in the number of western tourists, you will find several cafes and restaurants serving continental cuisine. Most of these continental restaurants are near the ghats of Ganga.
While as the name suggests street food is available on streets of Varanasi. When in Varanasi try some traditional street of food. You can do a self-guided tour or maybe can take a guided tour.
There are so many dishes you can try but here is my list of some of the must-have dishes from the street food of Varanasi. You will not feel disappointed and conversation around these food stalls will help you understand the food culture of Varanasi.
The food of Varanasi got influenced by different parts of India. From ancient times people from other parts of India are visiting the holy city of Kashi.
Also, read travel and safety tips for Varanasi
Things you must eat in the holy city of Varanasi
Kulhad Wali Chai
India is a tea-loving country and it’s the most consumed beverage. Every part of India has its version of masala tea, which is made by adding milk in tea with some spices/masalas.
Varanasi’s tea stalls serve it in Kulhad. The small earthen clay cups are known as Kulhad. Some people swear that the Kulhads add to the flavor of the tea.
Kulhad wali Chai aka tea tastes different due to the smell of clay. You have to drink it to experience the taste of it.
If you like black lemon tea then head to Assi ghat. There you will get black tea with lemon which looks reddish hence named Lal Chai.
If you like to listen to some interesting stories then ask for the recipe to the tea sellers.
Pori Sabzi and Kachori Aloo
These two combinations are the most popular breakfast in Varanasi. You will come across shops selling these combinations in different parts of the city.
Pori is made of whole wheat flour and sabzi is mostly made of Potato with tomatoes or chickpeas in it.
Kachori is made of wheat flour & stuffed with dal/lentil paste and served with Potato Gravy.
Most of the shops sell Pori sabzi and Aloo Kachori for breakfast only. They stop making these two dishes by 10 AM and usually run out of stock before 10 AM.
Jalebi with Dahi
In most parts of India Jalebi is served with Rabri. In Banaras jalebi is served with thick curd and it is one of the popular breakfast dishes.
For people like me, this looks like a strange combination.
I asked a local foody why Jalebi with curd. He explained that when combined with Rabri it becomes too heavy and sweet but if you eat it with curd the sweetness of jalebi is balanced by curd. Moreover, curd helps digestion. It gives a soothing effect to the stomach after a heavy breakfast of Pori and Kachori.
This is one of the most popular drinks in Varanasi. Interestingly the lassi has evolved a lot in Banaras.
Nowadays you will get several varieties of lassi other than humble sweet lassi.
If you are looking for fruity variations of lassi than head to Blue lassi. It is one of the most popular lassi places among travelers.
One food item about which Varanasi people talks with pride is Banarasi chaat.
Chaat is sweet, savory and tangy in taste. There are so many flavors in one dish. There are several types of chaats. The most popular ones are Papdi chaat, Bhalla papri chaat, Aloo Tikki Chaat, and Dahi Kachori chaat. The chaat has curd, sweet & tangy tamarind chutney and green chutney.
Head to Kashi chaat Bhandar or Deena chaat Bhandar to taste different varieties of Banarasi chaat.
If you are from Delhi then I am sure you take a lot of pride in Dilli ki chaat. It is a popular topic of discussion among foodies if Delhi’s chaat is better or Banarasi chaat, I leave it to you to decide it yourself.
I would like to mention this verity of Chaat separately instead of adding into chaats. The main reason for keeping it separate is the base of this dish. This chaat is made with tomatoes as the base product.
It’s served warm tomatoes and potatoes gravy. It’s is served in Kulhad and believed to be originated in Varanasi. You won’t get it in other parts of north India.
Malaiyo or Nimish
This is a kind of Indian souffle which is made of milk and sugar with saffron. Malaiyo is available only in winter months. It’s lightweight and melts in the mouth. This frothy dish is mildly sweet and light on the stomach.
In Delhi, it’s known as Dulat ki chaat.
Read more about North Indian vegetarian food
Varanasi is close to Bihar and has its influence on the food. Litti Chokha is the rustic food of Bihar and it evolved in Varanasi.
Now it’s one of the must-have dishes of Varanasi. There are several street stalls in Varanasi selling litti Chokha. If you want to go to a proper restaurant then visit a place with the same name i.e. Litti Chokha restaurant.
Though the true fans of litti Chokha prefer it from roadside stalls.
This dish is similar to the “Poha” from Madhya Pradesh. Poha has onions, potatoes, and turmeric whereas Chuda Matar only has lots of green peas in it.
This is a popular breakfast and snack item. It is made with flattened rice and green peas.
Chena Dahi Vada
It’s is one of those dishes which is made with different forms of milk. Very similar to Dahi vada in looks but it’s different.
The Vada is made with Lentil/Dal in Dahi Vada whereas Vada is made of cottage cheese balls in Chena vada.
The Chena Vadas are served with curd and sweet tamarind sauce. It is food to cool down the stomach.
The paan or betel leaf is a very popular and most iconic item of Varanasi. Paan is made by wrapping some interesting masalas in betel leaves. There are several songs and stories related to Banarasi Paan.
You can find a Paan shop in every lane of Banaras and shopkeepers will make it sweet or plain as per your requirements.
Paan is a popular mouth freshener. Though all paan shops in Varanasi are special. Ramchandra Chaurasia Tambul Bhandar in Chowk and Keshav Tambul Bhandar in Lanka are most popular among locals and tourists.
Sweets in Varanasi
The milk-based sweets of Varanasi are the most popular. If you have sweet tooth then try Kalakand, Lal Peda, Parval, Kulfi, Maalpua, Malai Puri and Rabri.
To beat these milk-based sweets Varanasi has a humble sweet known as ‘Lawanglata’. This sweet is very popular among the masses and you will find it in every sweet shop of Varanasi.
Shree Rajbandhu Sweets, Ksheer Sagar, and Rajshree Sweets are some of the popular and oldest sweet shops in Varanasi.
These are some of the must-have items to try from the vast variety of street food of Varanasi.
For me, food was an important part of my travel and cultural experience in Varanasi. A trip to Banaras is incomplete if you can’t try some of these popular street foods of Varanasi.
There are many good restaurants and bakeries in Varanasi. I recommend that one should visit some of these after eating traditional street food of Varanasi. These restaurants serve very good continental cuisine, which can even beat some of the best restaurants in big cities of India.