Eating your way through states, regions and a multiplicity of local cuisines during road-trips in India, where food traditions change every few kilometres, is a grand old way of life in the country, dating back to the time of the first national highways, perhaps even the ancient caravanserais. Yet, the construction of massive expressways that take you from one city to the other in a fraction of the time it would take on one of India’s meandering, chaotic state and national highways, with their “no stopping, no slowing down” signs, means this tradition is now under threat. Maybe, within a few years, all we will have left are bland, American-style food courts that serve predictable dishes with zero character instead of thriving local food cultures.
Until this becomes ubiquitous, though, we can still hit the road for those highway pit stops that make the journey worth it. For this issue, Lounge spoke to travel writers, bloggers, chefs and gourmands to compile a subjective (and by no means comprehensive) list of routes and how you can eat your way through them. Happy journeys!
Route: Bengaluru to Gonikoppal, Coorg, Karnataka
Highway: via the original Mysore Road
This route has both iconic and quaint eateries. Take the Jai Bhuvaneswari Miltry Hotel, 25km from Mandya. This famous eatery started in the 1970s as a small and rustic place, serving home-style food using age-old family recipes. From kaal soup (goat leg) to keema chapati, it serves a myriad of meat dishes. However, the one meal that often steals the limelight is a Karnataka special: ragi mudde and mutton saaru (curry). One of the best-known fans of this combination was Kannada actor-singer, Singanalluru Puttaswamaiah Muthuraj, popular by his screen name Dr Rajkumar.It’s said that after eating this dish, he would wash his hands ever so lightly to make sure the aroma of thesaaru stayed on. Although the eatery has taken on a modern look now, the taste of the dishes has remained the same. Their mutton chops have just the right mix of spices and the tale mamsa (brain curry) is well-recommended.
In Channapatna, also on Mysore Road, you must stop at Vaishali, also known for its non-vegetarian fare. Mutton is the star here, making its way into breakfast dishes as well. Vaishali’s most popular combination is piping hot masala akki roti with kaima/keema gojju (minced mutton curry). The crackling of dill with the perfectly caramelised onions adds a lovely touch to the rotis. You can also try the keema dosa or keema poori, which is just as rich as it sounds. Vaishali, which has been around for nearly a decade, also serves some hearty chicken dishes such as nati koli masala made with country chicken and the Andhra chilli chicken. Try reaching the eatery early to savour a hearty meaty breakfast.
Near Gonikoppal, in Coorg district, on the Virajpet-Mysore Road, is the charming Cuisine Papera. It not only houses a quaint museum of antique vessels and fishing baskets, but also serves a lesser-known pandi (pork) biryani. Served in a clay pot, the rice has a lovely rich texture from being cooked in the meat fat. Shredded bamboo adds a unique taste to it. Started in 2012, Cuisine Papera also brings a twist to usual bar snacks such as pork choodals,or deep-fried pork cubes tossed in spices. The bamboo shoot curry is also a must-try.
—As told to Aisiri Amin by travel writers and food consultants Anurag Mallick and Priya Ganapathy.
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Route: Cuttack to Bhubaneswar and Chilika, Odisha
Highway: Kolkata-Chennai highway, with a detour to Puri
There is no better route for fresh prawns and crabs than the one from Cuttack to Chilika, with Bhubaneswar en route. From checha to steaming curries and patra poda, this road trip will help you understand the home-style flavours of Odisha. Between Cuttack and Bhubaneswar lies the famous Bijay Dhaba. Food historian Tanushree Bhowmik and Om Routray, an agritech professional, who jointly curate food experiences as part of Hello Forktales, say: “Bijay Dhaba used to be a small place, which has transformed into a multistoreyed eatery, with each floor designed as a train bogey. It has typical dhaba-style food but is best known for its crab dishes.”
In Pahala, you will find a cluster of shops selling the famous Odisha rasagolas. The shops also sell chhena poda, a baked dessert made with chhena, sugar and semolina. “People drive from Bhubaneswar and Cuttack to Pahala at night just to eat these desserts,” says Bhowmik.
The same Kolkata-Chennai highway will take you to Chilika lake. On the way, you can stop at the iconic Chilika Dhaba for its prawn fry, crab masala and fish preparations.
Many travellers like to take a detour to Puri on the way from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar to visit the Jagannath Puri temple and to savour some traditional dishes as well. “Right on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar is the Brothers Dhaba, which is famous for its seafood, especially the traditional Odiya chhecha (fried shrimp, which is later coarsely ground). On the way, you can visit Nimapara Sweets, which is known for its chhena jhili, or fried chhena in sweet syrup,” she adds.
Travel tip: If you ever plan to undertake a road trip to Mayurganj from Bhubaneswar, make sure to stop at small quaintdhabas along the way for the local chicken and mutton preparations. The highlight of the eateries is thepatra poda, which is meat or seafood marinated in spices and herbs and then cooked in banana leaves.
Route: Dehradun to Kotgaon, Tons Valley, Uttarakhand
Highway: via NH507
Why not begin this spectacular journey up the mountains with some great food? Start the drive with a pitstop at Sonam Kitchen in Rajpur Market, which does some fantastic Tibetan food. “The laphing (a cold spicy noodle) there is top notch!” says Shubhra Chatterji, culinary researcher and director of award-winning shows such as Chakh Le India and Lost Recipes. She shuttles between Mumbai and Kotgaon, where she shares a home with husband Anand Sankar, a former journalist who runs the eco-tourism social enterprise Tons Trails in Uttarakhand.
And if it is a hot cuppa that you need to kick-start the journey, stop at Ama Cafe for great cheesecake and coffee. “On the way from Dehradun to Tons Valley, there are hundreds of ‘Maggi’ points, but I would suggest being adventurous and move beyond the cliched ‘Maggi in the Mountains’,” she adds.
Usually the first stop is Mussoorie, but Chatterji usually opts for a slight diversion towards misty Landour. “Mussoorie is usually too crowded and finding parking is a nightmare. If you take a slight detour, you will end up at Landour Bakehouse,” says Chatterji. Make sure to have their lemon cake and madeleines, even getting some packed to munch en route.
Just 30 minutes away, on the outskirts of Mussoorie, lies Kempty, with its famous falls. There, a host of restaurants whip up hearty comfort food. Chatterji usually stops at the Eat Well restaurant for a piping bowl of rajma. “Once you hit the Yamuna valley, you will come across Damta, which is my favourite stop. There, Chauhan’s is famous for its chhole bhature and samosas. Make sure to eat the chhole-samosa combo, served hot,” adds Chatterji. Usually during the Char Dham yatra in May-June, most restaurants in the area turn vegetarian. But once the yatra is over, you can find lovely non-vegetarian thalis in Damta—be it the fish, chicken or mutton varieties—which feature simple yet delicious curries served with rice or roti.
Travel tip: If wanderlust takes you to the snow-capped mountains in Himachal Pradesh again and again, then this suggestion is for you. In Bilaspur, which falls on the route between Chandigarh and Manali on NH3, is the Bahadur Dhaba. Chatterji calls it her favouritepahadi dhaba, which serves a delectablemaah ki dal and makki ki roti with dollops of ghee. Sarson ka saag is a must-have during winters. “I plan my trips to Manali in a way that I reach Bilaspur in time for lunch. I send every friend of mine, who is travelling to Manali, to Bahadur Dhaba,” she adds.
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Route: Delhi to Dehradun, Uttarakhand
Highway: On NH334
Anubhav Sapra, culinary explorer and founder, Delhi Food Walks, divides his time between Dehradun and Delhi. He always stops at Pleasura for its comforting dhaba-style food. “I like the place because they have their own milk and milk products, such as pure cow ghee,” he says. Though he is not a huge fan of Pleasura’s dal, Sapra swears by their tandoori rotis, which are made without maida (made with wheat flour instead). With its rustic setting and easy on the pocket prices, this eatery is a must-visit.
He also recommends Gaarvi Rasoi, in the food and refreshment complex called Namaste Midway. Though Sapra and his sister usually try theirthali, they also recommend the khichdi combo for those who want to eat small portions. “Their dal baati is outstanding and is also included in the thali.” The food is fresh and light, says Sapra. Both the eateries are located in the Mansurpur area, as you approach Muzaffarnagar.
Route: Kochi to Kozhikode, Kerala
Highway: On NH66
In 2015, Karthik Murali founded Eat Kochi Eat, a foodie community that showcases new restaurants in Kochi and must-try food on their social media channels. His work takes him to some of the choicest eateries in and around the city. On the NH66 stretch between Kochi and Kozikhode, he suggests three top picks for a taste of Kerala not easily found in cities. Stop at Arippa on Koduvathara Road, in Palarivattom for a hearty sadya (traditional feast served on a banana leaf). It is among the handful of restaurants that serve Valluvanadan (the regions of Palakkad, Thrissur, Malappuram, Ponani, and Erad) style sadya all year round.
The non-vegetarian version features three meat dishes. Around 100km away from Kochi, towards Kozhikode, is Vasuvettante Kada on the Elanjipra Road, Thrissur. This is where traditional Kerala meals are served on a banana leaf. Murali recommends the pork with koorka (Chinese potatoes), the beef and the chicken dry fry. Around 50km from Kozhikode is VH Avil Milk, Kottakkal. Stop here for a spectacular treat. Murali recommends the speciality avil (flattened rice) served with dry fruits, fresh fruits, ice cream and bananas, blended into a thick dessert-like drink and topped with fruits and nuts. You can also try their Nuts Milk or Dates Milk.
—Ruth Dsouza Prabhu
Route: Guwahati to Kaziranga, Assam
Highway: via NH27
The busiest tourist route in Assam is the one that leads to Kaziranga from Guwahati. The journey of about 200km through mountains, past tea estates and rolling paddy fields, can be covered in five hours. About one-and-a-half hours away from Guwahati is Jagiroad, with Jain Hotel being one of the bustling eateries in town. As the name suggests, it serves only vegetarian fare. Chef Atul Lahkar, who runs the popular chain of restaurants, Khorikaa, in Assam, recommends their hot puri, paired with a chickpea preparation, accompanied by a lip-smacking amla pickle. For those seeking traditional Assamese dishes, Lahkar suggests Anuraag Dhaba near the bypass in Nagaon. One can choose from vegetarian, chicken, fish, duck and mutton thalis. The spread typically includes stir-fried dishes, like bengena bhaaja (brinjal fried in mustard oil), simple sabzis, such as fiddle-head fern with potatoes, tossed with green chillies, dal, rice and roti accompanied with an appetising mustard chutney. Wherever you visit, remember to finish your meal with a cup of piping hot Assam tea.
— Jahnabee Borah
Route: Ahmedabad to Bhuj, Gujarat
Highway: There is no one national highway; and in between are parts of state highways
There is no dearth of food stops on this tourist-friendly route but if you are overwhelmed with choices, this should help. Stop at Sir Jadeja’s FMF at Dhrangadhra, within easy reach of the Little Rann’s wild ass sanctuary. Named after one of Gujarat’s illustrious cricketers, along with his famous honorific, this is one of the many food court style eateries along the way. Everything from south Indian idli-dosa combos to burgers, pizzas and vada pav is available; there’s even a stand-alone shop selling all kinds of buttermilk. But the place to try is Kanthkoth Restaurant, which offers Kathiawadi specialities. Unlike the common perception of Gujarati food, Kathiawadi cuisine is more spicy and fiery. Try the lasaniya bateta (garlicky potatoes), ringan no oro (spicy brinjal), bhareli bhindi, bharela karela, bharela marcha nu shaak (stuffed green chilli curry), vagharelo rotlo (shredded bread with spices), dhokli, kaju gathiya, Kathiawadi kadhi and Rajwadi khichdi. Be sure wash down the meal with a glass of buttermilk, which is not only refreshing but will offset the heat from the food.
About an hour and a half further along the route is the Avadh Food Mall near Malia village, another food court style place. From a Subway sandwich outlet to a dosa outlet to a burfi shop, there’s much on offer. But for visitors from outside Gujarat, it’s worthwhile to try the curiously named eatery Honest. Order a Gujarati thali which offers a sampler of local dishes like kadhi, sabji and bajra rotis. Or overdose on gram flour delicacies such as khaman dhokla, fafda, gathiya, papdi, and fried ones like samosa and also jalebi.
—Anita Rao Kashi
Route: Rewa to Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh
For a route that packs an astonishing set of temples (Khajuraho) and a protected area where you are most likely to see a tiger (Panna Tiger Reserve), it is only apt that there are equally satisfying stops for delicious food. A few hundred metres from the park’s main entrance at Madla Gate, Bundeli Bakhri is a large expansive space themed to look like a traditional Bundeli village. Several huts and marquee-like structures dot the compound, with sheet or straw roofs, brightly painted patterns on the walls, predominantly in terracotta and white, resembling Warli art. Several terracotta figurines and household articles stand under trees in shelters.
Many of these structures offer various kinds of seating but most of it is on the ground, with individual wooden tables. The menu is a people-pleaser but stick to Bundeli specialities such as thadula, puri made with ground urad dal and wheat flour, a bit like bedmi puri and birra roti, also with ground urad dal and wheat flour but roasted on a tava or open flame. Pair this with Bundeli dal made with urad dal and versions of baingan bharta and kadhi; there is also Bundeli-style chicken and mutton. They also have vegetarian and non-vegetarian Bundeli thalis that include a sampling of all the specialities, along with sannata raita (curd spiced with jeera, ajwain, hing, chilli powder and rock salt) with rice, papad and gulab jamun; the non-vegetarian version has Bundeli chicken.
Raja Cafe, named in honour of the erstwhile king of Chhatarpur, has been an integral part of Khajuraho for over four and a half decades. Started by two expat sisters from Kolkata, it’s now run by the grandson of one of them. With an open courtyard and terrace style ambience, under the shade of a profusion of trees, the cafe has a fantastic location—overlooking the western group of temples of Khajuraho, the terrace provides the best views of these temples. Clearly, the eatery has an eye on foreign tourists with a menu that spans continental, Chinese as well as Indian, with spices in the latter being toned down to suit non-Indian palates. Open for all three meals, the English breakfast is a filler and should keep one going for a day of temple-hopping. Or, you can opt for mushroom omelette, or muesli. For meals, the choice is extensive though the pizzas, sandwiches and simple Indian fare such as rotis, butter chicken and palak (spinach) hit the mark. There are also burgers, rolls and dishes such as chicken Florentine, steak, grilled fish sizzlers, stroganoff and mutton roast. A lot of visitors swear by the sizzling brownie and Belgian waffles.
— Anita Rao Kashi
Also read: Will travel for food
Route: Jammu to Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir
Highways: via NH244A and NH44
I cannot live without rajma-chawal, and the Jammu-Kashmir highway is known for this soulful dish. My nani would serve it with a chutney made with wild anardana (dried pomegranate seeds.) hand-pounded in a mortar-pestle for 45 minutes. This simple chutney can perk up a simple meal. You must stop at the dhabas in Peeda just for warm rajma-chawal served with anardana chutney, pickle and raw onions. Although most dhabas have this dish, Khajuria Dhaba has the best rajma chawal. At Kud, you must stop at the Prem Sweet Shop, probably the oldest mithai place in Jammu and Kashmir, and famous for its patisa. You will enter Srinagar through Awantipora, and here the road is lined with naanbais or kandurwans who make traditional Kashmiri breads. If you reach around morning or mid-morning, have bakarkhani or katlam with noon chai; and if you are there in the evening, opt for the bagel-like telvor with noon chai.
— As told to Jahnabee Borah by Chef Vanika Choudhary, founder, Noon and Sequal in Mumbai
Route: Delhi to Kupwara via Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Jammu, Bafliaz and Srinagar
This road trip takes you from the bustling urban concrete jungle of Delhi to the pine forested high reaches of Kupwara in Kashmir.
There is an array of well-known dhabas at Murthal. However, I would suggest make your first pit stop in Karnal, at the Zhilmil Dhaba. Mind you, there are three dhabas by the same name. It is the one at the centre that you seek. Try the egg curry or butter chicken with lachcha paratha.
From Karnal, journey on past Chandigarh and Ludhiana. If you wish to stretch your legs, halt at Sharma Sweet Shop on the Jalandhar-Pathankot Road for rich, creamy ras malai and papdi chaat.
Just a few kilometres short of Jammu city is a little village called Samba. Even though the region is known for rajma and rice, with copious amounts of desi ghee, the Zamindara Dhaba specialises in malai kofta, made with a generous amount of cashew nuts. The sweet surprise at the end is the special badam (almond) kheer.
Instead of heading to the main Jammu-Srinagar road, take the Old Mughal Road to Srinagar, to a place called Bafliaz. This little village is named after Bucephalus—the noble steed of Alexander the Great. The Khan Darbar there makes superb triple egg masala omelettes. Right opposite is a bakery which churns out fresh hot bread that goes really well with the eggs. It is breakfast heaven. It is good for tandoori chicken and kebabs too, if it’s a heavier morning meal that you seek.
As you get closer to Srinagar, stop at Arabian Nights in Rawalpora. Here, you can get your meat fix of nalli nihari and bhuna gosht.
Finally, as you near Kupwara, after Baramulla, stop at Insaaf Hotel.This little rustic joint is unapologetically non-vegetarian, withs vats of mutton masala and chicken masala are always stewing. The closest you will come to vegetarian food here is a boiled egg in the mutton gravy.
It is delicious.
— Rishad Saam Mehta
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Route: Ranchi, Jharkhand, to Kolkata, West Bengal
Highway: Ranchi-Kolkata Highway
This promises to be a scenic road trip, complete with waterfalls and forested landscapes. October is the perfect time to visit, with the heat having abated a bit and Durga Puja fervour gripping the villages and towns en route. Make sure to stop at Manoj Hotel in Rangamati, the last of the tiny eateries, with thatched roofs and wooden tables, that dot the highway between Ranchi and Kolkata. If you reach early enough, you might come across the middle-aged owner, Manoj, stirring thick milk in a kadhai, over an angeethi, to make fresh khoya. In another corner, his assistant, Haren, can be seen frying potatoes for the shinghara, or samosa. You must try the ghugni (white peas made with spices) with chop, followed by freshly-made gulab jamun, served with rabri.
If you are driving by Jamshedpur, Giridhari Hotel is a mandatory pitstop. Like most “line hotels”—as dhabas are called on this route—Giridhari was set up when the Chandil dam was constructed across the Subarnarekha river between 1982-93. It used to be a fairly modest place, with just one hall, until the expansion of the highway prompted its owners to renovate the eatery to accommodate greater crowds travelling through the area. Girdhari serves an amazing array of sweets and snacks like aloo bonda and lavang latika, besides meals of country chicken, mutton curry and tandoori roti.
Closer to Kolkata, you will find a comforting meal at Sher-e-Punjab in Kolaghat. No one knows the exact year when it opened, but it has remained a landmark on the highway for decades. It was once a pitstop for most truck drivers but is now a swanky restaurant for all kinds of travellers. You can sit outside on a charpai to get the older dhaba-like feel or inside an air-conditioned hall. Though it has an extensive menu, featuring everything from burger to pasta, old-timers revisit it for classics like local meaty mushrooms, hearty mutton curries and even litti chokha and sattu paratha. Don’t expect the food to be cheap though, it’s the most expensive place in the region.
Also read: 4 gush-worthy dishes from north Karnataka
Route: Patna to Bodh Gaya , Bihar
Earlier this year, I spent 10 days gallivanting around Bihar, visiting historical landmarks connected to the Buddha and Buddhism. Now, frankly, it was no great culinary ride of discovery for me because I am, generally speaking, someone who gives more precedence to having a meal rather than having the most interesting and stimulating meal possible.
However, food has a way of burrowing into one’s life to add another wrinkle of experience. And so it was, in Patna and Bodh Gaya, at the two ends of one of my road trips through the state. While in Patna, I remembered a friend of mine from the city once recommending the Takshashila restaurant at the old Chanakya Hotel in the Sri Krishnapuri area. I went there for lunch, only to find out that Takshashila opened only for dinner.
The hotel’s other restaurant, Samarat, was open. Much like Chanakya, Samarat wears its old-world charm on its sleeve. I ordered the Chanakya Special Chicken and some tandoori roti with it. The chicken was delicious, eight juicy roasted pieces in a thick gravy of cashew-nut paste, grated boiled egg, mutton keema and mushroom. Washed down with a glass of Thums Up. Just perfect. On the way to Bodh Gaya, I stopped at a tea stall that turned out to be pretty popular with travellers: Hari Om Café. Excellent ginger tea.
At the other end of the road, in Bodh Gaya, one evening I went for dinner at the Sujata Hotel’s main restaurant. The main reason for me going there wasn’t really the food, but the ambience. Located on the Japanese Temple Road, quite close to the Mahabodhi Temple, the hotel and its restaurant are quite popular with pilgrims from East and South-East Asia. I ordered a Mutton Kaferala with rice (and Thums Up!). The food was great and the service even better, but what was more fun was watching an old Thai woman doing a FaceTime call with her family and showing them a Tibetan prayer wheel she had purchased that day.
Route: Mapusa to Galgibaga, Goa
Highway: off NH66
It’s easy to find good food in Goa. The small state is thriving with restaurants new and old, quaint and hipster, offering food that is delicious, diverse and doesn’t break the bank. This particular journey should ideally be undertaken in two parts: covering North Goa and South Goa. Start with the good ol’ thali. One of the nicest “family” places in the north is Spice Goa. The restaurant serves typical Goan fare, and some Chinese dishes. The thali is an obvious choice. Keep space for the catch of the day, ideally eaten fried (with a rava coating). If you want to impress your date, order the flavourful Banana Prawns—masala prawns steamed in banana leaves.
Nearby, CocoaMoga in the village of Parra is an open-air café run by a couple, Radhika Walke and Eldridge Lobo, that serves some of the best croissants. The menu is small, with sandwiches, croissants, home-made kombucha and iced teas. In the bustling and touristy village of Candolim is a young restaurant serving Goan Hindu food called Kokum Curry: different kinds of sol kadhis, fodi (vegetables covered in batter and deep-fried), tondak (coconut curries), dangar (cutlets) and more. Look for little-known dishes like the biyanche tondak (cashewnut gravy), ansaachi karam (pineapple cooked with coconut and jaggery), sakharbhat (saffron-flavoured sweet rice) and kelleacho haalwo (Moira bananas cooked in sugar syrup). For those seeking comfort fare, there are substantial fish thalis.
Crossing the Mandovi bridge brings you to Panaji. A few kilometres away, at the end of the Ribandar Causeway, is possibly the only eatery you will find within a chapel. J Teixeira’s occupies a part of the Nossa Senhora da Remedios Chapel. The fast food joint started by Bernard J. Teixeira occupies just one room. Go for the beef cutlet pao, a substantial snack, and the fat croquettes (one of the best I have eaten), chicken cafreal, pork chops, and beef chilli fry.
There are many who make the drive from North Goa to South for JILA Bakery’s éclairs (profiteroles). Run out of an old Goan home in Camorlim village, JILA does no advertising and isn’t on social media…they do not need it. People will find their way here, to pick up the eclairs or their popular Angel-wings (sugar-coated, heart-shaped biscuits), plum cake (decadent and rich), apple strudel, coconut biscuits, and the other favourite, the crisp, flaky and crunchy Melting Moments (a cross between a biscuit and macaron).
Near the beautiful Margao Municipal Garden stands a stall that has place in Goa’s culinary history. While there is no clear record of who first created the Goan street staple ros omelette—typically a chicken and coconut curry ladled over a fluffy masala omelette with bread/poee on the side, one of the contenders is the late Ashok Naik, who owned a gaddo (cart) in the 1970s in Margao. The secret sauce was his wife’s masala for the ros. The stall is now managed by the next generation.
End your journey at the pristine Galgibaga Beach, a rare clean beach and a turtle nesting site. It also has fresh oysters. Stop at Surya Beach Café, which claims it is recommended by chef Gordon Ramsay. Ask for the daily catch, which could include pomfret, crabs, mussels, prawns, lobster and clams. Their claim to fame are oysters, freshly caught and served with lime. You can even carry some of your own condiments to eat with the oysters.
Route: Mangaluru, Karnataka to Goa
Highway: via NH66
Driving along Karnataka’s coastline is a bit like playing hide and seek with the gorgeous Arabian Sea. This is also a seafood lover’s dream come true. The first stop enroute from Mangaluru towards Karwar is undoubtedly Hotel Thimmappa, at the junction where the highway intersects with Malpe-Udupi road. The space is crammed with functional tables and chairs and seating is community style; a few whirring fans complete the picture. Crowds begin to gather around noon, when the eatery opens, and don’t let up till 4pm, when it closes. There’s no menu—everyone gets a banana-leaf lined steel thali with rice, a vegetable palya, pickle, rasam and sambar. Everything is piping hot and fresh. You can add-on all kinds of fish and seafood— rava fry, masala fry and ghee roast. Opt for prawn/squid ghee roast, kane (ladyfish/whiting) rava fry and anjal (seer) or pomfret masala fry. The ghee roast is spicy but is offset by the soothing comfort of ghee, while the rava fry is crunchy and the masala fry is piquant and fiery. Just a heads up: Be prepared to wait.
About 40km north, in Kundapura, head to the storied Shetty Lunch Home, home of the famous ghee roast. Close to seven decades old, the eatery is unpretentious. Legend has it that the founder, Thejappa Shetty, invented the ghee roast in 1957; his recipe is supposedly still followed by the family-owned restaurant. The most sought after rendition remains the chicken ghee roast; spicy and hot, but also tangy and flavourful, with the ghee imparting a velvety undertone. On weekends and holidays, it may be better to reserve portions in advance.
Just before crossing the border into Goa, head to Swetha Lunch Home in Karwar. On Green Street, parallel to the highway, this family-run eatery, with functional tables and chairs and no décor to speak of, prides itself on fresh-ground masalas, a different one for each dish. There’s usually a blackboard menu with the day’s specials and the day’s catch. While the menu is extensive, and includes north Indian and Chinese, local home-style Karwar dishes win hands down. Start with the fish curry rice or a fish thali, which is piquant and slightly on the fiery side; the gravy tends to be quite thin so it doesn’t feel heavy. To this, add on crab ghee roast, mussels tossed in local spices and grated coconut, prawn sukka, made with an abundance or grated coconut, as well as pepper squid, fried sardines and silver fish.
Also try the batata kappa, potato slices coated with semolina and spices and roasted. Do not miss the prawn biryani, which is incredibly flavourful. Wash down the meal with refreshing buttermilk or solkadhi, both of which work well to offset some of the more fiery flavours.
Travel tip: If you find yourself with extra time on the route and happen to be outside Udupi at breakfast time, try these places, all located around the famous Krishna temple. All of them have all the South Indian breakfast staples but go for the dosa, banana bun and biscuit rotti at Mitra Samaj, avalakki (poha), pundi and steamed sweet kadubu at Hotel Anuradha and masala idli and vada at Nagaari Canteen.
— Anita Rao Kashi
Route: Bengaluru, Karnataka, to Madurai, Tamil Nadu
From a tiny eatery with a tin roof, patchy floor, oral menu and rickety furniture a decade ago, Hotel Kongu (at Dalmia bus stop; not to be confused with a similar one further up the road) has recast itself into a smart, brightly lit place. The food has remained delicious, with enthusiastic staff who will insist on piling food on your plate. Taking its name from the ancient name of the region, the eatery serves traditional Tamil fare. It’s fascinating to watch the nattukozhi (free range chicken) or mutton kotthu parotta being made: cooked meat pieces are minced along with parotta on a hot tava, seasoned with spices. Try the biryani too—not searingly hot, made with local fragrant short-grained rice that imbues a delicious flavour—and the chicken roast dosa, egg poriyal, pallipalayam chicken (with lots of shallots and coconut), chicken/mutton Chettinad masala with plain parotta or veechu (layered and flaky) parotta.
At Dindigul, a handful of brands vie for the title of Original Dindigul Biryani, but Ponram entices with its standout food. It makes biryani in huge cauldrons on wood fire stoves, and follows the closely guarded recipe of the current owner’s grandmother. The smoke gives the light brown biryani, made with the local seeraga samba rice a mouth-watering umami taste. The chicken and egg versions are delicious but the mutton version is the best. Also worth trying are bun parotta with chicken or egg curry, brain/liver fry, mutton paya with appam/idiyappam, chicken curry dosa, pepper chicken and mutton masala/fry.
Travel tip: This is a detour but if you happen to be going to Puducherry from Bengaluru, Tasty Cafe in Tiruvannamalai is a must- stop for eclectic Indian and continental fare. Porridge and muesli jostle for space with a long list of omelettes for breakfast, but don’t miss their cakes, especially banana and mango in season, and wash it all down with iced coffee. They also bake breads and cookies.
—Anita Rao Kashi
Also read: Around India in eight coffee shops