In the city of saffron milk and giant ‘jalebis’
From food stalls that pop up late at night to a breakfast of champions, the best food in Indore is to be had on the streets
Two days are not enough in Indore!" exclaims my friend Amrita when I tell her about my quick weekend trip to her city. But a weekend is all I have, so she chalks out a two-day itinerary for me, squeezing in every place that should be on the must-try list. I am both scared and excited at the idea of trying almost all of the city’s famous street food in just two days. Egged on by Amrita, however, I steel my resolve, pack my bag and get on the bus to Indore.
In true Indori spirit, our breakfast begins with pohe-jalebi; we head to the curiously named Head Sahab Ke Usal Pohe in Old Palasia, opposite Greater Kailash Hospital. The stall got its name from the owner, who worked in the police department and was addressed as Head Sahab. The 40-year-old shop is now run by his son Pankaj and serves pohe unlike any other in the city. Pohe here are topped with usal (a spicy curry of sprouts), chhole, paneer and sev. The spicy dish is balanced out with a generous topping of curd. Our next stop is Murliwala Sweets and Namkeen, near Bapat Chauraha, for the jalebis; straight off the wok, crisp and piping hot.
Sufficiently satiated till lunch, we drive to Rajwada, the historical palace built by the Holkars, the erstwhile maharajas of Indore. On the way, we pass by Sarafa Bazaar, the famous jewellery market in the city. “You’ll see a completely different side of it at night," says Amrita, as I try picturing it as a food street. Lunch is planned at Nafees in the Old Palasia neighbourhood, but before tucking into a bowl of fragrant haleem, we stop over at Goyal Juice in Palasia Market for a glass of coconut crush—a refreshing drink of coconut malai (cream) and coconut water blended together with a little sugar and ice. It’s light and tastes like mild coconut milk. Our lunch is a warm bowl of comfort at Nafees; the restaurant makes haleem only on weekends. Their version of this slow-cooked dish of wheat, lentils, barley and meat is creamy, with slivers of mutton, and is topped with birista (fried onion), coriander and chopped onions.
The night is reserved for Sarafa, so we try not to snack on anything for the rest of the day. But the evening is cold and a glass of hot, thick milk is mandatory. We head to Laxminarayan Doodh Wale Ki Puratan Dukan in Chhawani. The saffron-flavoured milk, which is boiled for hours and topped with malai, is not just a drink in Indore, it’s an excuse to step out of the house and chat and socialize on nights when there is a nip in the air. At around 10pm, we head to Sarafa, which has a completely different appearance from what I had witnessed in the daytime. The jewellery shops are shuttered and the entire street is lined with makeshift food stalls. Our first stop is right at the entrance of the market, a small shop in the corner selling hare chhod (green gram) and batle (green peas) ki kachori. This flaky kachori is a winter speciality and has a filling of mashed green gram and peas. A little ahead, carts sell roasted green gram.
As we move into the street, the crowd starts getting thicker, and the shops are more densely packed. We stop at Suresh Chaat House towards the end of the street for bhutte ka kees and garadu. Bhutte ka kees, a bright and yellow creamy paste, is made with grated corn that has been cooked in milk for hours. We’re served a plate topped with a spice mix, lime juice and generous garnish of fresh coriander and grated coconut. Another thing we try is garadu (a variety of yam) which is chopped and deep-fried twice till its perfectly crisp and then tossed with a spice mix and lime juice. This snack can surely give any potato wedge worth its salt a run for its money.
A little ahead, at the end of the street, is Sanwariya’s cart selling sabudana khichdi—a warm nourishing bowl, studded with peanuts and garnished with fresh coriander. Another speciality here is wafers bana ke—regular potato chips tossed with chaat masala, lime juice and fresh coriander—yet another Indori innovation. Along the way, we sample gathiya chaat—besan gathiya topped with onions, tomato, coriander and lime juice and, of course, the famous pani puri. The latter comes with 10 different kinds of flavoured water, our favourite being the kanji wada pani made with fermented mustard seeds. We end the night with the delicious jalebas—giant-sized jalebis and mawa bati, which is similar to the gulab jamun. One would think we had eaten enough for a month, by the time we wake up the next morning, we are again hungry.
Our Sunday begins on a healthy note at Jaivik Setu, an organic store on Bicholi Mardana Road. The store hosts a farmers’ market and a pop-up breakfast every Sunday, serving wholesome food like multi-millet waffles, pesto wraps, thalipeeth and a wonderfully aromatic lemongrass tea, all of which can be enjoyed sitting out in the open under the trees. This is also a great place to stock up on organic spices, raw sugar, dalia, and a variety of lentils.
Having saved our calorie intake in the morning, we indulged in a Sunday special dal-bati meal at Hotel Rajhans. The no-frills restaurant serves one of the best Malwa-style thalis in Indore, which includes ghee-soaked bati or bafla, dal, kadhi, potato curry and chutney.
My time in th city is almost up and there’s only one more meal to go. I am about to call it quits when my friend mentions Chappan Dukaan, the hub of Indore’s street-food culture. I decide to brave it and head there in the evening. The street, with 56 shops in the area, is teeming with people: There is an extraordinarily large crowd at Johny Hot Dog, famous for its legendary egg banjo—an omelette stuffed between a sweetish bun and served with a spicy green chutney. It’s a simple dish, but call it the magic of uncle Johny, who stands there flipping one omelette after another, or pure nostalgia, the locals seem to love it. At Vijay Chaat House, we stop for khopra pattice—deep-fried potato fritters stuffed with a mix of coconut and chutney. After a paan petha (petha rolled like a paan and stuffed with dry fruits) at Madhuram Sweets, we feel there’s scope for one last dish and the Maharaja Tea House Kachori Corner in Kothari Market provides the perfect ending to our Indore food trail with its wonderful sweet, spicy and crisp bhutte ki kachori.