The DAWN is NIGH
Discover India|September - October 2021
Varanasi may be best known for its ethereal ghats and boat rides on the River Ganga, but its svelte lanes are brimming with culinary specialties and unique silk saris. Set out on a fine morning to sample these and discover just how much the pandemic has affected local businesses.
TARUKA SRIVASTAV

MY FIRST TRIP AFTER THE lockdown lifted was a road trip from Lucknow to the holy city of Varanasi, also known by its ancient name of Banaras. Needless to say, I was excited to usher in ‘Subah-e Banaras,’ the local term for experiencing ‘morning in Varanasi,’ which starts with the Ganga Aarti at Assi Ghat, followed by a boat ride on the river considered holy by Hindus.

The quickest way to immerse yourself in Varanasi is to sample the local cuisine. Street food is hard to beat, especially when it is breakfast time. There are many hotspots around Assi Ghat, but these aren’t the most accessible parts of the city. Driving a car is hard work, and the abruptly ending pavements make the area less walkable than other parts of the city.

No matter where you are in Varanasi, you are never too far from a stall of kachori, the city’s ubiquitous street food. But there is one place that everyone gets directed to, my guide D K Pandey tells me. In the bustling market of Luxa Bazaar is our destination: Deena Chat Bhandar, surrounded by a gaggle of eager, mask-wearing customers. Named after its owner, Deena Nath Kesari, who started selling tamatar chaat in the late 1980s in a khomcha (a moveable stall), this shop is run by his grandson Atul Kesari. “The tamatar chaat is the most popular dish on our menu, and people from all over the world have praised our preparation. The recipe is decades old,” boasts Kesari, quickly adding a clarification over the footfall. “What you are seeing isn’t even half the number of what we normally have in our shop; it’s due to COVID-19. Thankfully, things are improving and we hope to welcome more locals and tourists.”

I sit on a low seat and watch samosas being plunged into a wok of hot oil. They are served with sweet tamarind chutney and taste surprisingly good; not as greasy as I had expected. After devouring a samosa, I tuck into the shop’s popular khasta kachori (a fried puffed pastry with fillings) and chooda matar (flattened rice with peas and condiments), both of which are specialities of Varanasi.

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