Rows of paan in a shop in Varanasi, India.

Famous food to try in Varanasi

Situated in the richly fertile Gangetic Valley, the North Indian city of Varanasi is one of the ancient living cities in the world. Mark Twain described it as a city older than history, older than tradition, older than legend and one that looks twice as old as all of them put together.

The old mansions, the ghats, the bustling winding alleys all narrate the gilded history of the archaic city.  Tourists across the globe head here to experience the captivating charms of Varanasi, where a deep-rooted culture blends with local foods that have evolved through the ages.

Here are the must-try traditional and regional flavours of Varanasi which are sure to satisfy you - no matter how much you love food!

A bowl of baati chokha garnished with red onion.

1. Baati Chokha

This is an appetizing local dish made with two primary elements - Baati and Chokha. Baati is a round, medium-sized bread made with roasted wheat flour and Chokha on the contrary is a light, mashed accompaniment made of either potato or brinjal.

Stuffed with pulses, local spices and dried herbs, the baatis are grilled for eight to ten minutes in an open-fire oven.  The doughs are turned at regular intervals to get the desired effect.

Together, Baati and Chokha make a tasty delicacy craved by food connoisseurs.

 Where to try it:

Baati Chokha Restaurant: Aanand Mandir Cinema Hall, Raja Bazar Rd,  Andhrapull, Teliyabag, Varanasi

A woman holding out plates of Kachori Sabji in India

2. Kachori Sabji

These deep-fried wheat-based dough balls stuffed with lentils and spices are served with a lightly spiced potato curry throughout the year in Varanasi.

Often it is savored with its famous counterpart Jalebi—a spiral-shaped crisp & juicy sweet made with gram flour and sugar syrup— prepared only in the morning.

At the break of dawn, people take a dip in the holy River Ganga and pay a visit to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, before queueing up at the small eateries dotted across the city for this mouthwatering breakfast.

To start your day with this freshly cooked, piping hot kachori sabji, you have to reach one of the eateries at around 7 am as it all gets over by 10 am. 

Where to try it:

  • Madhur Jalpan: Near Spice Kcm Badadev Basfhatak Varanasi.

  • Ram Bhandar C.K: 15/29 Katra Ratanlal, Thatheri Bazar, Chowk, Varanasi

  • Chachi ki Kachori: Sankat Mochan Road, Saket Nagar Colony, Lanka, Varanasi,

Clay cups filled with lassi and toppings on the street in Varanasi, India

3. Lassi

To help cope with the scorching summer heat of Varanasi, local people head out to their favourite lassi shops tucked inside the labyrinth of the city. 

The cool, curd-based refreshing drink is a must-try even on a wintry morning. While locals prefer to stick to the plain salted lassi or with a thick scoop of rabdi and malai asa top garnish, it's worth trying both the traditional and the flavoured concoctions.

The brimful lassi kulhads, graciously topped with saffron, pistachios, almonds, chocolates, and seasonal fruits rejuvenate the soul.

Where to try it:

  • Blue Lassi: CK 12/1 Kunj Gali, Kachaudi Gali, Near Rajbandhu, Govindpura, Varanasi

  • Baba Lassi: D.21/27, Bangali Tola Rd, Near Spicy Bites, Munshi Ghat, Bangali Tola, Varanasi,

  • Shivprasad Lassi Bhandar: Near Ramnagar Fort, Ram nagar

A tray of Tamatar Chaat in Varanasi, India

4. Tamatar Chaat

The enticing fusion of tomatoes, potatoes, spices and chutneys is always tempting and often listed the best of a wide variety of street foods in Varanasi.

This pulpy snack is a perfect blend of mashed potatoes, and tomatoes flavoured with sugary and salty spices, chutneys and lime juice.

In the evenings, people enthusiastically congregate at the eateries to grab a plate of this time-honoured dish.

Where to try it:

Kashi Chaat Bhandar: D.37/49 Godowlia Road, Girja Ghar Chauraha, Badadev, Godowlia, Varanasi.

A glass of thandai garnished with saffron.

5. Thandai

Long before the advent of popular energy drinks, this milk-based invigorating elixir had a strong following in the small shops around vibrant chowks and bazaars of Varanasi. It was believed to revive people's spirits both in the blazing summers and bleak winters.

The drink was once adorned and served in the ceremonial observances of the rich merchants of Varanasi. Extracts from rose, hibiscus, jasmine along with fennel seeds and watermelon seeds were crushed and added to enrich the taste.

This creamy-cool invigorating potion of nuts, dry fruits, seasonal fruits, milk, often topped with a layer of malai, has now become a major thirst-quencher in this thriving city.

Where to try it:

  • Badal Thandai: Sonapura Rd, next to SBI ATM, Luxmanpura, Godowlia, Varanasi,

  • Kashi Viswanath Thandai  Ghar: CK 27/4, Godowlia Rd

  • Baba Thandai: D-38/28 Houz Katora Bhansphtak, Godowlia Rd, near Hotel Shri Ram, Godowlia, Varanasi.

A bowl of Choora Matar

6. Choora Matar

The delectable platter of flattened rice, milk, fresh green peas stir-fried in desi ghee (clarified butter) is a vintage winter delicacy of Varanasi.

The mix of spices mingles with the toppings of raisins and fried cashews to enhance the taste of the dish.

You'll find the gingery, peppery aroma of Choora Matar in the warren of alleys of the ancient city. This lip-smacking culinary craft is often enjoyed either with masala tea or buttermilk. 

Where to try it:

Deena Chaat Bhanda: D47, 184, Luxa Rd, near PDR mall, Varanasi.

A cupt of Malaiyo, a winter dessert, in Varanasi, India.

7. Malaiyo

Milk foam is a unique culinary delicacy of Varanasi. In the winter months when the mercury dips and the whole city is veiled in thick fog, local residents reach out to the old part of the city to savour this heavenly foam.

The evolution of milk to foam involves a delicate, meticulous process of continuous churning of milk along with saffron, cardamom and sugar. Boiled milk in large cauldrons are left open on roof terraces around the city and the wintry dewdrops gradually make the magical transformation.

Malaiyo is served in earthen containers garnished with almonds and pistachios. Combine it with a glass of complimentary saffron-infused milk that will be served after you scrape off the last scoop of malaiyo.

Where to try it:

Markandey Sardar shop, opposite Gopal ji mandir in Chaukhamba gully.

Making paan in a shop in Varanasi, India

8. Paan

Paan and Varanasi are almost inseparable from each other. The alluring medley of kattha (catechu), chuna (limestone paste), betel nuts and plenty of sweet spices like gulkand, varakh (edible silver coating on betel nuts) mint, saunf (fennel) and red cherries, wrapped in a betel leaf, is an elegant extravaganza of this charming city.

In almost every corner of Varanasi's busy streets and narrow, serpentine lanes, you can spot a shop selling this savoury, melt-in-mouth fineness. While local folks love to stick to traditional plain paans, tourists love to indulge in the huge variety of flavoured paans.  

Once devoured, the tender betel leaf along with the soft chunk of spices in abundance, slowly and subtly fall apart with all its fragrance, leaving a delicious freshness for hours.

Where to try it:

  • Ramchandra Chaurasia: Tambul Bhandar    Govindapura, Varanasi.

  • Keshav Paan Bhandar: Rathyatra Sigra Road, Varanasi.

  •  Krishna Paan Bhandar: 8XPP+C2J, Raja Bazar Rd, Nadesar, Chaukaghat, Varanasi.

  • Gama Paan  Bhandar: Godowlia- Luxa Road, Varanasi.

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Bandita Mukherjee

Author - Bandita Mukherjee

A Kolkata-based teacher, Bandita Mukherjee is an avid traveller. When she is not teaching or on-the-go, she can be found making her next trip plans, with a mug of fresh Darjeeling tea and her pet cat curled up by her side.

Last Updated 1 March 2024

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