January 13, 2007

The Taste of Small Town India

Cities like Delhi and Bangalore certainly have some very fancy restaurants, and needless to say, the best food isn't necessarily to be found in high-prices places. You are better off at a run-down dhaba in old Delhi or any one of the numerous darshinis that dot Bangalore's landscape. While the range of eating out experiences in a city is quite wonderful, there is still something to be said for small-town India. I still remember, with much fondness, the lip-smacking, finger-licking delights in small, non-descript eateries in towns as diverse as Shahjahanpur (U.P.) and Manipal (Karnataka).

This set of essays in Outlook, inaugurated by none other than Pankaj Mishra, brought back fond memories of eating out in small-town India.

Mishra writes:
These eating places did not invest much in appearances. They looked out on half-open drains, and the flies faced no tougher resistance than a rolled-up newspaper. Calendars of Shiv-ji and Parvati-ji happily ensconced on Mount Kailash, or Vishnu-ji lounging on his sea-bed, usually served as wall decoration. As for service, boys in grimy banians banged the chipped cutlery down on the planks of wood that served as a table; their grubby fingers were often wrapped as much inside as outside the glass of steaming chai.
From Allahabad to Guntur, Varanasi to Surat, Bikaner to Burdwan, and Kohima to Karaikudi, this is a wonderful set of essays that celebrate cheap yet delicious food. And as Mishra suggests, "it is heartening to think that they exist, and even flourish, these oases of culinary diversity in our increasingly homogeneous world."

Mishra's opening essay here, and the others here.

Enjoy reading!


  1. nice article. The smaller eateries run by a single man or family are what makes the town special!

  2. I have heard somuch about Dhabas but never had the opportunitiy to eat in one.
    B'lore and Mysore has lot of old and little restaurants which serve inexpensive and wonderful food too.I don't like these "5 star" restaurants who charge you up and down for an average food in fancy plates!

  3. Jayashree12:08 PM

    Dear Mandira,
    I like too eating in some dhabas and in expensive restaurants for they serve you quality food in good price rate , needless to say often best than other 4 or 5 star ..., loved eating in Delhi's New Friends Colony small chains of restaurants and some of the punjabi's dhabas..
    Love and hugs
    enjoy makar sankranti..

  4. Mandira I don't know if you have been to Kolkata and had the chicken rolls, best example of fast food on the road side.
    Every time I go, I have to have them.
    Also the small eaterys in Park Street/Park Circus Area provide very good biryani & chaap...yummm

  5. I would love to visit India for everything the country has - the people, the culture and of course the food.... :)

  6. Shaheen - I agree. These small town eateries are definitely unique.

    Asha- Yes, I have been to small darshinis in B'lore. Veena stores is a name that comes to mind. But for a nice dal fry, you have to try a dhaba!

    Jayashree - True, that area has several good places :)

    Sandeepa - I was addicted to egg rolls and would force my cousins to go out every evening with me. :) I'll get the name of the biryani and chaap place from you.

    WP - You should do a food tour. There are so many cuisines and recipes to choose from in India.

  7. Anonymous12:43 PM

    This series of articles in Outlook is fabulous. I read each one while flying from Frankurt to Chicago. There was a particularly interesting piece on Bikaner and bhujia and a picture of Haldiram's small store in Bikaner where the chain started. - Durga

  8. very nice article,its true best food not only available in big restaurants it is mostly available in small and best foo section in towns.


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