Would you travel for food? It’s 2016, the age of Instagram, Snapchat and ‘food porn’ and so the answer might well be, Yes! Even in the 2000s, food or culinary experiences were rarely the sole driver to travel to a destination. That’s changed and how. South India’s bigger cities like Chennai and Bengaluru have seen an explosion of culinary options with a morphing of strong local culinary traditions with international dining trends. It’s also fueled by the large expat communities and well-heeled locals who are looking for the next Instagram sensation. But these are cities that might already be on your radar or on your routine business travel lists. Our list also includes cities that deserve to be on your travel wish list, with unique culinary experiences:
From the alleys of Mylapore where nondescript eateries likeKarpagambal Mess and Mami Mess churn out invigorating filter coffee and afternoon snacks (aka Tiffin) to iconic Andhra-style restaurants in the old ‘George Town’ area like National Lodge, Chennai’s culinary map is an eclectic blend of the old and new. From street food stalls along its beaches where you can crunch of fresh catch of the day and sundal (assorted lentils) to a long list of iconic restaurants like Buhari’s and Ponnusamy with menus dominated by meat dishes and biryanis, you’re never out of options. Add the city’s fine dining restaurants and a long list of cult Japanese (from ramen to sushi) and Korean restaurants, you have a formidable mix.
India’s start-up capital is also home to some of the country’s most innovative restaurant start ups. From Monkey Bar to Permit Room and Toast and Tonic where great food and cocktails are always in the mix and they have raised the ‘bar’ of stand-alone dining in the city to a long line of craft breweries (this is India’s unofficial beer capital after all) like Windmills Craftworks to The Biere Club where the food keeps up with the beer. But it’s not all just new age dining that it is known for, the city’s military hotels (like Ranganna) and traditional vegetarian eateries like Vidyarthi Bhavan and Brahmin’s Coffee Bar counterbalance the culinary mix.
The city’s location as the perfect quick getaway (with the launch of the East Coast road) from Chennai has altered its culinary credentials. The French traditions were an easy inspiration for restaurants like Rendezvous and Le Club that created the template for a Pondicherry-style French cuisine that Chennaites and French tourists lapped up. It sparked a wave of bistros and cafes that have each scrambled to find their niche including Pondicherry’s own version of Creole. There’s Villa Shanti and Fun (at the Dune resort) that have added quirky touches to the city’s burgeoning dining scene and charming cafes like Le Maison Rose that might momentarily transport you to France.
Vasco da Gama first set foot in India here. You too can unleash the ‘food’ explorer in you in the streets of this fascinating city. Most roads lead to Paragon, home to the city’s most scrumptious Malabar-style biryani. But Kozhikode is more than just its biryani; many restaurants serve the flaky Malabari parotta and there’s the pathiri, a type of rice flour roti that tastes delicious with fish curry. Restaurants like Zain’s and Sagar are flagbearers for the region’s Mapilla cuisine – from Ari Kadukka (mussel dumplings) to traditional favourites like the Pazham Pori (banana fritters), samosas and mutton cutlets. And yes, you can wash it all down with a Sulaimani (black tea) or refreshing Nannari Sherbet.
One of India’s marquee food destinations where the glorious food traditions of the Nizams still live on. Say biryani and the city’s iconic Paradise restaurant is usually the first stop for most foodies but it doesn’t end there. From the melt-in-your-mouth luqmi – the city’s take on the mutton samosa and a perfect tea time snack or the Osmania biscuits that make an equally compelling case at tea time. Speaking of ‘melt-in-your-mouth’, Hyderabad’s haleem is truly inimitable just like the city’s dessert traditions from Qubani ka Meetha to the ghee sweets at Pulla Reddy.
Chennaites might disagree, but if you want the real taste of Tamil Nadu you have to visit Madurai. Madurai loves its mutton (and offal dishes), traditional restaurants like Amma Mess and Chandran Mess use hand-ground masalas (no factory made masala powders here) to elevate mutton and other meat preparations while the idlis at Murugan Idli shop are as soft as they get. Join the queue at Famous Jigarthanda and sample the city’s clever spin on the falooda and don’t leave town without digging into the excessive yet delish three-layered Kari (mutton) Dosa at Konar Mess.
Might be best known for its ubiquitous masala dose (dosa) but that’s barely the tip of the iceberg. The free meals at the Sri Krishna Temple are a great showcase for the town’s vegetarian culinary credentials; there’s also Mitra Samaj and Woodlands where you can try Udupi snacks like the Buns and the Goli Baje with outstanding filter coffee. Contrary to popular perception, Udupi is not just a hub for vegetarian cuisine. Head to Thamboolam and watch the crispy Kori Roti (made with rice) dissolve in a fiery chicken curry or try Moode (cylindrical idlis) and their signature etty (prawn) chutney. Make the 45-minute trek to Kundapura for Chicken Ghee Roast at Shetty’s Lunch Home or the Kane (Lady fish) Bezule at Sharon’s.
About the Author:
Ashwin Rajagopalan is a cross cultural training expert and lifestyle writer. When he's not writing about food, he thinks about gadgets, trends and travel experiences. He enjoys communicating across cultures and borders in his weekday work avatar as a content and editorial consultant for a global major and one of India's only cross cultural trainers.
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About Ashwin RajagopalanI've discovered cultures, destinations and felt at home in some of the world's most remote corners because of the various meals I've tried that have been prepared with passion. Sometimes they are traditional recipes and at most times they've been audacious reinterpretations by creative chefs. I might not cook often but when I do, I imagine I'm in a cookery show set - matching measuring bowls, et all!