The first thing I toss into my bag as I pack for Bikaner is a large airtight jar. As you probably guessed, it is for the city's iconic bhujia. But there's more to Bikaner than just bhujia. One moment I'm enjoying a carefully curated meal in a luxury oasis with art deco influences and the next moment I'm beating the heat at a sherbet stall that's been around for eight decades. Bikaner's main market area is certainly busy but isn't as frenetic as its counterparts in Jaipur or Jodhpur. There are fewer tourists and tourist traps in this city and some of the culinary establishments haven't changed their script to please tourists or Instagrammers! That's one of the reasons I enjoyed eating my way through Bikaner.
Food Mediations At Narendra Bhawan
An unconventionally curated luxury hotel that draws on the experiences and travels of its original resident - Maharaja Narendra Singh. Art deco influences dominate the design language and the hotel's culinary experiences include a unique sensory experience - a blindfolded meal at their Night Room. But it's the literary menu that stood out for me. Each of the courses on this menu draw inspiration from modern literary classics. For instance, the chowder references a passage in Moby-Dick (by Herman Melville). This shellfish extract enhanced with brandy is topped with a crushed Ship Biscuit.
Where: Gandhi Colony, Samta Nagar
Chunnilal Tanwar Sharbatwale
It's not just a refuge in the summer but around the year. Established in 1939, this iconic Bikaner establishment has been serving sherbets with assembly line precision for a few generations. The outlet is now helmed by Chunnilal Tanwar's son - Vidhan, who loves to talk about the floral and spice extracts that make his concoctions the toast of the town. My favourite here is the refreshing bela (jasmine) sherbet, that also makes a great ingredient in gin-based cocktails. You can buy his 'flight-proof' bottles with the concentrates and make your own sherbets or cocktails once you're back home.
Where: Purani Jail Road
Bhikaram Chandmal Bhujiawala
'Hawaa ka kamaal' - the manager of Bikaner's most legendary bhujia store attributed the town's superior bhujia to the air or the moisture in the air. He told me about unsuccessful attempts by leading brands from outside Bikaner to ape the Bikaneri bhujia with the same ingredients, recipes and cooks. The best time to visit this store is just before noon when you can snag 'pehle pave ka bhujia', the fresh bhujia with its long strands. You will need to carry your own jar and make sure these long strands don't break up. This bhujia tastes best with a sprinkling of fresh boondi. There are at least a dozen varieties of pre-packed bhujias and mixtures that you can buy here at any time.
Where: Kote Gate
Chhotu Mottu Joshi
The best rasmalai outside Kolkata. That might be a strong statement but Bikaner's 'chenna'-based dishes are truly delicious. Chhotu Mottu is one of the popular sweet and snack shops in town. Their busy seating area is a popular spot for locals to chat over samosas or poori with their piquant aloo sabzi. But it's their sweets - the rasmalai and two types of rosgolla (including a popular sponge rosgolla) that are their biggest draw.
Where: Station Road, Kote Gate
Laxmi Niwas Palace
There are few dining venues that can match the grandeur of the Gold Room at this splendid palace. This regal dining venue that has played host to some key dignitaries and royals during the first half of the 20th Century and is embellished with 45 kgs of gold. The Swarna Mahal at the resort serves an authentic Rajasthani thali that's both delicious and exhaustive, you might need to loosen your belt after this meal.
Where: Samta Nagar
It's easy to walk past this tiny hole in the wall store. But most locals can point you to this store that's just across the road from Bhikaram Chandmal Bhujiawala. While it's well-stocked on papads and traditional churans that you can get almost anywhere in Rajasthan, it's the pickles at Golchha store that set it apart. Most locals swear by their Ker Sangri pickle (made with dried Ker, a type of caper or berry) but I would also recommend their haldi (turmeric) ka achar.
Where: Kote Gate
So the next time you're in Bikaner, head to the above-mentioned places and make the most of your trip.
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About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.