It's 8 am, I'm at the Sheraton Grand Palace Indore. This is the first and only Marriott luxury hotel anywhere in the world that is purely vegetarian. It should come as no surprise. Indore's dining scene is largely vegetarian with the odd exception. I started my Indore food trail at S Café, the hotel's all-day diner with a plate of poha jalebi.
S Cafe recreates the energy of the city's bustling food markets, two in particular that are now etched in the city's popular culture and Instagram feeds. There's Sarafa Market, a jewellery market by day that transforms into a vibrant food market that stays open well after midnight. Locals also swear by Chappan Dukan, a dedicated food zone with a contemporary vibe that has benefited from Indore's 'Smart City' drive.
Indore's culinary heritage has been shaped by its diverse demographic with influences from the city's large Marwari and Maharashtrian communities. Indore's status as one of India's cleanest cities extends to its food streets and markets despite the large crowds. Just like some of India's legendary food cities, everybody is a foodie in Indore. It's why food standards never drop and any list like ours is bound to spark debate. We round up some of the delicacies that you must try while you're in Indore, starting with Indore's signature poha jalebi:
Poha Jalebi: there's a lot of hype that surrounds Indore's 'go to' breakfast option. After trying it at multiple spots, I can safely say that this hype is more than justified. Soft, piping hot poha topped with crunchy sev, finely chopped onions with a sprinkling of Indore's signature Jeeravan masala (I'd strongly recommend that you carry back packets of this spice mix that can add spunk to any dish) and complemented by delicious, smoking hot jalebis. Bliss.
Try it at: Guru ke Pohe, Gorakund
Garadu: a quintessential winter delicacy and a favourite at Sarafa Market. This deliciously simple recipe is crafted with chopped yam (garadu) flung into large frying pans. The crisply fried garadu is then tossed in a 'chatpata' masala. The key is to eat this hot and fresh off the pan.
Try it at: A1 stall at Sarafa Market.
Shikanji: not to be mixed up with the lemon-based summer cooler. This is Indore's version, made popular by local sweet shops like Madhuram Sweets almost four decades ago. This is a summer cooler too but also one that dessertarians will dig. Rabdi and milk loaded with dry fruits; almost a meal by itself.
Try it at: Madhuram Sweets, Chappan Dukan and Nema Sweets
Usal Poha: I spotted a large newspaper clipping with the headline 'Are you up to the spicy challenge' as soon as I entered this popular breakfast spot. That clipping certainly sets the mood for one of the spiciest snacks you can try in Indore, so does the dark red sauce that's loaded with spice. I failed the challenge, entertaining some of the regulars and working up a sweat during my brief stay here. If you enjoy spicy fare, Indore's fiery usal poha that adds the goodness of moong dal (green gram) is a must try.
Try it at: Anantanand, Jail Road
Paan Gulkand Juice: I needed a fire extinguisher after the fiery usal poha, Saagar juice centre provide the perfect respite. This local institution has multiple branches and an extensive array of juices and shakes that exceeds the 40-odd varieties that feature on their printed menu. I tried the popular paan gulkand juice, a wonderful contrast of flavours.
Try it at: Saagar Juice Centre, Malhar Ganj
Pattice: Vijay Chaat house is a local legend in Indore. They are equally famous for their sweets and chaats. It's the deep-fried pattice that is their signature dish. They make multiple versions of the pattice that include one with green peas, but it's the potato pattice with a hint of grated coconut in the centre that locals swear by. It's served with two of their trademark chutneys.
Try it at: Vijay Chaat House, Chappan Dukan
Dahi Bade: it's not just the unique grainy textures that make Joshi Dahi Bada House a popular culinary stop in Indore, it's also the theatrics. Most visitors hit the slowmo cam button on their mobile shooters to capture the moment when the owner tosses up the dahi bade (in a cup) in the air before it lands safely into his hand for the final spice garnish.
Try it at: Joshi Dahi Bada House, Sarafa Market
Bhutte Ka Kees: another winter specialty that typifies Indore's multiple culinary influences - bhutta is the Hindi word for corn while kees is Marathi for grated. It's also called Bhutte ka meera. This simple dish is mashed corn simmered in milk and spices and is best eaten hot.
Try it at: multiple spots at Sarafa Market including A1
Hotdog, Indore-style: an Indore chain made history and received global media attention in 2019 by becoming the most ordered dish in Asia Pacific on Uber eats. It's easy to understand why. This Indore version of the hotdog is slathered in butter and comes in three options - veg, benjos (with egg) and a mutton hotdog. It's also easy on the pocket.
Try it at: Johnny Hotdog, Chappan Dukan
Kachori: another Indore breakfast staple. There are multiple spots at Indore that ace the Kachori but none of them have a fascinating backstory like Lal Balti Aloo Kachori. They leave a red bucket hanging outside the eatery until stocks last. The red bucket is taken down the minute they're out of Kachoris.
Try it at: Laal Balti Aloo Kachori, Rambag or Jhannat Kachori.