Varanasi, as they say, is the oldest city on earth. And, a city which has not changed itself, barring from some mobile company ads, from last few centuries deserves at least some special mention in the food scenario. Being a food-lover and registered glutton, this was probably my third visit there and I’m not ashamed to say, that I somehow find the food scenario there just okay-ish and nothing so special. Ok, curse me, kill me but this was my thinking till my visit this time. But the current visit, in December changed my thinking. And sole responsible food item for the same is a strange Varanasi dessert called malaiyyo.
Please forgive me, but in this part of my food quest, I would be talking about that and if possible some other sweet items. Though I’m not a sweet-tooth person, but these are the ones, who’ve made me write this…..
“Malaiyyo ???”- now what the F is that ? Was my first exclamation. “And if it’s just that plain malai, I’ve tasted enough in Kolkata and thanks but no thanks”. But, my friend Arka Dutta had some patience while explaining. “This is not malai, its malaiyyo. Are you F-ing hearing impaired to not to find out the difference ? If you go to Varanasi in winter, you’ve got to taste this- period” Ok…..
In varanasi, our first activity in the morning is to roam around in its numerous lanes and bylanes and the very next day of reaching the place, while we just came out of the hotel, I found this old gentleman selling something yellow-ish in one open container.
Being a skeptic one and with the burden of one non-foodie friend, I was going to order for one portion of whatever it is, but was taken aback by the sheepish smile of the other customer. “Are you tasting this for the first time ?” he asked and I nodded. “Trust me and take 1 portion each, it’s light beyond your imagination and won’t regret it- taste the malaiyyo” was his reply. The name struck its due chord and I ordered 2. That guy put some of that foam into the kulhari (earthen pot) and handed us over. The first spoon in and we nodded to the gentleman in affection- for encouraging us taste heaven. I’ve tasted numerous varieties of dessert and my strong belief is heavy dosage of sugar kills it (I may be wrong and opinionated), but this one didn’t seem to have any added sugar- just the natural sweetness of milk and it was actually pure foam from cow’s milk.
We were spellbound, and after we regained sense, we asked for the process. What he told us, I frankly am not that much convinced- however, it was something like….. “Bring the milk to boil the previous night and make the froth from it, take it aside and leave it under the open winter sky overnight, covered just with a muslin cloth and this is what you get”. They sprinkled it with few saffron strands and chopped pista but frankly, I believe a beautiful woman should never wear too much make-up to look sexy- a good glowing skin is enough- and so is this thing. I would suggest, ask specifically to not to give you the pista and enjoy it as it is. Lick it, love it, try to bit it and fail at it- do whatever you can, but at the end of the show, agree that you’ve not tasted anything like this before. This dessert is only made with the winter sky embracing the milk froth and hence available for only 2 months a year. They call it “Daulat Ka Chat” in Delhi and “Nimmus” in Lucknow, but experienced ones told me, varanasi Malaiyyo is the best of the lot among the Varanasi desserts (because of the sheer quality of the milk).
Ok, this thing is sold in almost every nook and corner of the city at 20/- a kulhar for the small ones and 35/- for the big ones. But, the guy, whom I met in the kachoriwalli gully makes it in a bit different was. He mixes a small amount of rabri with it and serves. At the end, the regular ones ask for some malai milk and that comes complementary. You may check the video here:
The more experienced ones say that Malaiyyo is best available near the Gopal Ji mandir at Chaukhamba near Godhuliya but I am yet to taste that personally.
Now that the morning ritual is over, for the evening, Vanarasi Lassi is quite famous and probably one of the the most famous joints for the same is The Blue Lassi Shop in Kachoriwali Gully. It is a landmark in itself and quite a few directional arrows are marked pointing towards the place. This place has been featured in numerous media including Lonely Planet and the owner knows what he’s doing. Basically, this place makes some 75 odd varieties of lassi (mostly fruit based- including a mixed fruit one) and serves them traditionally in Kulhars. The place is extremely cramped, but that doesn’t dampen the spirit for the customers (who were mostly foreigners whenever I went) and the thick, heavy lassis were readily being gulped down.
In my honest opinion, the lassis are slightly over-hyped but good nonetheless. They are pretty heavy and thick. I personally preferred the non-fruit lassi and the saffron-almond lassi worked for me.
In the evening, in the sweet shops in the same area, one may find something like these “Malai Poori” and I again came out with the WTF expression. Seemingly, malai was braised (god knows how) and these pooris were made out of them. They are a little crunchy in texture and heavily sweet with a topping of chopped pista. Overall, definitely recommended.
So, varanasi dessert scene had been quite interesting and here, I’ve tasted probably the best dessert of my life- Malaiyyo and I’ve no shame admitting it. The kachori-scene is written in this post here and trust me, Varanasi has got pretty interesting versions of it- probably coming up in my next post.
Critics and comments welcome.
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