Last week, we drove down to Agra.
The idea was to explore some local flavours and we were delighted with what the city had to offer during this short trip. I had an amazing Tea from a unique shop, some great tasting Paranthas, breakfast of Bedai Subzi, some great Chaat and some amazing Sweet Dishes, including a Makhan Ka Samosa (yes Butter Samosa, you read it right) and Hot Milk. This Food Story could serve as your tentative itinerary if you are there in the city for a day and wanted to enjoy some local delicacies.
Tea at Delhi Gate
I would suggest you to start your day, early morning, from this Unnamed Tea Shop. You can’t miss it for there is always a crowd in front of it. This Tea Shop runs 24 X 7 X 365. Yes, this never shuts down !! In fact, it has NO SHUTTER !!
There’s Tea being made in two pans all the time and the maker keeps on taking a jug full out of the pan and pouring it back from a height to ensure even cooking and perfect boiling. One can have it in a glass or a Kullhad (earthen cup). I preferred Kullhad. I normally have tea and coffee without sugar. This person insisted that we try his tea with a pinch of sugar. He was right. This full bodied tea with a hint of sweetness is the most refreshing.
I had breakfast at two places. And both are famous and iconic.
Munna Lal Mithai Wale, Namak Mandi Phatak
Like Delhi, there’s is a Jama Masjid in Agra and there’s a Kinari Bazar too in its vicinity. On that stretch, either ask for the shop’s name or the location. The locals would be happy to guide you. This small, old time eatery serves some authentic Bedai and Aloo Subzi. Ask for it and you would be served a piece of fresh Bedai (a sort of cousin of Bedmi Poori) in a pool of Aloo Subzi (curry) with a dash of Dahi (curd). The piping hot golden brown Bedai was crisp and yet soft. Tearing of a morsel revealed that it was made out of a coarsely ground flour and had a layering of Moong Dal Masala inside. The Aloo Subzi was full of balanced flavours. The small pieces of Aloo (potato) along with Green Peas and small chunks of Paneer (cottage cheese) in curry might appear as just any other curry. However, try the first spoonful and each ingredient of the Masala would gradually unfold. This you keep on realising as you take spoon after spoon. The dash of Dahi, besides providing a tang to the curry, also balances the spice factor. One can’t stop at just one Bedai.
Their other delicacy to try is Moong Dal Halwa. This brownish dish, served in a leaf bowl, lay bare with a glaze of ghee. The very first spoonful in my mouth told me that this was the best Moong Dal Halwa I had ever tasted. Even before having the second spoon, I asked for some to be packed to take back home. The dish had a coarse texture, mildly sweet and very well done. No words can describe the taste. It has the experienced.
Having chatted with the owner on the counter, we were about to leave that another delicacy caught my attention. In this freezing cold, there were white triangles in a section of the counter, preserved in ice. Ice ? Yes Ice!!
We were told it is Makhan Ka Samosa (Butter Samosa). Never heard of it. Asked for one piece. It was served with a sprinkle of ground sugar over it and was chilled. First bite and the crust was pure White Butter, silky smooth. This lead to a filling of Mawa, Dry Fruits, cardamom and sugar. It was a delight to savor. Amazingly delicious stuff. I was told that they make it only during this chilly weather for few days only. It is kept chilled so that the butter doesn’t melt and retains its shape. It is a wonder and one must try.
Devi Ram Sweets, MG Road
You can’t miss it. At anytime during the day, it is crowded. Right on the main road, you can find people thronging and enjoying their grub. Once again, the Bedai came sitting in the pool of Aloo Subzi with a dash of Dahi. Bedai was almost same as the earlier one but was not as coarse as the one at Munna Lal. The amount of Masala filling inside was also minimal. Yet it was crisp and mildly soft too. The Aloo curry had a predominant taste of clove and black pepper. This curry was spicier and hotter and again the curd was balancing the heat quotient. Frankly, I liked the one at Munna Lal and yet this place is iconic and quite popular with the locals.
I tried the Jalebi, a must with Bedai to complete the breakfast combo. To me, the Jalebi didn’t appeal at all. It was just ordinary and nothing to write back home.
Lunch at Ram Babu Paranthewale, Sikandara
If you are driving down from Delhi via the old highway, just short of Sikandara, this will be on your left. If coming via the Yamuna Express Way, then wade through the city traffic and come here. It is worth the effort.
Although, the menu is long and has some innovative Paranthas such as Maggi Parantha or Chocolate Parantha, we stuck to the basic. We ordered Aloo Parantha and Paneer Parantha. It takes a while, before your order comes. They make it fresh on order.
The first Parantha, the Paneer version arrived and the two of us were looking at each other in dismay. Have we committed a mistake by ordering two? Cut into four quarters, even the one quarter looked big and heavy. The shallow fried Parantha was golden, appeared crispy and had a glaze of ghee. We took one quarter each and thought it would be enough. We were wrong !
The Parantha had a thin crispy crust which gave a creaking sound when the first bite is taken. Soon, you taste the filling which had basic spices, no onion. The inner was moist again spread over the crispy bed. In no time the second quarter is taken. By the time, the Aloo Parantha arrived. Without looking here and there, the third quarter and then the fourth quarter is taken and enjoyed thoroughly with the accompanied dishes.
The best part was that despite having consumed a Desi Ghee fried big Parantha, neither of us was feeling heavy or bloated. We were surprised.
The Saunth Chutney deserves a special mention. It had a tangy taste of Imli (tamrind) and had the sweetness of Gur (jaggery) blended with the flavour of Saunth (ginger powder). I could eat the Parantha with this Chutney only and didn’t need any veggies.
Before leaving the place highly satisfied, I stepped into their open kitchen. The Paranthas were shallow fried on a very thick iron tawa (griddle). It was almost two and a half inch thick griddle. I was told that the Tawa weighed around 80 kgs!!! Oh !! That’s the reason for that crispy outside, soft inside, evenly cooked Parantha which was not heavy at all.
Evening in Chaat Gali, Sadar Bazar
If you are in Agra, and if you relish Chaat, then a visit to this Street is a must. Stand at the entrance to this short street (would have around 8-10 stalls / shops only) and you would notice a human sea. As if half of the city was there, enjoying this stuff.
We started with having Gol Gappe with 6 flavours of water and a tasty Aloo filling. Quite crispy and refreshing Gol Gappe or Pani Puri as they call it. Next stop was Tokri Chaat from Bhelpuri stall. Akin to the Kulle Ki Chaat (read about my post on it, here) this was done with filling the Crispy Quiche like small bowls filled with savories done with spices and sev. Quite an interesting and amazing stuff. We then navigated our way through the huge swarm of people to catch the attention of the guy at the counter at Agra Chaat House. After a while, we got our order of one Aloo Tikki (it’s called Bhalla in the local language) with their usual toppings of Chutneys and Dahi and the other one just plain. Even the plain was served with a sprinkle of masala, lemon juice, green coriander and some Sev. I am yet to come across a larger, crispier and a tastier Aloo Tikki ooops Bhalla. Great stuff. Adjoining this shop is another one, Shri Agarwal Chat House. This one also drew huge crowds. We tried Dahi Gujiya (what’s Dahi Bhalla in Delhi). The Dahi was thick, sweet and silken. The Bhalla was soft and flavourful and was seasoned with a tasty and tangy masala. Simple yet very flavourful and satisfying. Bang opposite to this shop is a stall Kishan Kulfi Falooda. This one also was drawing huge crowds. Was serving hot Gajar Halwa, Hot Moong Dal Hawa, Gulab Jamun and other sweets besides hot Milk. I was told that this one serves some amazing Kulfi Falooda and Rabri, perhaps in summers. We moved out and at the entrance to this street, ordered Special Rabri Falooda which was a combo of Vanila Ice Cream, Kulfi, Rabri and garnished with two types of Falooda and strawberry syrup. Frankly, the looks were great but the taste didn’t match it, at all.
It was around 830 pm and we were full. Therefore, decided that there was no pace left for Dinner. So, better to skip it for the next visit. But then, there has to be a wrap up with a glass of hot milk.
Kadhai Milk at Gangaram Basantlal, Seth Gali
We drove back again to Kinari Bazar and looked for Seth Gali. This narrow street resembles the by lanes of Chandni Chowk in Delhi. Close to the entrance to this street, on the right is this conspicuous shop with a huge wok full of milk and a few sweets. We asked for hot milk with less sugar. But then noticed these sweets, Rasgulla and Rajbhog. So, while the milk was being prepared (the traditional way of transferring milk from one vessel to another making a long fall to mix sugar) we asked for a piece of Rajbhog.
A big golden Chhena ball dipped in sugar syrup was parented in a paper bowl. First bite and it told that it was made from a finest quality milk, was soft and spongy, had the flavour of slightly caramelised sugar and had a filling of Mawa. Quite tasty.
A walk back the car parked around 500 meters away was quite refreshing.
This was my one day trip to Agra. While one could spot quite a large number of shops in the city which sold Tea, Bedai, Kachori, Milk etc and every outlet had crowds, we went to those which were recommended as the best. I am sure, the list would be long and there are other shops too which should be tried and are great. Do let me know if you would recommend which I should be visiting during my next visit. Till then…