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By Shreya Chowdhury

“ Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together” – Mark Twain

Banaras or Kashi is one of the oldest cities of the world, dipped in culture and spirituality, and is famous for its delicious cuisine comprising of thandais, lassis, kachoris and plenty more. As we commence our journey of discovering the hidden gems of this city, what could have been a better start than with the face of Banarasi gourmet world, Executive Chef Anup Gupta of The Gateway Hotel Ganges, which is one of the favorite luxurious getaway havens for the locals and an escapade for tourists who wish to bask in spirituality and culture.

Chef in his Kitchen Garden
Chef in his Kitchen Garden

Food connects us all. Talking to Chef Anup Gupta, who began his Banaras Chapter in 2012, one can easily notice the passion for creating and serving food, bringing smiles on faces every day. We were welcomed with a delicious glass of chilled thandai, the Taj version of the street side thandai found in the older parts of Banaras. It is a beautiful rich concoction of milk and saffron loaded with malai and almonds, a refreshing drink for a hot and sultry day.

Saatvik thali (1)
Saatvik Thali

Banaras is known for its temples and temple cooking is its soul. A beautiful rendition of this concept is seen in the Saatvik Thali at the Varuna restaurant of The Gateway, where a specially hired homemaker prepares the items herself. The thali laden with minimalistic yet delicious Saatvikbhojan is indeed a treat for the taste buds and light on the stomach. The puris are light and non-greasy, while the yellow daal brings back nostalgia from grandma’s kitchen. The aloomethi, adrakgobhi and the laukikisabziending with rasmalai makes this thali a complete, balanced meal perfectly in sync with the calm and spiritual ambience of Banaras.

For travellers who want to freak out and delve into some amazing Awadhi food, the Muslim GharanaThali is the ultimate! It is a big plate full of flavor and spice and everything nice. The mutton kebabs are soft and juicy with the perfect amount of spices. The beautiful warqiparantha goes perfectly with the rich and creamy dal makhni, the slightly tangy alootamatar and the haramurg. The biryani is a delightful combination of saffron, succulent mutton and caramalised onion. However, the star of the Thali is definitely the NalliGosht. The beautifully cooked mutton, in a spicy and rich curry is like Christmas in the mouth.  The sewai is the perfect end to the hearty meal.

Devilled Chicken
Devilled Chicken

The Gateway spreads over acres of land, with manicured lawns, beautiful gardens,lovely  kitchen gardens where the Chef grows his produce for the kitchen, serene ponds filled with swans, guava and lemon orchard with stunning peacocks dancing around. Amidst all this scenic beauty, there is a hidden colonial gem known as the Nadesar Palace built by the Maharajah of Varanasi. The building is like a time machine which teleports you to the times of the British Raj. Beautiful Victorian vases and statues, paintings mounted on sturdy wooden frames, archaic furniture. The experience is surreal, straight out of a Jane Austen novel, right here in Varanasi. The cuisine served here is as exclusive as this place. The menu has some very interesting items such as the Dak Bungalow Chicken, Memsahib’s Cheese ball curry, Devilled Chicken. However, the champion of the menu is definitely the Railway Mutton, which has its origins in the traditional KoshaMangsho of Bengal, found in colonial Calcutta in the railway retirement rooms.  The combination of caramalised onion, rich gravy and potato and mutton will invariably transport you to the world of AmitavGhosh’s Sea of Poppies, with this beautiful East-meets-West dish. Ah, what a royal treat!

Banaras is a beautiful city, painted in myriad colours and culture and the Taj experience encapsulates this essence which is translated in their service and belief in AtithiDevoBhava.

Anubhav Sapra
Anubhav Sapra is an avid foodie! He is a Founder but proudly calls himself a Foodie-in-chief at Delhi Food Walks. He is also a street-food and Indian regional cuisine connoisseur and loves to write about street-food.