Karl Rock's Blog

India Travel Safety & Advice plus the Best of Incredible India

Category: Food, Restaurants & Recipes Page 3 of 7

Masala Chai Pot in Amritsar, India. Photo by Connie (https://flic.kr/p/kZAooQ)

Where to Drink Masala Chai in India? Chaayos vs. Chai Point Reviewed

What Starbucks did to coffee, Chai Point and Chaayos are doing to Masala Chai in India. There’s been massive growth in this premium market for masala chai cafes in the last few years with Chai Point and Chaayos expanding rapidly.

It reminds me of what happened with bottled water in the West, who thought people would buy, at big markups, something that flowed free from their taps at home? Buying bottled water never caught on in India, but buying premium masala chai is starting to.

Streetside Chaiwala in Amritsar, India. Photo by Connie.

Streetside Chaiwala in Amritsar, India. Photo by Connie.

Masala Chai is the staple drink in North India and can be found boiling on stoves in every home and on the sides of the roads in small chai stalls. The current Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, even helped his father as a 6-year-old boy sell chai to train passengers. The drink is that ingrained and unmistakably Indian.

So as the middle class grows in India, so has their desire to enjoy premium priced chai at a cafe, or grab a quick cup to-go.

Chaayos vs. Chai Point

Chaayos is #1 because of their clean well-designed and clean cafes, their extensive Chai customisation options, and their large food menu which also includes non-veg.

I used to prefer Chai Point because it was about 30% cheaper than Chaayos. But over the last year, they’ve increased the prices to Chaayos’ but added no value to match the increase.

The only benefit of Chai Point is that they, currently, have more stores in more cities than Chaayos, so I often find myself at Chai Point as they’re easier to come across.

Chaayos, Connaught Place, New Delhi. Photo © Karl Rock.

Chaayos, Connaught Place, New Delhi. Photo © Karl Rock.

Pricing

At home, making a large 250ml cup of 100% milk masala chai costs a maximum of ₹20 (USD $0.30). From a street side chaiwala, it’s ₹30 ($0.45) for three of the small ₹10 cups they serve. At a chain, it’s minimum ₹80 ($1.20). You can make 1 litre at home, or buy 1 cup from a chai chain.

Update: Chai Point pricing across the country is different. For example, in Pune a large cost me ₹64.

When I don’t have a kitchen available to me to fill my thermos to the brim with my own homemade Masala Chai, this new breed of Chai stores is how I get my fix.

Both Chaayos and Chai Point price their chai roughly the same.

Chai from Chai Point. Photo © Karl Rock.

Chai from Chai Point. Photo © Karl Rock.

Chai Customisation & Taste

If I want a masala chai made with 100% milk, added ginger and cinnamon, and sugar-free, I can have it at Chaayos. The customisations are endless. The Chai is brewed freshly in front of you.

Chai Point doesn’t have extensive customisation, but they do offer a range of different flavoured teas. At Chaipoint the teas are premade and poured from a large dispenser. Not so fresh.

When it comes to the taste of their standard masala chais though, Chaayos and Chai Point are almost identical.

Food

Chaayos boasts an extensive food menu and is prepared onsite in their kitchens. Their Mumbai style Vada Pau and Open Parathas, which are basically an Indian version of a pizza, are great for lunch. I also appreciate their inclusion of non-veg on the menu.

Chai Point has a limited menu of prepackaged vegetarian foods which I find a little unappetising, so I rarely eat there.

Chai Point, Connaught Place, New Delhi. Photo © Karl Rock.

Chai Point, Connaught Place, New Delhi. Photo © Karl Rock.

One annoyance of Chaayos & Chai Point

Chaayos is doing everything right, except for one thing, Chai Point has this problem too. Every time you enter and exit a staff member yells a greeting or farewell. It feels very forced. It’s like it’s some kind of KPI that they cannot miss at any cost.

I’m sure the guys at head office have some great sales increasing psychology based reasoning behind this strange greeting system, but it’s incredibly unnatural, fake, and wrecks the otherwise enjoyable experience.

The Winner: Chaayos

Ow, and whatever you do, do not drink the Masala Chai at Cafe Coffee Day. They serve you a teabag, water, and a small amount of milk! That’s not a Masala Chai.

Indian Food. Photo by SteFou!

Auckland: The Authentic Indian Food Guide

Before I moved to India, I spent years discovering the best Indian food at home in Auckland, New Zealand. Now that I’ve spent over a year eating all around India, I can tell you exactly which restaurants serve authentic Indian food and which serve unauthentic but still great food.

Clearly from the list below Sandringham is the place to eat the best Indian food. That’s because Sandringham has become a little India, probably because of the large Hindu temple there. The fragrant incense burning in the shops makes Sandringham smell a bit like India too. Start exploring Indian food in this city fringe suburb!

For Something Authentic

Paradise, Sandringham – Hyderabadi Cuisine

Different types of BBQ'd chicken skewers in India. Photo by Travis Wise.

Different types of BBQ’d chicken skewers in India. Photo by Travis Wise.

If there’s one place you should visit, it’s Paradise. There’s a reason why there are queues outside both their restaurant and takeaway shops most nights. It’s simply the best Indian food at reasonable prices in Auckland. They specialise in Hyderabadi food, but they still serve a great Butter Chicken that’s available in Kiwi or Indian style.

Hyderabad is the capital of the newly formed Telangana state, previously it was part of Andhra Pradesh. Hyderabadi cuisine is influenced by Muslim cooking and therefore famous for its varieties of spicy meat curries, BBQ’d skewers and biryanis. Muslims really know how to cook flavour packed meat!

For an authentic Hyderabadi experience order: Chicken or Mutton Dum Biryani, a BBQ’d chicken dish such as Chicken 65 or the much hotter Harab Hara Chicken, along with the hard to find delicacy, Haleem (a spicy meat stew, available weekends only). If you’re not feeling adventurous enough to try Haleem, go for a Butter Chicken (Indian style) – it’s as close to Butter Chicken in India as I can find.

Other must-try dishes are Tandoori Chicken, Onion Pakora, Lollypop Chicken, Chilly Prawns, and Fried Fish which you’ll see hanging in the kitchen window as you enter.

If fall in love with Haleem as I did, the nearby Hyderabadi Kitchen in Mt Roskill is the only other restaurant in New Zealand which serves it. It’s worth a visit too.

Haleem from Hyderabadi Kitchen. Photo © Karl Rock.

Haleem and Paya from Hyderabadi Kitchen. Photo © Karl Rock.

Jai Jalaram Khaman, Blockhouse Bay – Indian Street Food

My all time favourite, Dahi Puri. Photo © Karl Rock.

My all time favourite, Dahi Puri from JJK. Photo © Karl Rock.

JJK, as it’s known, has been around forever. It’s owner-operated home cooked Indian food. I started going there over 10 years ago when a Parsi friend of mine took me there for Chaat (Indian sweet and spicy street food). Back then I was just after the perfect Dahi Puri which JJK delivers. But then I started eating my way through their menu of Mumbai street foods.

What JJK lacks in atmosphere and decor it makes up for in flavour. They have a minimal menu which I always admire about a restaurant because it usually means they focus on a few things and do them well. Unlike the bulk of Indian restaurants who try to pack every dish from the bottom to the top of India in their menu.

Start with Dahi Puri and Pani Puri then finish off with either a Dabeli (a Gujarati veg burger) or their spicy Pau Bhaji (bread with mashed mixed veg curry). It all tastes just like India.

Mumbai Chaat, Sandringham – Indian Street Food & More

If Blockhouse Bay is too far away for you, then Mumbai Chaat is an OK alternative for a large variety Indian street foods.

Dahi Puri from Mumbai Chaat. Photo © Karl Rock.

Dahi Puri from Mumbai Chaat. Photo © Karl Rock.

Halal Butcher, Sandringham – Butcher with Flavour

If you want the tastiest meat to BBQ at home, then this is the place. Choose your meat then your marinade. My favourite cut here is the massive beef ribs, one rib is enough for the biggest appetite.

Rasoi, K Road – South Indian

I ate so often at Rasoi during my University years that the owner now calls me Mr India. Truth be told, the people who run Rasoi are not from India. They’re Fijian Indians from Labasa, Fiji. They don’t serve traditional Fiji Indian food either. They serve the best South Indian food and sweets in New Zealand.

Rasoi’s Samosas, Pau Bhaji, Masala Dosa (the longest I’ve ever seen), and Bhel Puri are all to die for.

Long Masala Dosa. Photo by kevix@home.

Long Masala Dosa. Photo by kevix@home.

For Traditional European Indian Curry

While people rave about the below three restaurants, they don’t exactly serve authentic Indian cuisine. Rather they serve Indian food adjusted for European taste buds. That’s why they’re so popular. The flavours are less spicy and more creamy. It’s basically toned down Punjabi food that we love so much. There’s nothing wrong with that either, I enjoy it too.

Satya, Around Auckland – North & South Indian

Butter Chicken, unfortunately, the pinnacle of Indian food in the West. Photo by Calgary Reviews.

Butter Chicken, unfortunately, the pinnacle of Indian food in the West. Photo by Calgary Reviews.

You can’t go wrong at Satya, and that’s probably why it was the most recommended Indian restaurant in Auckland for years until Paradise came along. They do a spectacular Dahi Puri which is different to the Indian type!

Little India, Around Auckland – North Indian

Butter chicken and naan. Nothing more to say.

Punjabi Dhaba, Around Auckland – North Indian

Punjabi Dhaba does one dish better than the rest. That’s Chicken Lollipops. They’re addictive! It’s special chicken drumsticks with the meat all pulled to one end then deep fried with a sweet and spicy chilli sauce. Just try it.

For Something A Little Different

Cassia, Auckland City – Modern Indian

Some kind of abstract paneer? I don't know. But I want to eat it anyway. Photo by Cassia.

Some kind of abstract paneer? I don’t know. But I want to eat it anyway. Photo by Cassia.

Cassia is the only “Modern Indian” restaurant I’ve heard of. It’s ritzy. It’s weird. Its food is abstracted and deconstructed. It’s more like art than cuisine.

The chef at Cassia, Sid Sahrawat, takes Indian cuisine and does all weird and wonderful things with it. It’s a bit of an experience in experimentation. So if you have a few dollars to spare (it ain’t cheap!) and want to experience something different, head to Cassia for something unique.

Monsoon Poon, Auckland City – Thai, Malaysian, Indian

Monsoon Poon is one of my favourite restaurants. Their menu is a mix of the best dishes of Thailand, Malaysia, and India. And they do it well! Their food is incredibly flavourful and rich.

Make sure you have a starters platter, the Button Chicken, and the very hot Firecracker Chicken (not Indian, but amazing anyway).

Firecracker Chicken. Photo by Monsoon Poon.

Firecracker Chicken. Photo by Monsoon Poon.

The Golden Temple at night. Photo by Arian Zwegers.

Don’t Leave Amritsar Without Eating These 3 Things

We woke at 4:45 am. It was still dark and boiling in Chandigarh. Today, the three of us had decided to take a road trip across Punjab to visit the world-famous Golden Temple and devour some of the delicious foods found in the India Pakistan border city of Amritsar.

I stumbled into the shower and struggled to locate the light switch in the darkness. In India, light switches can be found in the most bizarre of places. I wished I’d slept earlier, but there’s always a party in Punjab. Punjabis love to party, dance, sing, drink and eat. They’re merry people and always fun to be with. A splash of cold water began to wake my sleepy eyes. Fifteen minutes later the three of us piled into the Suzuki Swift (the most popular car in India) and began our journey.

One bad thing about India is that restaurants don’t do breakfast. Indians generally wake up late and start work late at 10 or 10:30 am. So nothing opens until 9 am at the earliest. We were keeping an eye out for somewhere to get a quick bite but alas the rest of India was still sound asleep. It’s so peaceful in India when everyone is asleep, and the dogs aren’t barking.

We eventually found a Burger King on the highway at 8 am that was open, well their drive-through at least. Not exactly Punjabi food, but beggars can’t be choosers. There’s no breakfast menu in India so we scoffed down some whoppers and fries and kept going on our 228 km journey to Amritsar. You might be thinking, “228 km, that’s not far.” In India it is. You’re on average going to be travelling only 50 km per hour because of potholed roads or having to serve around cows.

Langar

Free – Golden Temple Food Hall

Langar in the Golden Temple. Photo by Haresh Patel.

Langar in the Golden Temple. Photo by Haresh Patel.

We started off the day visiting the beautiful Golden Temple. It’s surrounded by a lake with the temple on an island in the middle. Men added to the mystical atmosphere by performed Punjabi folk songs loudly as we sat and took it all in. All Sikh temples such as the Golden Temple are called Gurdwaras. All Gurdwaras provide shelter and food to anyone who wants it. While most people won’t sleep at a Gurdwara, although they’re welcome to, most will eat the food, called Langar. The Golden Temple alone serves tens of thousands of meals a day. Gurdwaras are entirely run by volunteers. You’re welcome to visit the kitchen and washing room and see the masses of people giving their time to serve others – it’s something a lot of religions could learn from.

As you enter the Langar hall, you’ll be handed a plate and spoon. Find a place sit on the mats provided and wait to be served a two-course meal. The meal is usually some sort of lentil or chickpea curry, rice, and roti followed by a sweet dish such an Indian rice pudding (Kheer). It’s always delicious and hygienically produced.

One thing you can do help the Gurdwara sustain their free meal plan is to donate a few rupees or help roll rotis or clean dishes. But it’s in no way compulsory, and you’ll never be asked or hassled to donate like some other religion’s temples shamelessly do.

 

Automatic Roti making machine in the Golden Temple kitchen. Photo by BOMBMAN.

Automatic Roti making machine in the Golden Temple kitchen. Photo by BOMBMAN.

 

Amritsari Kulcha

$ – Kulchaland
$ – Kesar da Dhaba

Amritsari Kulcha. Photo by Prateek Rungta.

Amritsari Kulcha. Photo by Prateek Rungta.

Next up we went on a 1 km walk to Kuchaland. You can’t leave Amritsar without eating one of their famed Amritsari Kulcha. A kulcha looks like a naan bread stuffed with potato, onion, and spices but it’s actually very different. The bread is very light, and the texture is that of multiple layers of wafer thin, buttery bread. To top it off they smother it with melted butter and sometimes seeds and spices too. You then break it like a naan and scoop up the unlimited portions of spicy chickpea curry provided.

You could confuse it for an Aloo Paratha too, but once you taste it and feel the texture of the bread, you’ll see how delicious and superior it really is. It’s the ultimate stuffed bread!

The name Kulchaland inspired thoughts of Disneyland or some other land of epic proportions. But it’s really not the case, unfortunately. Kulchaland has 0 atmosphere and the non-existent and slightly dirty decor may put some people off. If you want somewhere slightly cleaner, then set your GPS to Kesar da Dhaba. Both places are great and serve authentic kulcha.

Lassi

$ – Gian Chand Lassi Wale

Lassi being made in Amritsar. Photo by Sean Ellis.

Lassi being made in Amritsar. Photo by Sean Ellis.

To wash down the Langar and Kulcha we’d just eaten we headed to the most famous Lassi store for a large 500ml plain yoghurt lassi drink topped with a dollop fresh cream. After a spicy meal, I always have a plain or sweet lassi or just plain milk to neutralise the spices and refresh my mouth.

As we took the car out of the parking lot, we realised most of the streets were completely empty and that Police and Swat teams were swarming around. Turns out the Chief Minister of Punjab was nearby, so that made our ride to Gian Chand Lassi Wale very quick with no traffic!

After eating all the best food that Amritsar has to offer the span of 4-hours our stomachs were stuffed. Make sure you spread these meals out over the day. You’ll want to do it all over again the next day, I know we did.

Lamb Dopiaza and Roti. Photo © Karl Rock.

The Easiest Lamb Dopiaza Curry Recipe Ever!

This is possibly the simplest curry recipe ever – just dump all the ingredients in a pot and simmer! In the end, you have a flavour packed and healthy Bengali mutton curry!

Lamb Dopiaza and Roti. Photo © Karl Rock.

Lamb Dopiaza and Roti. Photo © Karl Rock.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 500g lamb shoulder, cut into 4cm pieces
  • 800g onions, cut into quarters
  • 30g/6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 15g/3cm ginger, finely sliced
  • 500g natural yoghurt
  • 4 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 10cm piece of cinnamon stick
  • 10 dried chillies
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 6 green cardamom pods, bruised
  • 6 tbsp ghee or butter
  • 1½ tbsp salt
  • 250ml water

Instructions

Tip all the ingredients into a deep pan, mix together, cover with a tight-fitting lid and bring gently to a boil. Simmer over a low heat for 2 hours, until almost all the liquid has been absorbed and the lamb is tender. Serve.

Punjabi Butter Chicken. Photo by stu_spivack.

A Local’s Guide to the Best Food in Chandigarh

I took a train to Chandigarh recently to meet a Punjabi friend and go on a road trip across lush Punjab to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. While I was there we stuffed ourselves with the best food Chandigarh and Mohali (an adjoining city) had to offer. I purposefully avoided TripAdvisor recommendations and told him we would only eat where he and his friends eat.

A Little on Chandigarh

Chandigarh is not a typical Indian city. It’s strangely the capital of 2 states, Haryana and Punjab. But it’s technically not part of either state, it’s its own state or what India calls a union territory. It’s also one of the first planned cities in India, so it’s not an average India city, rather its one of the cleanest and most livable cities in India.

It’s also known as the tri-city because the cities of Chandigarh, Panchkula, and Mohali all neighbour each other and you can barely tell when you leave one and enter the next.

Sethi Dhaba

$$ – Zirakpur – Authentic Punjabi Dhaba (roadside restaurant) experience

Chole Masala at Sethi Dhaba, Chandigarh. Photo © Karl Rock.

Chole Masala at Sethi Dhaba, Chandigarh. Photo © Karl Rock.

Sethi Dhaba is a busy place frequented by celebrities and politicians as you’ll see on their photo wall. It’s one of the most famous dhabas in Chandigarh where you can experience traditional Punjabi food. They even have the traditional seats that you’ll see villagers sitting on and eating from, it’s not really a seat though, it’s a large bed that four people can sit on and eat from a table in the centre of it.

They only serve vegetarian, but even for a big meat eater like me, it doesn’t matter because Indian vegetarian food is the tastiest in the world. Make sure you order the Chole Masala, Egg Bhurji, and Dal Makhani along with either Naan or the healthier Missi Roti (made with whole wheat flour, gram flour, and spices).

Yadav Tea Stall

$ – Advocates Area, 1st Foor, District Court Complex, Sector 43) – Special bread rolls

Bread Roll from Yadav Tea Stall, Chandigarh. Photo © Karl Rock.

Bread Roll from Yadav Tea Stall, Chandigarh. Photo © Karl Rock.

This is a truly hidden delicacy. It’s not at all healthy, but it’s damn tasty. Yadav serves a unique deep fried bread roll that’s filled with savoury and slightly spiced potato filling. Accompanying it is a spicy sauce made from green chillis. It’s out of this world and only found here at the court. It’s a standard lunch for the lawyers.

Pal Dhaba

$$ – Sector 28 – Authentic Punjabi food

This is the most famous Dhaba in Chandigarh. While it’s not the traditional motorway roadside eatery, rather it’s part of an outdoor mall, the food is pure Punjabi. Punjabi food is known as rich and creamy, and Pal Dhaba delivers this.

The Butter Chicken is the best you’ll ever have. Punjabi Butter Chicken is very different to the Western version. It’s more flavorful and less sweet. Lap it up with their buttery naan bread. One other dish to try is the Punjabi favourite, Dal Malakani.

Dining outside at Pal Dhaba, Chandigarh. Photo © Karl Rock.

Dining outside at Pal Dhaba, Chandigarh.Yes, that’s an entire bowl of boneless Butter Chicken! Photo © Karl Rock.

Baba Chicken

$$ – Phase 10, Mohali – A Different Butter Chicken

For a slightly different take on Butter Chicken, Baba is a good place to go. It’s yellow and has a slightly different less spice filled flavour. Some people prefer this lighter version.

Acme India Taste Point

$ – Sector 14, Chandigarh – Bhel Puri

The Punjab University campus foodcourt is where you’ll find all the students eating each day. The standout here is the chaat/juice stall that serves great Bhel Puri (a kind of puffed rice salad with spicy sauces).

Bhel Puri from Punnjab University Foodcourt. Photo © Karl Rock.

Bhel Puri from Punnjab University Foodcourt. Photo © Karl Rock.

Backpackers Cafe

$$$ – Sector 9, Chandigarh

If you want something a bit more upmarket, head to the highly rated Backpackers Cafe. You’ll find all sorts of international fare there. Including one of the biggest Lamb Burgers I’ve ever eaten.

Lamb Burger from Backpackers Cafe. Photo © Karl Rock.

Lamb Burger from Backpackers Cafe. Photo © Karl Rock.

Sector 8 Market

The Sector 8 inner market has something for everyone. It’s a pricey market, but the quality and taste of the food in this market is great. Do a loop of the market then decide what you want to try!

Preet Eating Zone

$ – Phase 7, Mohali – Chole (Standing area only)

Preet Eating Zone's Chole on Rice. Photo © Karl Rock.

Preet Eating Zone’s Chole on Rice. Photo © Karl Rock.

Preet is known for their Chole (Chickpeas) on rice topped with coriander and cabbage. It’s a slightly spicy tomato flavoured dish on saffron rice. Perfect for a quick lunch or breakfast. Wash it down with their lassi (yoghurt drink) which surprisingly not very sweet – such a relief as India has a tendency to over sweeten everything.

Dishes available at Preet's Eating Zone, Mohali. Photo © Karl Rock.

Dishes available at Preet’s Eating Zone, Mohali. Photo © Karl Rock.

Amrit Confectionary

$ – Phase 5, Mohali – Indian sweets and bakery

Butter Paneer roll from Amrit Confectionary, Mohali. Photo © Karl Rock.

Butter Paneer roll from Amrit Confectionary, Mohali. Photo © Karl Rock.

Amrit is an Indian sweets (mithai) store with a bakery outside. The Bakery is what you come here for. They do a spicy Indian take on buns, rolls and sandwiches. The most popular item here are their deep fried rolls filled with different flavours including butter paneer or manchurian. It’s going to be hard for you to choose what to try from their beautiful cabinet.

Haandi Dum

$ – Phase 7, Mohali – Kathi Rolls (Standing area only)

Originating from Kolkata, West Bengal, Kathi Rolls are available all over India. Haandi is a local favourite. Try the soft and buttery double egg or paneer rolls.

Sindhi Sweets

$ – Sector 17 – Indian Sweets

Sindhi Sweets is regarded as the best in Chandigarh. Their speciality is Kaju (Cashew Nut) Barfi. It’s a non-spicy Indian sweet made of creamy cashews and sugar. It’s soft and lightly flavoured. Kaju Barfi is one of the most popular sweets in India making it a must try wherever you go.

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