Culinary Expert, Writer & Consultant
I write about food history and stories most often around ingredients, cuisines, and the people who cook them. I also own and run A Perfect Bite Consulting and @APBCookStudio through which I curate culinary experience and help F&B brands and businesses connect with their consumers.
A virtual gastronomic tour of Dehra Dun to celebrate the start of my second book !
Breakfasts of parathas still warm from the griddle - delicious even without the accompanying freshly churned butter and homemade strawberry jam…. Fruit - sweet juicy and still warm freshly picked from one’s own garden… Steaming hot REAL basmati rice, doused in danedar desi ghee, and aromatic dal tempered with pharan, accompanied by rye greens from the kitchen gardens… Floury, buttery, bakery biscuits, delicious to dunk into evening tea… Momos, little parcels of pleasure dunked in spicy chutney… AND ... the sweet SWEET finales! Anytime in the day Stick jaws that separate the good teeth from the bad, soul satisfying Chaclat, Bal Mithai that is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside and silken Rasmalais swimming in thick creamy Rabri… Dehra Dun has a hidden Smorgasbord of tactile delights for the taste buds that is just waiting to be discovered!
I signed on the dotted line for my second book Uttarakhandi Kitchen this week. This book has been six years in the writing, Technically it is my first book, because I started my career with an article on Uttaranchali cuisine for Savvy Cookbook. And have been working on this book ever since. It has taken me this long to get a publisher interested in it. Finally Westland Books, the publishers of my first book have taken it on. My only regret is, that my father in law, R D Ghildiyal, and my husband’s grandparents, Nanaji and Nani are not here to see this book materialize.
I may have married into the state of Uttaranchal, but it has come to mean home to me. Although the legalities have been finalized just now, I have been here in Dehra Dun for a month and a half now, working on it. So I thought I would celebrate this milestone with a virtual trip through some of the must try food experiences here for.
The City of Dehra Dun is situated at the Himalayan foothills in the fertile Doon Valley and famed for its unspoiled environment and natural beauty, it is also an important educational center of the country and home to many offices of Central and State Govt. including FRI or the Forrest Research Institute, which is a beautiful area (if you are visiting and can mange to wangle a room through a contact the FRI guest house is a great place to stay). With so much happening, Dehra Dun caters to most taste buds. And over the years I have come to the conclusion that the best thing to eat here is all the home cooked Pahari food we can manage.
Like all home cooked food of rural India, home cooked Pahari food is not to be found in any restaurants, but in its home kitchens. Unless you know a local whose home you can try out the food at, cross your fingers that one of the periodic Melas or Craft Festivals that is on, because they usually have Uttarakhandi food stalls. While it won’t be the real thing it will offer some insight to Uttarakhandi food which is one of the simplest I have either sampled or cooked. I have an unconfirmed theory that Pahari people were very hard working people and food out of necessity had to be simple, flavorful, filling and easily prepared. Pahari food is divided into two branches, Gharwali from the Gharwal area of Uttaranchal and Kumaoni from the Kumaon area of Uttaranchal. Look out for things like Mandua ki Roti, Tor and Gehat ki dal, Jhangore ki Kheer in Garhwali food and dishes like Bhattwani, Ras, Badil and Singhal in Kumaoni food.
When there is a decided nip in the air, at that time of the year when the stylish woolens are out and days of walking around in blankets are still not here is when one craves the deeply satisfying sort of food that is never found at home, but instead sold from handcarts, makeshift counters and ramshackle shelters across the length and breadth of India. No trip to India is complete, whatever the risks of falling ill, without a pilgrimage to the “theli” or street stalls of whichever city you are in. Dehra Dun has its share of street – side eateries and they rival those of any other city in India.
Momos with fiery chutney!
There is nothing to beat steaming “theli” soup on a cold foggy night in Dehra Dun or a steaming hot Massalla tikki on a chilly monsoon afternoon as a misty drizzle slowly drenches you. So hot you can barely hold the leaf cup it comes in and so mouthwatering with its sweet, spicy tamarind chutney that you almost burn your tongue in your impatience. All over Dehra Dun you will find vendors peddling everything from Ginger garnished chats to Idli dosa, and chow mien. On our last trip we discovered some fabulous kebab places as well. We plan to go back there next week so hopefully I will be able to post in delicious detail on those. Tara located near St. Thomas school does legendary fish pakoras that go down really well with drinks or try the Steaming hot soup from the Sardar in the lane adjacent to Astley Hall. It is a tomato based soup generously garnished with cream, chicken bits and some sort of signature masalla to spike it.
No discussion of Dehra Dun’s street food is complete without talk of the Momo and Thupka, the staples of Tibetan cuisine that have adapted so well to being a street food. With Uttaranchal sharing a border with Tibet, it is not surprising that they have made their presence felt in its capital. Momos some might know of them as Potstickers, are scrumptious steamed parcels stuffed with mincemeat rather like steamed wontons and native to Tibet and Nepal. They are served with a clear broth-soup and spicy chutney. Thupka is the Tibetan version of the Mongolian hotpot. Comfort food for the soul in which home made noodles, chicken bits, and vegetables are all poached in a meat broth and spiked with chilies and served up steaming hot. Remember do it all and down a couple of doses of homeopathic tummy medicine for dessert to preempt any upsets. A decadent way to live I know but what a glorious way to go!
For those who shy away from places that require a dose of tummy medicine after consumption, there are a lot of decent dining options in Dehra Dun as well. If you are in search of a quick meal while shopping or just because you want to eat out, there are numerous options available as well. The in-house restaurant at the President hotel is very popular, but has come to be a favourite for that one special meal we like to have out every trip. They dish out very club style Continental food, along with some pretty good Chinese and Indian food. If you are looking for a full Indian Chinese meal try the Yeti and which also offers some Thai food. The Kumar Restaurant is good place for South Indian food like Idli Dosa and the like. The Great Value hotels in-house restaurant, “The Orchid” could rival a Bombay restaurant for décor, service and food. Their Indian, Chinese and Continental food are all very good and the blend of Antique wood furniture, moss green upholstery, and subtle décor make for excellent ambiance. A cozy, bar tucked away to the left, is ideal for drinks before dinner or one for the road.
For those between meal, snacky, cravingy moments when you are out taking in the sights or shopping, there are many things you could pick to take the edge off. Drop into one of the Dehra Dun’s bakeries for a Creamroll, pastry or Frankie, or have a mithaiee feast at one of the Sweetshops.
Sending their aroma out into the morning air, hooking mere mortals and reeling them in unceremoniously are the many Bakeries of Dehra Dun. Happy legacies of the Raj these bakeries offer biscuits, sweet confections and Savory delights that melt in your mouth and come in a plethora of avatars from bakeries big and small, new and old all over Dehradun. Drop into “old” Elloras (there are several of them in row so ask for the oldest one). This is where you will get the best VFM Chocolate éclair, piquant Lemon tarts and Flaky Cream rolls oozing delicious butter cream icing. But the best creamrolls by far are the ones made by Grand in the main market of Paltan Bazaar. Dehra Dun is also at the centre of an organic revolution and many bakeries are doing organic Mandua (Nachani) flour biscuits. This trip we have discovered a rather Please be warned these do become addictive!
No article on the gastronomic delights of Dehra Dun would be complete without Stickjaws Sticky toffees that literally shut you up while you struggle to get them of your teeth have been a legend amongst the boarding school grapevine in India with Welhams and Doon students carrying them wherever they go. Kwalitys bakery, established in 1947 and a sister concern of the restaurant mentioned above is attributed for inventing the Stickjaw and they still make them, along with a lot of other delicious baked goods so remember to pick up some for friends back home!
Another gastronomic landmark of Dehradun are the sweetshops. Kumar’s is the better-known and can be found smack dab in the middle of Ghanta Ghar Chowk, the centre point of Dehra Dun. Walk in at any time of day and the place will be full of people gorging on chaat and sweet treats. Bengalis a little up the road from Ghanta Ghar on Main Rajpur Road. They are famous for their Ras Malais. (Little flat dumplings of cottage cheese in a reduced milk sweet sauce) They have been around forever now, and a trip to Dehra Dun without a taste of their Rasmalai drizzled with a signature sprinkle of Gangajal would be incomplete. They are also where you will be able to sample the “chaclate” or Chocolate and Singhori in season. These are two famous Pahari sweet preparations. Chocolate is milk reduced to its solid form, set and then cut into chunks while Singhori is sweet milk solids sweetmeats stuffed into a leaf called the Malle Ka patta, resulting in little cone shaped sweets fragrant with the aroma of the leaf wrapping that melt in your mouth.