Thursday, February 22, 2007

Cuisine trail in Dehra Dun

This is the unedited version of the story 'Cuisine Trail in Dehra Dun' that appeared in HT Cafe today., which I prefer to the edited version that was actually published.

Breakfasts of doughy breads bought still warm from the oven - 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, aromatic dal tempered with ghee jeera, 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!

The City of Dehra Dun is the Interim capital of the newly formed state of Uttaranchal. Dehradun is situated at the Himalayan foothills in the fertile Doon Valley. Famed for its unspoiled environment and natural beauty, it is also an important educational center of the country. Some of the best public schools and convents of yore are housed here (Welhams, Doon and The Indian Military Academy) and new ones are mushrooming as we speak. Dehradun boasts the Oil and Natural Gas Commission and many more offices of Central and State Govt. including 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.

Dehra Dun caters to most taste buds. There is a plethora of restaurants including a “Dominoes” and a Pizza Hut on offer and it has to be said the Pizza Hut here is one of the best I have eaten at. I confess though that I have yet to go through the gamut of them since eating out is not a norm. We end up going there for such short intervals that we prefer to have all the home cooked Pahari food we can manage rather than eat out.

Like all Home cooked food that is served in rural homes the world over, home cooked Pahari food is not to be found in any restaurants, it is found in the kitchens of Garhwalis and Kumaonis all over the state. Do not despair however, just in case you do not know a Pahari or Kumaoni person whose home you can try out the food at, the tourism department of Uttaranchal is promoting all things Pahari including the cuisine so look out for the periodic Melas and Craft Festivals that take place, they usually have Gharwali food stalls. While it won’t be the real thing it will be interesting! Pahari cuisine is one of the simplest I have either sampled or cooked. The ingredients of most of the dishes can be counted on both hands. 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 it’s share of street – side eateries and they rival those of any other city in India.

There is nothing to beat steaming “theli” soup on a cold foggy night in Dehra Dun or a steaming hot Massalla tikki from Ganpati sweets on Rajpur Road on a chilly monsoon afternoon as a misty drizzle slowly drenches you. So hot you can barely hold the leaf cp 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. 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.

Most of the soup vendors in Dehra Dun offer chowmein and momos and a variety of other quickly prepared Chinese dishes but the places I frequent for momos (no question about what meat goes into them) are one on the outskirts of Dehra Dun past the Osho restaurant complex and the other is on the main Rajpur Road opposite the large petrol pump. Both are located in slightly seedy area so it is a good idea to take along some company or a local. 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. Kwality is one of the oldest restaurants in Dehra Dun, and has long been the watering hole for Dehra Dun’s elite. They dish out very club style Continental and Chinese food and “massaledar” Indian food Their Spring roles are excellent but if you are looking for a full Chinese meal try the Yeti and Countdown restaurants. Yeti is more the more presentable one, in terms of Ambiance and food and also offers some Thai food but if it is quantity you are looking for Countdown is the place for you. Its large bowls of soup smothered in crispy noodles are almost legendary in Dehra Dun. The Kumar Restaurant is good place for South Indian food like Idli Dosa and the like.

A cut above the standard of these is the in-house restaurant at the President is very popular as well, but it is advisable to reserve a table in advance if one wants to avoid waiting but if you are looking for a place for a special meal, drop into The Great Value hotels in-house restaurant, “The Orchid”. Recently refurbished it 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 outside of restaurants and the like. Drop into one of the 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. 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. Happy legacies of the Raj these bakeries of Dehra Dun are also famous for their 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. Best by far, however, 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 Uniyal Bakery over on Haridwar Road is gaining fame for the organic Mandua (Nachani) flour biscuits pastries and breads they have introduced off late. 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.

Summer - 36°C and 16.7° C
Winters - 23.4°C and 5.2° C

Population: 5 lakh
STD Code: 0135

Getting There
Air: Jolly Grant Airport - 24 kms
Rail: Railway Terminals - Dehradun and Rishikesh (Northern Railway)
Road: Being the capital of Uttaranchal, it is well connected - Meerut (170 kms), Chandigarh (175 kms), Delhi (235 kms)

Where to Stay: name, numbers, e-mails.
There are lots of options in terms of accommodation, stay at one of the GMVN guesthouses, or if you can wangle a room at the Fri then that is a great place to stay if you have your own transport. The Best Western Hotel Madhuban is Government Approved and makes a good 3 star option. (Address 97, Rajpur Road, Dehradun-248001, Uttaranchal). The Hotel Great Value is also a very nice option. (74-C, Rajpur Road, Dehra Dun, (UA), India Tel. + 91 135 2744086; 2744762 – 65, Fax. +91 135 2746058 Email:, website:

What to see:
For sightseeing, Dehra Dun is the gateway to a variety of excursions right on its outskirts. These include sulphur springs at Sahastradhara, 14 kms. away, the cold water gorge at Robbers' Cave, Guchhupani, 8 kms. away, places of religious importance like Tapovan 5 kms. Away and Tapkeshwar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva 5.5 kms. Away/. Also of interest are Laxman Sidh 12 kms. away and the Malsi Deer Park, 9 kms. away which are extensively used by the locals for their weekend picnics. The Jhanda Fair marking the arrival of Guru Ram Rai, at Dehra Dun is celebrated with great pomp and aplomb in the heart of the town on the fifth day after Holi, every year, attracting hundreds of Sikh pilgrims from the entire country. The renowned religious town of Rishikesh, where the Ganga enters the plains, is 42 kms away. The temple town of Haridwar is 67 kms away and famous for its evening Aarti with floating lights.


vkn said...

Marvelous story Rushina. Great writing. It brought back the nostalgic memories of our stay at Dehradun few years ago. Great city for a long long vacation. Cheers!

Aroha said...

Hi there Rushina, terrific article! You made me visualize the entire gastronomic delights of D'Dun. Cheers!

niti said...

I never imagined any body could pen down the tastes and visions so well,splendid article!Makes you miss the food and the "thelis" and the momos(the stall beyond OSHO is KC soup bar..awesum momos and soup).I just loved the article,please do keep writing.

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