Travel Secrets

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Food secrets

What is the national dish of Columbia?

What is Rassolnik?

This traditional Russian soup is known to have existed as far back as the 15th century, when it was called ‘kalya’. Today, famous with the name Rassolnik, the authentic Russian dish is prepared mainly with veal and lamb kidneys (or pork and beef kidneys), pearl barley, sorrel leaves and some pickled cucumbers! Yes, you heard it right. A ‘pickle soup’ it is!


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No matter how bizarre it may sound, but this bribing Slavic blend is definitely a bowl of happiness.  Rassolnik or rassoljnik, as it is known, varies from family to family and region to region. Some include barley and potatoes and is so thick, a spoon can stand up in it. Others make it with prime cuts of meat instead of offal.

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Despite of all the variations, the belief behind the recipe stays common, i.e. it is the one of the easiest and surest way of curing hangovers!  This is due to the fact that this savory soup helps the body to hold water and counteract the dehydration produced by over-imbibing, which causes hangovers.

Buy This Whiskey, Own A Land In Scotland!

Planning to get a land in Scotland? Why not buy a bottle of whiskey instead! Yes, you read it right. Scotland’s one of the finest single-malt whiskeys, Laphroaig, offers a lease on a square foot of land with the purchase of each bottle. When you buy one, you lawfully become a ‘Friend of Laphroaig’. And, as a ‘Friend’ you will be given a numbered plot (one square foot) of the distillery land, represented by your own little flag!


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Currently owned by Beam Suntory (American subsidiary of Japan’s Suntory Holdings), Laphroaig was founded in Scotland in 1815 by Donald and Alexander Johnson. It is the only Islay Scotch whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales.


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Talking about the rates, a ten year old Laphroaig can cost you around US$50 (approx. ₹3344), an eighteen year old bottle can cost you around double of that (around ₹ 6688) and the 25 year old one will lighten your wallet by approximately US$ 400. (approx. ₹26755). So, once you get your hands on any of these three, just register the bar code placed on the bottle to the Laphroaig website. And that’s it! You will, then, be a proud owner of a piece of land in Islay, Scotland.


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Ever heard of an eatable Margarita?

No, this isn’t your traditional glass of tequila and fruit juice cocktail that you sip casually on a usual Friday evening. Doug Laming’s Margarita is definitely much more interesting than that! As suggested by the name, this cocktail was introduced by Molecular Mixologist, Doug Laming at his experimental lab i.e. Rabbit Hole Bar & Dining, Sydney.


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Laming uses ‘Cointreau Caviar Spherification’ to create spheres of Tequila, Cointreau and syrup, which results in little ‘pearls’ of alcohol that burst in the mouth!  While the glass is only there for decoration, to actually consume this margarita, one has to lift up the salt rimmed lime and eat the pink finger lime and the two types of the caviar pearls. One contains a Souza Gold tequila and sugar syrup and the other contains Cointreau. Basically, you eat these and lick the salted lime. It’s a margarita unlike any other kind that you may have had.


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Which is the most expensive cheese in the World?

Originated from Serbia, Pule cheese is made exclusively from the milk of Balkan donkeys. A characteristic feature of Serbian cuisine, Pule is not only extremely rare but also the most expensive cheese in the world. This exotic delicacy would cost you a whopping $576 for a pound!


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It takes 25 liters of donkey milk to produce just one kilogram of this white & crumbly smoked cheese. These donkeys are given the very best grass to eat and live as free rein as they can, living in the wilds of Serbia, they are farmed, milked and that results in this Serbian food-treasure!

A woman milks a donkey at a farm in Zasavica Resort, west of Belgrade

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What kind of bread is zopf?

What exactly is a champagne breakfast?

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It is, well, exactly as luxurious as it sounds: Breakfast served with champagne or sparkling wine and fruit juice, usually orange and/or peach.

This special treat is generally reserved for special occasions such as an Anniversary, Mother’s Day or a holiday. High-end hotels and vacation resorts often serve champagne breakfasts served in three elegant courses: bread, cake and fruit, followed by the main course, and finally, coffee, cheese and biscuits.


To give you a clearer idea, here’s the romantic champagne breakfast menu at the Governor’s Suite in Hartness House, an Inn in Vermont, USA.

Ice-chilled Champagne in a bucket with two crystal flutes;

Freshly-squeezed Orange or Carrot-Apple Juice;

Freshly baked Crumb-topped Blueberry muffins
and Orange marmalade;

Strawberries with Framboise Creme Parfait;


Your choice of:
Smoked Salmon and Green Onion Omelet, or
Almond and Graham Crusted French Toast; or
Governor’s Eggs Benedict

French Press Columbian Coffee with Cream

Decorated with a beautiful silk Rosebud in Vase and newspaper

This indulgence for two can be yours for an extra $75 USD!

How do I select and enjoy the right Rosé wine?

1. Buy the Right Rosé Wine

Rosé wine is not a cross between red and white wines! It gets its delicate colour because the red grapes are crushed as soon as they arrive in the cellar. It’s best to buy young rosé, and serve it well-chilled. Look for bottles with screw caps. They keep wine much fresher than cork.

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2. Pair it with the perfect cheese

Salty feta or soft goat cheese complements Rosé beautifully. Roll the cheese in fresh herbs for a lovelier look and more flavour.

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3. Match it with a sexy salad

If your Rosé is dry with light fruity notes, its perfect companion is a fresh buffalo mozzarella & tomato salad. Also goes great with olives, tapenade and grilled prawns.

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Chef’s Secret: An offbeat potato recipe!

In the first edition of  our Chef’s Secret series, Tanveer Kwatra, Executive Chef, Le Meridien Gurgaon, takes us beyond French Fries.

Watch his interpretation of comfort food with this easy-to-make potato dish, in 90-seconds flat!

Bon Appétit!

How to Sleep Like a Baby On a Long Flight

Here are some simple things you can do to make your long-haul journey comfortable.

  1. Say no to carbonated drinks.
    The bubbles in carbonated drinks expand at high altitude, making you feel bloated. Enjoy some fresh fruit juice and plenty of water instead.
  2. Don’t chew gum.
    It tends to make you swallow as you chew on it, which can cause gas. Source:
  3. Eat food that contains Tryptophan.
    Tryptophan is a calming amino acid and food items that carry it in high levels tend to induce sleep naturally. So start munching on dates, cottage cheese, turkey and fish once onboard. Source: Thrillist
  4. Ditch gas-producing foods.
    Gastrointestinal discomfort is one of the biggest problems typically associated with long distance flight. Flatulence can be a cause for discomfort and embarrassment for you as well as your co-passengers. The best course is to cut out on food items belonging to the cruciferous family such as brocolli, cauliflower and potatoes which encourage intestinal expansion.

  5. Choose vegetarian meals.
    Vegetarian meals are served first, so you’re done faster, thus cutting out unnecessary wait before you go to sleep. Simple! Source: American Airlines
  6. Eat something light before boarding.
    Rather than a secret, this is more of basic common sense. If you find yourself really tired and don’t want to wait till your meal is served, grab something to eat before you step onboard and let the flight attendant know that you don’t want dinner.

  7. Always carry earplugs and an eye mask.
    These wonderful sleeping aids are easily available and affordable too. An inflatable pillow is another good investment.
    Source: Alamy
  8. Choose a window seat.
    The benefits of choosing the window seat is three-pronged. You can lean against a solid surface for support while sleeping and not get disturbed by a co-passenger wanting to go to the loo. Plus, you don’t miss out on the view outside. Source: Thrillist
  9. Try and get a seat up front.
    By getting a seat in the first few rows, you can avoid the disturbance caused by engine noise which is loudest towards the rear. You can do this by checking-in online. Most airlines allow web check-in 24 hours before take off. Source: Telegraph
  10. Don’t be tempted to take a sleeping pill.
    A sleeping tablet can increase the risk of a blood clot from sitting in cramped spaces for too long. Besides, it’s good to be alert, not inert, when flying.
    Source: Huffington Post

This story was published in our Nov-Dec 2012 issue. Re-edit: TS intern Siddharth Birla
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Point Me to 5 Offbeat Bookstores Across the World

“In books I have travelled, not only to other worlds, but into my own.”
― Anna Quindlen

Travel and books go together, just like “Fish n Chips” or “Gin n Tonic”.

TS intern Siddharth Birla, a bibliophile himself,  lists out 5 exotic and unique bookstores which  deserve top spot on every travel and book lover’s bucket list:

1. Libreria Alta Acqua, Venice, Italy

Sure, Venice pairs perfectly with the word “romance.” But don’t come away without checking out the city’s charming boat bookstore.

Libreria Alta Acqua which literally translates to “Library of High Water” is nothing like your everyday bookstore or library. You are greeted by a sign outside saying “Welcome to the Most Beautiful Bookshop in the World.” Upon entering, you’ll be amazed to find a full size gondola in the middle of the bookstore overflowing with ancient books on art, history, dictionaries and biographies. To complete the furnishings, there are also poles, oars and mannequins. Whenever the channels of Venice get flooded during Acqua alta, the gondola simply floats on water, keeping the books dry and safe.

Libreria Alta Acqua is actually a mix between a bookstore and a flea market. If you are lucky, you might stumble upon some antique books or one of the four domesticated cats.



2. Livraria Lello, Porto Portugal

Legend has it that JK Rowling conceived the idea of Harry Potter after being inspired by the beauty of Liveraria Lello, which she visited regularly while living in Porto in the early 1990’s.

The neo-Gothic façade of this former library barely hints at the opulence inside: carved wood, gilded pillars, ornamented ceilings, and a gorgeous red staircase lit by a stained-glass atrium. It’s not hard to see how JK Rowling might have been inspired to incorporate a Grand Staircase in Hogwarts Castle after visiting the Lello bookstore. Established in 1881, the bookstore features more than 100,000 titles in several languages and was named by Lonely Planet as the “Third Best Bookshop in the World”



3. The Montague Bookmill, Massachusetts, USA

‘Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.’

The tagline of this bookstore itself is enough to make you want to find it!

The Montague Bookmill is housed in an 1842 gristmill, set on the banks of the Sawmill River, a few miles north of Amherst and Northampton, Massachusetts. The interiors of the mill have been revamped but still retain most of the characters of the original building, with scuffed wooden floors, giant windows, and traces of the industrial nature it once had.

It mostly houses used academic book ranging from everything from Austen and anarchy to Zola and zoology and sells them at half the original price. It’s not a conventional bookstore and does not maintain any catalogues. The idea is to browse books personally along the maze like aisles and staircase which make the experience as exciting as reading. However, if you fail to find the book you’re looking for, they claim to find you a better one that you didn’t even knew you wanted.



4. Atlantis Books, Oia, Santorini Island, Greece

“From the Caldera, breath-taking views of the volcano and neighboring islands. From the east, miles of dark sandy or pebbled beaches. Everywhere one sees small domed churches and remnants of days gone by.”

Santorini is a place where people read sunsets more often than books. For this reason maybe, this small group of islands lacked a good bookstore until two travelers, Craig Walzer and Oliver Wise decided to open Atlantis Books in 2004.

The story goes that back in the spring of 2002, Oliver and Craig spent a week on the island of Santorini. They had finished their books and couldn’t find anything they liked in English at the local bookstores, where the selection was limited to detective novels and guidebooks. Intoxicated by Santorini’s beauty, they decided to open a shop modelled on Shakespeare & Company, the English-language bookstore in Paris.

Jeremy Mercer of The Guardian describes Atlantis as a dream of a bookstore. Perched on the cliffs of the volcanic island in a postcard-worthy Greek villa, visitors can spend their afternoons reading a Ryszard Kapuscinski or Jamaica Kincaid title while listening to some jazz playing in the background. The store also hosts food and film festivals, and writers’ readings and is slowly becoming a landmark in Oia. Travelers who are not even reading enthusiasts make it a point to pay this place a visit just to click some pictures worth remembering.



5. El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Grand theatre turned bookstore, El Ataneo Grand Splendid is the creation of architects Peró and Torres Armengol and makes its place as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Originally built as a theatre for performing arts in 1919, it was converted into a movie theatre in 1929 until poor economic condition forced the theatre to be closed down. It was slated for demolition when the Ilhsa Group, owner of the El Ateneo publishing house bought the building. They subsequently renovated and converted it into a book and music shop while still retaining the original interior architectural details including the brilliant frescoed ceilings painted by the Italian artist Nazareno Orlandi, and caryatids sculpted by Troiano Troiani.

While the staggeringly opulent display of books is reason enough to pay El Ateneo Grand Splendid a visit, one can also indulge in coffee and live piano music on the very stage where the Argentinean stars of tango once performed to witness its complete splendor.



3 Great Breakfast Options in Mumbai

Kala Ghoda Café

Mumbai Breakfast

With Rs.200 to spend, Kala Ghoda Café is the place to go for Veg Morjim Sandwich and a glass of fresh orange juice or Waffle with chocolate sauce and

Where: Ropewalk Street, Kala Ghoda, Colaba.


Photo Courtesy
Photo Courtesy

Their sabudana vada and Dahi Misal are a foodie’s delight.

Where: Shiv Sena Bhavan, Next to Kithe Hall, Gokhale Road, Shivaji Park, Dadar

Café Madras

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy

For pineapple sheera worth Rs.35, plate of idlis worth Rs.20 and filter coffee worth Rs. 15, Café Madras is the place to go for an authentic south Indian

Where: 38 -B, Circle House, King’s Circle, Matunga

Inputs from Sarita Santoshini

What’s on offer for Vegetarians in Vancouver, Canada?

When it comes to food, Vancouver has always had a healthy west-coast vibe to it. Now on the cutting edge of the latest trend – part-time vegetarianism – the bustling seaport in British Columbia is dishing out a sumptuous vegetarian spread larger than ever.  

Vancouver has long been a great city for a tofu fix, but now the chefs are branching out into sophisticated vegetarian dining fit to lure even the hard-core carnivores.

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At The Acron, Chef Rob Clarke’s award winning menu features beautiful vegetarian, raw as well as vegan plates. No tofu turkey or fake sausages here, but you’ll never miss meat while dishes like crispy beer-battered halloumi on a zucchine rosti with pureed peas, cauliflower mac and cheese, delicate raw beet, and macadamia nut cheese ravioli are around.

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Exile Bistro‘s plates are always filled with the west-coast’s seasonal wild bounty – wild mushrooms on barley bread toast with cashew cheese and dandelion salad is just one of them that gives you a fair idea of what’s served here.

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Burdock & Co.‘s, Chef Andrea Carlson keeps it simple but high on flavour with small plates of local vegetables – braised and charred leeks with hazelnut Romesco sause or whole roasted Walla Walla onion with pine mushroom and cheese fonduta. We are already drooling here!

For more plant forward food far from crunch granola of yore, you can try these two too –

The Parker for late-night cocktails and noshes and

Heirloom or Graze for good old vegetarian comfort food.

Restaurants play their part well, but the hotels are soon catching up with the Vegetarian fever in town –

At The Four Seasons, Chef Ned Bell loves his vegetables and makes a d=generous display of it with his “Farm-to-table”menu brimming with “nutrient dense and plant based” delicacies.

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The Sushi bar at The Fairmont Pacific Rim serves up pressed and salted watermelon nigiri to mimic rare tuna for vegan diners.

Whether it is for health, environment or local “root-to-shoot” eating, Semi -Vegetarianism is on the path to soon becoming Vancouver’s new signature cooking style. 

For more on Vegetarian Vancouver, check out these restaurants.

Recipe: Swisind Chicken and Tomato Salad

MasterChef India season 2 Winner Shipra Khanna journeyed around the Alps and brought back a delicious mash up of Swiss and Indian flavours. Here’s what she has to say about her new masterpiece:

‘Cooking at the Alps! Unbelievable experience with Swiss tourism and Cox and kings..!Getting the Nations together with food..Created a new recipe “SwisInd Chicken” (Swiss and Indian flavors) ’.

Want to try it? Let’s help you make it first.


2 pieces Chicken (leg and thigh)

1tbsp chopped garlic

1tsp ginger finely minced

1 cup ground cashews

1 cup cream

1 cup milk

1/2 cup water

2 tbsp olive oil to sauté chicken

2 tsp freshly garam masala

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 tsp lime juice

SwisInd Chicken with spinach and tomato salad



  • In a bowl, marinate chicken with salt, pepper and lime juice and keep aside for 10 minutes.
  • In a pan heat oil and fry chicken till light golden in colour.
  • In another pan heat oil and sauté garlic and ginger till light brown ,then add cashews and sauté till light golden in colour.
  • Once done add garam masala and season with salt and pepper and add two cubes of butter to it mixing till well incorporated.
  • Add the fried chicken to it and along with it add Cream, milk and cook on low flame for 10 minutes.
  • Then add water and cook further for 10 minutes on medium flame.
  • While it is cooking, in a separate bowl toss spinach and cut cherry tomatoes in balsamic vinegar and olive oil season according to taste.
  • Once the chicken is cooked take the pieces out on a plate.
  • Sieve the gravy and serve the chicken with smooth gravy along with spinach salad.



Shipra Khanna has been taken on board by Tourism Australia and Cox & Kings as their culinary patron. Her culinary trail celebrates food and wine experiences in Switzerland with cookery sessions, local food market visits and MasterChef inspired recipes.


7 Exotic Foods to buy at Sawers of Belfast, Ireland?


If exotic dishes titillate your taste buds, walk into Sawers, a wildly popular gourmet store in the heart of Belfast.

On the menu:

  • Rattlesnake
  • Zebra
  • Camel
  • Bison
  • Kangaroo burgers
  • Crocodile Steak
  • Fresh Rope Mussels

and much more!

Adventurous diners have savoured this stuff at Sawers for over 116 years now.

Not into exotica? There’s caviar and foie gras on the go. Try the tapenades, sample some cheese—the award-winning Sawers makes them in-house, too. For about Rs 2500, you can get a foiehamper for the folks back home! 

4 Drinks From Egypt to Cool You Down This Summer

Inputs from TS Intern Jai Khajuria. 

Summers are here and it’s important stay well-hydrated – travelling or not. Try this refreshing drinks from Egypt to beat the heat.


A boy selling Sobia on the streets during Ramadan. Image:
A boy selling Sobia on the streets during Ramadan. Image:

Brown bread and barley soaked in water are stored in large pots for a whole day. The mixture is then boiled and spiced with cinnamon and cardamom. After one more day of soaking, the water is filtered out and sugar is added. The end product is a thick, white, creamy milk-like drink topped with spices and coconut shavings. Best served chilled with lots of ice, Sobia is a favourite in Egypt, especially during Ramdaan.


qasab   Simply, sugarcane juice. Sugarcane is widley ground all around Egypt and you will easily find Qasab anywhere in the country. It is the ideal choice for a hot summer day.



Dry Hibiscus flowers are mixed with water and sugar to make this refreshing drink, that can be served hot or cold. Vnilla, lemon or orange extracts are also added for flavour. Hibiscus is said to have medicinal properties which help stabilize blood pressure. On the streets, Karakadey is commonly sold chilled.


Tamar Hindi vendor at Tahir square , Cairo. Image:
Tamar Hindi vendor at Tahir square , Cairo. Image:

This tangy, refreshing, chilled tamarind juice drink not only beats the heat, but also boosts nutrition. Commonly served as an alternative to Karakeadey and is prepared by adding tamarind to sugar water with rose water for added flavour.               Apart from these, fruit juices are also available according to the season. Strawberry and mango are staple to Egyptian households. Banana or guava milk shakes are also popular. During Ramadan, stewed apricot juice will be available everywhere.

I’m in Madrid, Spain. Lead me into an offbeat tavern.

maderid old quarter tavernFollow us into Meson del Champignon, an enchanting taverna in the Old Quarter of Madrid.

Located beside the grand Plaza Mayor, this cobbled medieval stretch of lanes and bylanes houses some of Spain’s oldest taverns and restaurants. The tradition is to go tapas hopping here, washing them down with wine and beer. By the end of the trail you are sure to be loosening up your belt.

At the Meson del Champignon, it’s everything mushroom, down to the art on the walls. The place is shaped like a cave.

To us, the de-stemmed mushrooms were presented as caves, too, into which went extra virgin olive oil, garlic, herbs and a little pepper. That’s it. The simplicity was what blew us away.


Grilled or filled: every mushroom tapas here is an absolute treat.


An elderly gentleman provided song and music to deepen the Spanish effect.


How Not to Eat in Florence, Italy

Posted By Travel Secrets Editor Shubhra Krishan

As someone who believes in stumbling upon great places, I decided to ditch the guide books/blogs/local advice, and plunged straight into Florence.

Big mistake.

Stepping out of the magnificent Santa Maria Novella Railway Station…


I wended my way through the crowded streets of the city…


asking for directions to  The Gallery Hotel Art


Along the way, hunger pangs hit. Hard. And since I was in Italy, the fragrance of herbs and the aroma of baked bread was everywhere. Honestly, I could hardly wait to drop my bags at the hotel and get back on the streets for a bite.


Strung along a pipe-thin lane, I spotted a string of eateries that promised big meals at incredible deals. Smiling restaurant staff stood outside their outlets, handing out colourful pamphlets that promised a free drink with pizza and seemingly endless menus.

Photo: Used here for representational purposes only


I succumbed.

And regretted it minutes later. The pizza was cold and leathery, with about 3 olives that tasted as if they had been glued atop the bread a month ago. Sure, it cost me “just 4 euros” for pizza and coke, but I would rather have spent a few bucks more to get a better bite.


I am sure the giant plastic chef standing outside the restaurant, holding that huge menu card, giggled a little when I walked in.

Moral of the story: do your research when you are going to Florence. Read helpful advice such as this. And this.

Bon Appetit!


A good book about Himachal cuisine?

We’ve got just the one:



This is one of the most beautifully designed cookbooks we have seen in recent times. The photographs by Israr Qureshi will make you want to pick the dishes off the pages. The content is luscious, too, filled with traditional vegetarian recipes from the Sud community, which calls the Kangra region home. Interestingly, Kangra cuisine does not employ much of onion, garlic and ginger. Its kitchen stars are curds and spices such as coriander, amchoor, chillies and cumin.

In the book, there are recipes for Gulabi Mahni (black lentil soup), Baree Pulao, Mandra (spiced vegetable and yoghurt curry), Patore (colocasia rolls) and much more. There is a section on typical Kangri desserts and achars, too.

More about the book and Kangra Cuisine here

For more mouth-watering Kangra food secrets and recipes check out these links:

Pahari Food/ Dishes from Himachal Pradesh by The Restaurant Fairy’s Kitchen

Madra from Kangra Valley by Ribbon’s to Pasta’s

Watch Video: NDTV Goodtimes’ Highway on my Plate

Some great places to eat in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India?

TS Intern Aanchal Ahuja calls Shimla her second home. Who better than her to pick the hill-station’s best local eats:

“Forget places like KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominos. When in Shimla, let your taste buds go local.

shimla, chole bature, street food


Sita Ram & Sons is a small shack in Lakkar Bazaar. You get the city’s best chholey bhaturey here. Not too heavy, not too spicy. At Rs 70 a plate, it makes an affordable, filling and yummy meal.


Intrigued by the name “Wake & Bake,” I walked into this blue-panelled, yellow-windowed restaurant in the heart of the Mall Road. It turned out to be a good decision! Besides the pretty ambience, this restaurant has some seriously delicious food. The service is quick, too. What else do you need? Don’t miss their Lebanese platter and freshly ground coffee.


Located bang on Scandal Point is one of Shimla’s oldest restaurants—The Alpha. It’s nothing much to look at, but the food is good. Chicken Cutlets and Chicken Rolls, washed down with hot chai…bliss!”

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