Agra, once a town, now a bustling mini-city, is on the bucket list of every traveler. The Taj Mahal obviously attracts visitors both domestic and foreign. Add to that numerous other monuments such as the Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, Buland Darwaza, Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra … and there’s enough to keep a visitor enthralled for at least 2-3 days. It should come as no surprise that along with distinctive architecture and engrossing history, the city also offers an interesting mix of cuisines and dishes that are unique to it. From the authentic and flavorsome Mughlai food to ever present jalebis, chats and cheelas, the streets of Agra are lined with numerous delights for foodies.
There is, of course, the sugary, juicy petha, a sweet made from the humble ash gourd vegetable (also known as winter melon or white pumpkin, or simply petha in Hindi and Urdu), which has its origins in this Mughal city. Leaving Agra without a box of petha is unheard of, so much so that train travelers passing through the city make sure they pick up a box even as their train halts for all of four minutes at the Agra Cantt. Railway Station. Panchi Petha has multiple outlets across the city.
Then there’s the spicy Bedai, crisp stuffed puris served with a tangy, toothsome potato curry and a generous serving of thick curd, usually followed by jalebis. In fact that’s what a local breakfast in Agra consists of and that ’s what a typical day in Agra should start with, ideally at Deviram Halwai. Every morning, large crowds of both tourists and locals can be seen savouring this across the city. It is served in eco-friendly leaf bowls. From personal experiences, the mere thought of digging into hot, crisp bedais can cause deep-felt nostalgia when not available.
There are several options for lunch but the famous Rambabu Parathewale comes highly recommended. Diets are forgotten as one digs into stuffed paranthas (wholewheat stuffed breads that are pan-fried) with stuffing options ranging from the ubiquitous potatoes to exotic sweet corn with all sorts of combinations in between. Methi (fenugreek leaves), palak (spinach), cheese, cauliflower, peas … there is a large variety to choose from. Carrot and radish stuffed versions are especially recommended during winters. Methi-muttar (fenugreek-peas) is another local favourite. The parathas are served with mixed vegetables, finger-licking potato curry, yogurt and pickled vegetables. A tall glass of lassi is a good way to end this meal, before hitting the bed for a long afternoon siesta. Rambabu Paratha Bhandar located at Belanganj on the Agra-Delhi highway also offers all this and more.
Come evening and like any north-Indian city there are a wide variety of snacks on offer. The Sadar Bazar area is especially well known for some lip smacking chaats, kachori, samosas and gol gappas. The bhalla chat or aloo tikki as it is known in the rest of the country is a must-try – a crisp potato and chickpea patty covered in curd, sprinkled with tangy chat masala and topped with sweet and spicy chutneys. Almost every chaat shop stays crowded in Sadar Bazaar but Bhagat Halwai & Confectioners at Mahatma Gandhi road is among the best.
Leaving Agra without a Mughlai meal, dinner or lunch, would deem the trip incomplete. With Agra being their capital city, the Mughals have left a deep imprint that’s visible across - in its architecture, its culture and of course, its food. Rich gravies, intense aromas and heavy use of whole and ground spices are signatures of Mughlai cuisine. Mutton keema, kadhai paneer, malai kofta, baingan ka bharta, butter chicken – these are the typical dishes to order. Hotel Jai Hind & the Restaurant at Agra Cantt are the local favourites for Mughlai food. Pinch of Spice is another option, highly acclaimed for its aromatic gravies and flavoursome meat dishes.
An Agra immersion is quite incomplete without a deep dive into the delectable food it has on offer.