More than seven million people travel to Agra every year to see the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. Many international tourists come to Agra on a day excursion from Delhi, but it’s definitely worth stay a bit longer to explore the local cuisine. A great way to learn about Agra’s rich history and flavourful food culture is to join the new ITC Food Sherpa Trail offered by ITC Mughal.
The ITC Food Sherpa Trail is an exciting culinary journey led by top ITC chefs and available in India’s biggest cities, such as Delhi, Mumbai and Agra.
Rajvir, the head chef at ITC Mughal Pavilion restaurant, led my 4-hour food tour of Agra. We set off from the hotel around noon in a car with a private chauffeur, directed to Agra’s bustling food market.
I have been to several markets in India, but the one in Agra is definitely my favourite of all. It was hectic, busy, crowded, and noisy. It seemed fairly easy to navigate, although I wouldn’t have known the best places to eat and buy food if a local hadn’t guided me. You do need to be careful where you are walking, because there are no sidewalks and there are cars, scooters, rickshaws and cows everywhere!
A daedalus of streets forms the market: there is the street with all the spice shops, the one with fruits and vegetables stalls, the one for meat and fish and so on.
You can find all kinds of spices and lentils such as javedtri, black cardamom, dal chini, red chilli, black pepper, whole cardamom, turmeric, star anise, nutmeg and many more. Foods and spices arrive in Agra every day from all over the country. The market is located right by Agra’s train station, one of the main railway hubs in India.
The most surprising shop for me was the pickle shop where you find all kinds of homemade fruit and vegetables in a jar, from mango to lasoda (a Gujarati fruit), from ginger to garlic. They are all homemade and really spicy!
We stopped to have a traditional Agra breakfast at Chimman LAL Puri Wale. The breakfast consisted in semolina dal puri fried in desai ghee and served with aloo sabzee — and of course pickles and chutneys. Not all puri stands fry the bread in real ghee (they use cheaper oils instead), so that’s what makes Chimman LAL so special. Definitely pay a visit to this tiny shop right by Agra’s market.
We also tasted a type of sev poori made with maida flour. This was puffier than the dal poori and crunchy.
It was time to leave the market, get back into the car and drive to our next stop: Rambabu Paratha Bhandar aka Agra’s oldest paratha wala.
Paratha is an Indian flatbread and wala is the hindi word used to describe a person involved in some kind of activity (eg. tea wala, milk wala, poori wala and so on). Ram babu’s paratha is considered the best in Agra and is definitely one of the best I have ever tasted. The dough is cooked on a tawa hot pan, which weighs 30 kilos and soaks up oddles of desi ghee, poured over and over by the paratha wala.
The paratha can be plain or filled with meat, vegetables or paneer cheese.
One of the most popular Indian sweets, the petha, is said to have originated in Agra. Petha is a translucent candy, soft and chewy, made from white pumpkin or ash gourd, then boiled in sugar syrup and flavoured. The best shop to buy it from is Paanchi Petha where the sweets come in a large variety of shapes and flavours (they even make sugar-free ones).
We started the ITC food Sherpa trail with sev puri and we ended it with pani puri at GMB Sweets. Pani puri (also known as gol gappa) is a very popular street snack made with crunchy puri fried bread drenched in sour and spicy mint water. It sounds a bit weird, but trust me when I say it’s delicious!
I really loved my food tour of Agra with the ITC Food Sherpa Trail and would recommend the experience to anyone. It was a great way to see a new city and explore non-touristic areas, and get an insight into Agra’s cuisine and culture. Learning about Agra’s most traditional and popular dishes from Chef Rajvir was an invaluable addition to this culinary experience.
The Food Sherpa Trail at ITC Mughal is exclusive to resident guests. Prices are 3000 rupees for one guest and 4000 rupees for two guests (inclusive of meals and transportation). Contact the hotel to book your experience.
Disclaimer: I was invited on the Agra Food Sherpa Trail by ITC Mughal. All opinions are my own.