My Run-In With Varanasi Street Eats

VARANASI, India — A strong constitution and an adventurous palate made me cast aside caution when I got hungry while exploring the ghats of Varanasi and the streets beyond.

I had played it safe after arriving in Kolkata by dining in a Punjabi restaurant, an accidental drink of tap water, a wildly delicious Bengali meal and a sampling of street sweets, but now it was time to delve deeper into the city’s local fare. The smell of food wafting from sidewalk carts was too alluring to ignore.

Bread-based dishes were among my first purchases. Followed by more hors d’oeuvres containing rice, lentils and other random starches. I moved from food cart to food cart like a honeybee hopping from one springtime blossom to the next.

Before pushing my luck too far as my day wound down, I opted for a sandwich at Bread of Life Bakery, a small eatery in a newer part of the city run by a couple of Westerners. It could’ve been an establishment in Brooklyn or Queens — the comforts of home halfway around the world.

What I hadn’t counted on, however, was how overrepresented starches were in my food intake. While I hadn’t yet experienced the dreaded “Delhi belly” stomach bug that afflicts so many travelers, the pendulum appeared to have swung in the opposite direction, as far as my digestive system was concerned. I’m sure my lack of water didn’t help matters any.

Now I know what a piñata feels like.

Bread of Life Bakery in Varanasi offered some Western comforts. At top, just one of several food carts I patronized near the ghats. (Photos by Bruno J. Navarro)

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