Many rulers have contested Gwalior’s majestic fortresses, which have occupied a vital location in the heart of North India, over the centuries. The Tomars, Mughals and Marathas came, conquered and left behind an indelible mark on the city’s culture and food.
I camped in the city for three months last winter and set out to find the best eats Gwalior has to offer.
Poha at Aggarwal Poha Bhandaar, Dal Bazaar
Believed to have originated in the Malwa region, Poha is the default breakfast in Gwalior. Ignore the many (!) ‘Mashoor Aggarwal Poha Bhandaars’ around town and head to the one in Dal Bazaar for the best plateful.
The hole-in-the-wall shop opens by 8 in the morning and shuts down by 11 am, with plates of Poha flying off the chafed tawa (flat wok). The moist and fluffy beaten rice is tossed with toasted peanuts, sev, chili pickle and the works, right in front of you to create a mélange of flavour and texture that will delight your palate.
Boondi Ladoo at Bahadura Sweets, Naya Bazaar
The iconic Bahadura ke ladoo has admirers that range from a former Prime Minister to a Bollywood superstar. A good old halwai ki dukaan (sweet shop), Bahadura Sweets doles out amber hued boondi ladoos made from besan, desi ghee and cane sugar over a coal choolha (oven). Though the ladoos stay good for up to a week (preferably kept at room temperature), don’t deprive yourself the pleasure of letting a warm ladoo from the pan melt in your mouth.
Lambi Paani Puri and Karela Chaat in Naya Bazaar and Shaan-e-Shaukat, Shinde ki Chhawni
Pani Puris go by different names in India. From Gol Gappe in Delhi to Paani ke Pataashe in Uttar Pradesh. Bengalis and Oriyas call them phuchka. Nomenclature apart, there is some distinction into what goes in. While most fill the puri with a spiced mix of mashed potatoes, Mumbaikars scoop in a matra chhole called ragda. The paani (spiced water) of course is the chaatwaala’s trademark, with the best brews making you crave endless refills.
However, this was the first time I came across a variation in the puri shell itself. Gwalior has a version called Lambi Paani Puri, where the Sooji shell is elongated into an oblong shape instead of the usual sphere.
Another unique mouth-tingler is the Karela (bitter gourd) Chaat. Made from a crunchy, layered maida wafer which vaguely resembles its vegetable namesake, the Karela is crumbled and layered with warm matra chhole, sev, khatti and meethi chutney to create a very satisfying plate.
For the best of these, head to the chaat cart after Bahadura Sweets in Naya Bazaar. If you are squeamish about your chaat, Shaan-e-Shaukat has you covered. This air conditioned store in Shinde ki Chhawni dishes out a mean DIY plate with mineral water based liquids.