Vast, beguiling and hard to define, India – and it’s food – can be both intriguing and intimidating. Foodie families may be put off traveling in India because of fears of tummy troubles (the infamous Delhi Belly) and the enormous nation can seem a little too much to tackle with kids in tow. But in fact this richly diverse nation has an awful lot to offer foodie families, with a few caveats: Don’t try to do too much, too quickly. Allow for delays and don’t let them derail your plans, and take time to get kids’ tummies used to the local dishes. Research places to eat in advance if you are very concerned, but grownups shouldn’t be afraid to get stuck into the excellent street food scene — not to try the chaat during a culinary trip around India would a be crying shame. Use hand sanitizer on little hands, only drink bottled water (and check it’s sealed), but don’t be put off visiting India because of food fears. For all the best reasons, the delicious scents, sounds and, of course, taste of India’s cooking will stay with you forever.
Day 1-10: Mumbai
Brace yourselves for a sensory overload, and don’t make too many plans for your first couple of days in India. Landing in Mumbai – the country’s most populous city, visitors with kids should take a little while to settle into the hectic pace of life in the city. Once you’ve got your bearings and the culture shock has calmed a little, there’s a lot of foodie fun to be had in this most colorful and chaotic of cities. It’s perhaps wise to let delicate stomachs get used to new flavors and textures gradually, and to eat at slightly pricier than average restaurants in the first few days rather than diving straight into the admittedly impressive street food scene. The Bandra neighborhood in particular has lots of good juice spots, bakeries and organic cafes, including the super-cute Birdsong Organic Cafe.
Those with stronger stomachs can find some of the best chaat (street food) in the country – in fact, it’s probably some of the best street food in the world. Crawford Market, with its huge collection of street vendors and restaurants, is a hotspot, but food hygiene can be an issue at some of the stands, so choose carefully.
? Box out: Mumbai’s most popular street snack is the ubiquitous vada pav, a delicious (meat-free) burger. This go-to snack for hungry locals is a crisp fried potato patty served inside a pav bread bun that’s spread thick with spicy, garlicky chutney. Like most street snacks in Mumbai, it’s incredibly cheap – any more than the equivalent of $1 would be considered extortionate. There are lots of places to try it without risking Delhi Belly — try Ashok Vada Pav Stall on Cadel Road, Kirti College Lane, Prabhadevi. Ask for it sans chutney for kids, while parents can spice it up with whole green chillies on the side. Attractions for kids abound here, including butterfly gardens, aquariums, a zoo, and the caves of nearby Elephanta Island all make it worth spending at least 10 days in and around this enormous Metropolis.
Day 11-25 Goa to Kerala
Ain’t going to Goa? Oh yes you are! After all that big city chaos, it’s time for some chilling on the beaches. This former Portuguese colony has a different vibe to much of the rest of India, and while some of its beach towns are too full of partying gap-year types to be appealing to families, visitors to Goa with kids will find blissfully quiet white sand beaches and swaying palm trees in the south of the coastal state. The food here tends to be a highpoint for families with kids, as it’s a lot more child-friendly than some parts of India. There’s plenty of international fare to be found, but adults and kids alike might get a taste for the local dishes. A couple of good spots to try are a well-cooked Goan dishes are are Mum’s Kitchen, in Panjim, northern Goa, and the atmospheric Britto’s, in Baga, where Goan seafood is served alongside easy eats such as pizza and fried chicken – and kids can play in the sand right in front of the restaurant.
? Boxout: Goan food has a strong Portuguese sotaque – with the legacy of colonisation evident in many of the herbs and spices that are combined with local fish, seafood, fruits and vegetables to delicious effect. The Portuguese taste for all things sweet and creamy has made an impact too – families in Goa can tuck into such Portuguese treats as pasteis de nata (custard tarts), and in fact every variation on the theme of pastry, eggs and sugar that one could imagine.
Take your time to savour the scenery and the food, traveling slowly south (trains are a good way to take in sights en-route) with stops at the beaches en-route to Karnataka, making the a stop at the rich historical city of Mysore (which will likely have particular significance for any yogis on this foodie trip around India), checking out thoroughly modern Bangalore and sailing on houseboats along the rivers of Kerala, past tea plantations and tropical jungle where elephant roam. Wildlife reserves and some very pleasant guest houses make this off-the-beaten track region fun to explore with kids.
? Box out: In Bangalore, do not under any circumstances miss the famous dosa–pancakes made with rice or lentil flour (and therefore naturally gluten free) and filled with chutneys and anything from vegetarian spiced potato to chicken.
Day 26-36 :Kolkata (Calcutta) via Chennai (Madras)
If there’s one Indian city that no self-respecting foodie should miss, it’s Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). Travel-savvy gourmands speak in hushed tones about the place, so it’s worth the long journey, which can be made via long distance train (break up the journey up with a day or two in Chennai (Madras), where meat-free dishes abound, and visitors should be sure to try an authentic Thali : a selection of richly-spiced sauces, sambar, spiced vegetables and chutneys, served on a banana leaf and served with chapatis for mopping up (expect to pay anywhere between $2-15 dollars, depending on the fanciness of the spot) If you don’t fancy spending a couple of days on a train, fly direct to Kolkata, to see what the foodie fuss is about.
The city is somewhat less hectic than many others in India, and visitors with children are all but guaranteed a friendly welcome, so it’s a great place for foodie family adventures. There are street eats to be found on every corner, but visitors should make a beeline for Vivekananda Park, where chaat-to-die-for includes fantastic phuchkas (a deep fried, hollow ball of flour typically filled with spiced potatoes). A whole family could tuck in to street snacks without spending more than a few dollars, but for a sit down family meal it’s worth trying Oh, Calcutta! On Elgin Road, an unfussy all-you-can-eat restaurant where kids and adults can take their pick of all the foods they want, and avoid those that don’t take their fancy.
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? Boxout: Kolkota’s most famous contribution to India’s culinary scene is the kati roll, which sees paratha flatbread grilled on one side, then filled with your choice of chargrilled meat, chicken, spiced potato or paneer, and a dash of chili. It’s served in a twist of paper to be enjoyed on the hoof, or you can eat it sitting down at legendary spot Nizam’s (said to be the very spot where the snack was invented), which also sells excellent Biryani. Wherever you eat it, this is a pocket-friendly snack (typically $0.50-1).
Day 37-60 Delhi & Surrounds
The chaotic Indian capital can be stiflingly hot in the summer (the large aqua-parks make for a fun cool down), so set aside a good amount of time to see everything if offers without dashing around and risking familial meltdown.There are sleeper trains (17-hour journey, around $65 first class with meals included) but unless you feel like taking the scenic route, flights are only a little more expensive, and a lot quicker. However you arrive, you should be sure to dive into the dynamic chaat scene, which is a mouthwatering mix of India’s cultural and culinary heritage. You can find everything from Tibetan momos to delicious roti and paratha flatbreads, dunked into every kind of spiced curry, sauce and condiment you could dream of. Don’t miss a trip to Khan Market, which brings together wonderful chaat with international dishes, colorful juices and yummy cakes, in a series of family friendly restaurants. Side trips to gorgeous nearby cities such as regal Jaipur ‘the Pink City’ and spots such as Keoladeo Ghana National Park, with its magnificent birdlife, mean there’ll be plenty to see and do on a family trip to Delhi – luckily, you’re never far away from a chance to refuel for further adventures.