The humble second-class compartment of an Indian train packs in far more adventure than any budget airline. And it certainly gives us lots more to eat.
Oh how we eat! Some stock up at the nearest snack bar as soon as they arrive at the platform. Others break out the tiffin carriers loaded with comfort food as soon as the engine lets out that long toot. The adventurous try their luck at the stations on the way. And the canniest of this breed hold their peace until the train pulls into that particular station where you get the best insert-favourite-delicacy-here on the planet.
The entire Forbes India team put their heads together for this feature. Suggestions rolled back and forth on the group email faster than Satyam jokes. Here, for your delectation, is the cream of the crop: The definitive guide to the best food any set of wagon wheels will take you to. 1. Chhole-Tikki
Tundla, UP. A British colonial era station. Trains stop longer because it is a hub for changing drivers and guards.
Taste Quotient: Potato pancakes with chickpea gravy; make a filling meal for people on the move.2. Milk Pedas
Mathura, UP. A hub for long-distance travel both on Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Chennai routes.
Taste Quotient: No smell of spoilt milk or cheap plastic. Neither brittle nor soggy, the pedas have just the right consistency and sweetness.3. Rasgullas
Abu Road, Rajasthan. This is where people headed for Mount Abu get off the train.
Taste Quotient: The sugary syrup takes its unique taste from the earthen pots they are served in, making rasgullas taste much fresher.4. Mirchi Wada
Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Tourism hub. Many people start their palace tours from here.
Taste Quotient: There’s nothing better than the hot chilli wadas to beat the chilly winter of Jodhpur.5.Ghaari
Surat, Gujarat. This textile and diamond hub is a major junction on the Western Railway.
Taste Quotient: These milkcake dumplings are high on sugar and are a treat for those who love ghee-based sweets.6.Breakfast & snacks
Deccan Queen (Mumbai-Pune, Maharashtra). Ideal for people travelling frequently between the two cities.
Taste Quotient: For breakfast, there’s yummy baked beans on toast, chicken and vegetable cutlets. On the evening journey out of Mumbai, there’s freshly-fried fish and chips and, of course, the city’s legendary Parsi Dairy Kulfi.
8. Pazham Pori
7. Onion Samosa
Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh. The state’s cultural capital, and a nodal point for lines connecting the entire state, as well as Chennai and Kolkata.
Taste Quotient: The samosas are the authentic introduction to the Coastal Andhra cuisine. They are small and it is possible to binge without over-eating. People typically pop in a few samosas and wash them down with hot coffee.
Palakkad, Kerala. The first stop for trains entering Kerala and going further south. Ideal for morning tea and breakfast.
Taste Quotient: These banana fritters are a perfect accompaniment to the morning chaya. They are had without any side dish.
9. Appam with Egg Curry
Shoranur, Kerala. A hub for all trains headed for North Kerala.
Taste Quotient: Mallus call it the first taste of home. Most popular breakfast for travellers. The appam is soft and inviting. The egg curry is not too spicy for a morning meal.
Madurai, TN. It is a city that never sleeps, at least as far as the food business is concerned. Many eateries thrive just selling idlies.
Taste Quotient: Idlies are soft to the touch and don’t disintegrate when mixed with sambar. Also, served with four different chutneys.11. Murukku
Manapparai, TN. Small station, but connected to all major routes in the state.
Taste Quotient: Crispy rice-based snack. Ideal to eat while on the move. Goes well with coffee or tea.
Has no oily feel though it is a fried snack.12. Sonpapri
Dhanbad, Jharkhand: For people travelling from western India, this is the first point where they get flavours of the east .
Taste Quotient: While other stations sell sonpapri too, people single out Dhanbad for its freshness. The lingering sweetness on the mouth just adds to the legend.13. Jhalmuri
All over Eastern India. Vendors board the train and make it easy for you.
Taste Quotient: Get this puffed rice mixture customised to your taste. You can want more or less of roasted peanuts. You can ask for chopped coconut or slices.14. Biryani
Hyderabad, AP. The home of the Nizams and the centre of the state.
Taste Quotient: Arguably the best biryani in the country. Fragrant, delicately spiced, not too oily. Even the railway station variety is better than the stuff you get in other cities.
(This story appears in the 17 July, 2009 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)