Known for Krishna temples, Mathura is a gold mine of authentic flavours and rustic food of the Hindi heartland. Lord Krishna loved his food and so does his people. Milk specialties, Chappan Bhog, Puris, Kachauris, Mithais, the little town has some of the most exquisite food in the country.
Here’s a list of what you must not miss when in Mathura.
- Mathura ka Peda
No conversation on Mathura can begin without the legendary Mathura ka Peda. Some say that the first ever peda was created out of an accident in the kitchen when the person preparing the bhog for Krishna left the boiling milk unattended. The result was a rich caramelized reduction, which he hurriedly turned into a sweet. This sweet was Mathura ka Peda. Rich and fragrant, with a slight tinge of cardamom and aroma of ghee, the peda is unlike any other. As the folklore goes, it is also lord’s favourite prasad and is used in over 5500 temples that dot the town.
The best place to sample the peda is Brijwasi Sweets, Holigate, the oldest and the largest sweet shop in town.
- Hing Kachauri & Jalebi
Days often begin with a deep fried breakfast in Mathura, the trademark Uttar Pradesh breakfast of Kachauri and Jalebi. Unlike the rest of UP, the kachauris of Mathura are crisp and flat and they are not served with dry potatoes but with a thin yet potent potato curry. What makes them special however is the intense flavour of hing or asafetida. The spicy kachauris are best followed by large Jalebis. The Jalebis ae large and made in single pieces and almost always eaten after the kachauri.
The best place to sample kachauri and jalebi is Oma Pehalwan Kachauri Wale at Holigate. One of the oldest and the most popular shop in town, the place opens from 4:00 AM and is forever buzzing with locals and pilgrims. The secret to its success, says Gaurav Aggarwal, the 4th generation owner, are the hand pounded spices and blessings of the lord. A recipe, often repeated in the town.
- Bhalle & Golgappe
The first image that comes to mind when you say Bhalla is that of a plate laden with beaten curd and tamarind chutney hiding plump balls of lentils underneath. Not in Mathura though where bhallas commonly refer to large, deep-fried patties of potatoes. Known as Alu Tikki to the rest of the world, the Bhallas of Mathura are richer and more robust cousins of the humble tikki. The method of cooking is slightly different too: the patties are deep fried in ghee until they are cooked and are served with boiled white peas, smooth yogurt and chutney. The crisp bhalla, soft peas, sweet yoghurt and tangy chutney work brilliantly together and leave you wanting for more. The best place to try the bhalla and golgappas is Gopalji Chaat Bhandar, Holigate.
- Bedai with Dubki Wale Alu.
There is Kachauri and then there is Bedai. A close cousin of the former, this version is made with whole wheat and urad dal and served with Mathura’s favourite dubki wale alu and a sweet preparation of pumpkin. Like all other food served in Krishna’s town, this meal also has its origin in Satvik principals and is made without a trace of onion, garlic, ginger, or even tomato. And yet, the curry is full of flavour, the bedai is crisp to a point of tearing into your cheek (but never does), and the sweet pumpkin mash is a perfect example of brilliance of the cooks in Mathura. Eaten best in the afternoon, the Bedai is a meal in itself and needs nothing else, except, maybe, a glass of thick lassi. The best shop, according to locals, to have Bedai and lassi is Shankar Mithai Wala, also at Holigate.
- Milk and Rabri.
You cannot come to Mathura and not have kadhai wala doodh. Made with the freshest produce from personal dairy farms, the milk is simmered all day in a iron kadai to reach a thick, fragrant consistency. The beverage is then served in a kulhad, or a terracotta tumbler, with an additional layer of malai on top. Sipping on a glass of thick, sweet milk while watching the antics of the sellers as they transfer the liquid from one pitcher to another mixing sugar and adding froth in the process, is a great way to spend the evening in Mathura. Mathura’s Rabri meanwhile is loved by one and all. Thick, sweet, and smoky, it is made by thickening milk on a low charcoal flame for hours at end. The result is outstanding.
As Vijay Singh, the man who hands us steaming kulhads of milk puts it, the primary reason for the rabri to be so good is the milk—a blessing from the lord himself. That is perhaps true for everything in Mathura.
* A version of this story first appeared in CondeNast Traveller.