Holiday in Nainital – mainly about food

Nainital is in the Kumaon foothills of the Himalayas in the state of Uttarakhand 2,084 metres (6,837 ft) above sea level. The town is on the Naini Lake and is surrounded by hills. Naini Lake is important religiously for Hindus and there are a number of temples around the lake. It became popular as a hill station for the British around the 1840’s. Nainital is also connected with Jim Corbett, the famous naturalist and author. I’ve put links below for more details.


The Naini Lake from the Boat Club

Our family used to go to Nainital when I was a child. We’d go for a couple of weeks at the end of summer, just as it started raining. It was lovely. Just slightly cold, misty, with rain every now and then and that lovely smell of mountains and pine and wood smoke. We stayed at this old colonial hotel, The Metropole and even though it was a bit shabby it still had a lovely Raj atmosphere with the old bearers and khansamas, four course dinners ending in steamed pudding and beautiful wooden furniture in the rooms. It was built at the beginning of the last century and was one of the oldest hotels in Nainital. Apparently Mohammad Jinnah and his wife stayed there for their honeymoon. Its under litigation now and is almost completely derelict. It has been stripped of everything, furniture, doors and windows, floorboards. It was really upsetting seeing the state its in.

This was the first time I was taking my 7 year old daughter to the hills and it was a family holiday with my parents and brother and his family. We took the children to the places we remembered; St John in the Wilderness, an Anglican Church built in 1846, which is pretty run down, the Durga Lal Shah Municipal Public Library on the lake, founded in 1934, which has a fabulous collection of old books and ducks who live under the library, a really good bookshop called Narain’s on the mall, the Nainital Boat Club which is one of the oldest clubs in India. At one time they were extremely particular about who was allowed to be a member (definitely not anymore). They apparently refused membership to Jim Corbett’s parents because as a postmaster he wasn’t good enough.

Naini Tal ducks 6Ducks under the library – Photograph taken by Amaya Sachdev

The other To Do things in Nainital are boating on the lake and horse riding, except they’ve moved the horses out of the town. There’s an observatory, trips out to places around, Sattal, Naukuchiatal, Bhimtal, Binsar, Ramgarh. We were only there a few days so couldn’t do as much as we would like to have done.


Bara Bazaar, Nainital

I love the old bazaar – the Bara Bazaar. It still has lovely old Pahari buildings. The municipal market is still there – a little colonial building that sells fruit and vegetables. This is the season of peaches, apricots, nectarines and plums. We used to buy kilos of peaches and go to the municipal canning factory near the lake and take back tins of peaches to Delhi. The factory apparently doesn’t can peaches anymore and as a fruit seller said – why do you want canned peaches now when they’re in season…


Municipal Market, Bara Bazaar, Nainital


Peaches, Plums, Green Plums, Apricots and Bananas

And of course the landmark in the market; Mamu’s Naini Sweets for Bal Mithai. Bal Mithai is a fudgy sweet with what looks like homeopathy pills but are sugar balls stuck on to them. Delicious. We tried getting to the old bakeries but didn’t have the time. There used to be men with tin boxes on their heads selling bread, patties, fruit buns, coconut macaroons and cakes (called pastries here). They would come around to the hotels at teatime. I thought they’d disappeared but on our last day we found one near the lake and bought some yummy macaroons.


Buying Bal Mithai from Mamu’s Naini Sweets, Bara Bazaar, Nainital

Around the lake were still the bhutta sellers (corn on the cob). Roasted on coal and then smothered with lime dipped in salt and chilli powder. Yum. There were mungphali walas (peanut sellers) – clay or metal pot with lit coal sits on a pile of peanuts and the smell is great, perfect for a cold evening. There used to be an old man who sold nan khatais, Indian biscuits made of flour, sugar and ghee. He had a little metal griddle on coals and the smell of them baking when it was cold was heavenly.


Bhutta Wala, Bakery Wala and Mungphali Wala

Then of course this is the perfect weather for pakoras and samosas, jalebis and gulab jamuns with lots of chai. They taste even better up in the hills.


Samosas and Chanas and Chai


Pakoras, Gulab Jamuns and Jalebis

We didn’t manage to do any sailing but ended up having lots of lunches at the Boat Club. They do the best chicken sandwiches and tandoori chicken. Tandoori chicken the way it used to taste before the days of pumped up chickens and over spiced masala. Delicious.


Tandoori Chicken with Naans

On our last day which was my brother’s birthday we were recommended a restaurant/dhaba for Rampuri food. Rampur is an old princely town in Uttar Pradesh. It famous for architecture, poetry, the Raza library and its food. We went down to the small restaurant and watched them beginning their cooking. It smelt amazing. We ordered a mutton qorma and a mutton stew, chicken kali mirch (black pepper) and chicken qorma and romali rotis (which I love) and really good chicken biryani. Romali rotis are literally handkerchief rotis. They’re cooked on an upturned griddle pan and are large, very thin and served folded, like a handkerchief.


Al Kareem Restaurant, Mutton Qorma, making the Biryani and the lid of a patila

About Nainital-

About Jim Corbett

Literary references to Nainital-

Nainital nostalgia-–In-search-of-lost-time.html


Mamu’s Naini Sweets

Bara Bazaar

+91 5942 235880

Kareem Restaurant

Gari Padaw

+91 9897675006


Monsoon and Food

The monsoon on the west coast of India is stunning. Everything is fresh and lush, beautiful green landscape and the sky and the Arabian Sea are all my favourite shades of grey. The weather actually borders on chilly and so long as one doesn’t have to battle traffic jams life is perfect. I wake up in the morning, look out of the window and when I see green trees, grey skies and grey sea I’m happy.


The monsoon usually starts here in the 1st week of June and can go on to the mid September so we should’ve been in the middle of it all. It’s hardly rained this year, which is disastrous.

But this is a food blog so back to food. We in India get very excited when it starts raining. It is such a relief from the heat. In the north, where I’m from, people are pretty obsessed with food so when it’s raining outside and the weather cools down you sit on your veranda and that’s what you think about. The verandas are wishful thinking. Most of us don’t have verandas but just to give a perfect image. Pakoras with steaming hot masala tea. I’m actually not a big fan of masala tea but who can resist a pakora.

My other monsoon food is bhutta (corn on the cob). In Bombay it’s a winter snack and the image below is of a bhutta wala on Juhu Beach. You get the best bhuttas off the street. I associate bhuttas with the mountains. When we were children we’d go to one of the hill towns in the Himalayas every year for our summer holidays. And always when it had just started raining. So cold and wet weather, fresh mountain air, pine trees, long walks, no irritating tourists (all the tourists had run back to the plains as soon as the rain started and we didn’t think of ourselves as tourists), it was heaven. Perfect bhutta weather. I remember Nainital and the bhutta walas. They had little stands next to the Naini Lake with a wire mesh sitting on hot coal. They’d roast the corn over the coal and when it’s done dip half a lime into salt and red chilli powder and then rub it on to the corn. Delicious. I’d love one now with some cold mountain air.

Bhutta wala on Juhu Beach