Food guide: Eat like a chef

Chefs talk about restaurants that serve fresh flavours. (Istockphoto)
Chefs talk about restaurants that serve fresh flavours. (Istockphoto)


10 chefs choose their favourite culinary hot spots, which include street finds, tasting menus and restaurants tinged with nostalgia

The old-fashioned game of Pass the Parcel inspired this food guide, featuring 10 chefs and 10 cities. The players are the chefs, and the parcel is the recommendation for a favourite food destination. It starts with a chef picking their top food city and sharing a list of restaurants. The next chef, selected from this city, leads to another culinary destination. The only rule is places must not be repeated.

For the chefs, these cities are enveloped in nostalgia, boast diverse culinary influences, and provide a gateway to a new food culture. Lounge’s guide based on this game reveals where and how chefs eat out—street food abounds, and there is just a handful of premium restaurants. There’s Mumbai, Amritsar, Kolkata, Melbourne and Bangkok, among others, with insider tips on where to find early breakfast, freshly prepared local snacks and steaming bowls of noodles.


Chef Hussain Shahzad
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Chef Hussain Shahzad

"Bengaluru does a better dosa than Chennai," says Hussain Shahzad, executive chef, Hunger Inc. Hospitality, Mumbai. He was born in Chennai, and his family lives there, but he discovered Bengaluru’s famous benne dosa during a trip to the city and fell in love with its food as an apprentice with the Oberoi Group. His list of places to eat at in the city spans age-old institutions, cafés and a noodle bar.

— Central Tiffin Room (CTR) at Malleshwaram: I get a benne masala dosa with the spicy chutney.

— Shivaji Military Hotel, Jayanagar: The mutton donne biryani and the choice of offal are insane.

— Malgudi Mylari Mane, Koramangala: They have these dosas that are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and go with meat dishes like the Karnataka Gowda-style keema undai. You could also order mutton chops and roasts.

— VB Bakery, Basavanagudi: An old Iyengar bakery with khara buns and bun Congress (khara bun slathered with chutney and butter), which I had at one of my pop-ups. When I was an apprentice, this was the place I frequented.

— Naru Noodle Bar, Shanti Nagar: A lot of people go there for the ramen, which is great, but I would say, try the chicken karage (Japanese batter-fried chicken). There’s a shoyu tare, a clear, very light ramen, topped with a slice of tender pastrami. It’s just great, consistent and satisfying food.

— Mäki Patisserie, Domlur: Bengaluru has a mad pastry scene now. There is a new kid on the block whose journey I have followed all the way from Chennai: Aarohi Sanghavi. She does classic French pastry with items like Paris-Brest, profiteroles and eclair.

— Corner House, multiple outlets: The Death by Chocolate—a mishmash of chocolate brownie and chocolate syrup—has no real chocolate but it’s so tasty.

— Benki Coffee, JP Nagar: They get beans from Karnataka’s Salawara Estate and blend it with Ethiopian coffee for an enjoyable cup.


Pastry chef Aarohi Sanghavi
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Pastry chef Aarohi Sanghavi

The founder of Mäki Patisseri, one of chef Hussain Shahzad’s favourite spots in Bengaluru, grew up in Chennai. “It’s my favourite food city," she says. She loves her coffee, and places that offer classic fare.

— Brød Bakery, Injambakkam: You will feel like you have walked into a Scandinavian café with its minimal interiors. I like their baguette sandwiches with a ton of butter. They do weekend specials like croissants, Danishes and a hazelnut eclair.

— The Farm, Semmancheri: It has a beautiful store with fresh produce from their own farms and jars of amazing ingredients sourced from all over the country, like Himachal’s sun-dried apples and kachampuli vinegar. I love the mithai they make from the fresh milk from their cows. From their dine-in menu, my favourite is a walnut and hot honey pizza. They do a great pandi (Coorgi pork) curry too.

— A food stall outside Alsa Mall, Egmore: This tiny stall with just two-three items is always crowded and the classic chutney egg sandwich is a must-have.

— Rayar’s mess, Mylapore: Don’t miss the fresh idlis. Visit early in the morning and enjoy the filter coffee.

— Davrah, Alwarpet: I’d say they have the best filter coffee in the country. You can buy the filter coffee powder and decoction to have at home.

Also read: How Chennai brews its speciality coffee


Chef Peter Tseng
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Chef Peter Tseng

In Chennai, chef Peter Tseng of the hospitality brand Pricol Gourmet, passes the baton to Kolkata. “I am from the Indian-Chinese community in Kolkata. Inevitably, it’s my top food city," he says, providing street food and mishti recommendations besides just rosogulla.

— Kusum and Nizam’s: These are the two most popular places for the famous Kolkata-style kathi roll. Kathi are the bamboo skewers used to cook the kebabs. The meat is then rolled into a paratha with a pudina chutney.

— Chinese breakfast, Tiretti market: Every morning, from 7-8:30, food vendors, both Chinese and Indian, set up stalls for a makeshift breakfast experience. It’s a parking space that doubles up as a food centre in the morning. The best day to visit is Sunday. There are steamed tofu balls and hot Chinese buns. My favourite is a stall that serves puri and aloo bhaji. There are vegetable and fruit sellers, and you will find older Chinese people sitting together and talking.

— Golden Joy and Kafulok: The places to go for Chinese food. These two restaurants are popular with my community because they host weddings and ceremonies. They are run by Chinese families and cook authentic Chinese food, which is not on the menu but served on request.

— Arsalan and Lazeez: While the Arsalan biryani is a must-have, the other Mughlai food item I love from these places is chicken bharta. It is a thick shredded chicken gravy topped with chopped boiled egg, eaten with hot rumali roti.

— Bhim Chandra Nag: Mishti shops known for nolen gur sandesh and patishapta (rolled crepes stuffed with thickened milk).


Sachiko Seth
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Sachiko Seth

Sachiko Seth serves Nepali and Tibetan food at his Kolkata restaurant The Blue Poppy Thakali, and his pick is Bangkok. “It’s impossible to find bad food in Bangkok," he says. A fan of clean flavours and crispy food, he shares a long list of places, most of them street food spots.

— Go-Ang Chicken Rice, Pratunam: They specialise in chicken rice inspired by Hainanese cooking. Pair it with chilled iced tea.

— Niku Sho, Sukhumvit: A barbecue place with separate food and alcohol buffets, it is inspired by Korean and Japanese-style restaurants that grill meat on the table. Choose your veggies and rice, and wash it down with soju and sake, and chill till 3am.

— Hua Seng Hong, Yaowarat, Chinatown: The best thing is the sliced tender beef. They use the velveting technique, with a coating of cornflour to keep the meat tender before it is stir-fried.

— Platinum food court, Ratchathewi: Several places here have earned the Michelin Bib Gourmand.

— Pratunam night market: I go there to eat fried dough sticks called youtiao, dipped in condensed milk.


Garima Arora
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Garima Arora

Bangkok-based Garima Arora grew up in Mumbai, and it remains her favourite city for food. “It’s home and a comforting feeling. It is a melting pot of people and flavours," she says. In March, her modern Indian restaurant GAA in Bangkok received a second Michelin star. Growing up, her closest friends were from Kerala, and her neighbours were Bengali and Assamese, which exposed her to different cuisines. Her list of places to eat in Mumbai is infused with nostalgia.

— Rama Nayak, Matunga: I love their vegetarian sadya on a banana leaf—incredibly satisfying and delicious.

— Cafe Madras, Matunga: My favourite is the neer dosa with white butter, jaggery and coconut chutney.

— Ramashraya, Matunga: The best dosas, from plain to spice-slathered crispy Mysore masala.

— Shree Thaker Bhojanalay, Girgaon Chowpatty: The unlimited veg thali is iconic. I love it.

— Maharashtra Lunch Home outlets: If you are in Mumbai, you have to try the coastal fare. The Maharashtra Lunch Home I go to is in Navi Mumbai.


Ali Akbar Baldiwala
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Ali Akbar Baldiwala

Mumbai’s Baldiwala, executive chef at the resto-bar Slink & Bardot, passes the parcel to Goa, where he spent the lockdown as an independent chef with stints at the restaurants Saz on the Beach and Jamun. “In Goa, the food changes as you travel from north to south. The Portuguese influence is more prominent as you head towards Madgaon," he explains. A fan of seafood, Goa proved to be a food haven.

— Anand Bar & Restaurant, Panjim: A thali place with super fresh fish. They give you an option for pan-fry or batter-fry coated in semolina. The thali comes with the spicy dried shrimp condiment kismur, coconut and kokum curry called hooman, and solkhadi made with kokum steeped in water, spiced with chilli and coriander.

— Starlight Restaurant, Assolna: A family-style riverside restaurant with an a la carte menu. They are known for crab xec xec.

— D’Silva Caterers & Fast Food, Panjim: It has typical Goa Portuguese snacks like beef cutlet, chops and croquettes. I was inspired by their roasted beef tongue sandwiched in a poee to use tongue as a stuffing in tacos and topping on toasts in my menus. They do a good chorizo pao and cafrael bread too.

— Clube Nacional, Panjim: A century-old club, it also serves alcohol and local drinks like urrak along with snacks. Their salted tongue and croquettes deserve a special mention.

— Sirsat, Assagao: Sirsat is the name of a man who makes ros omelettes and they are believed to be one of the best in the state. When I was at Jamun in Assagao, we would frequent his stall.

— Meiphung Oriental, Calangute: Serving Pan-Asian and food from the North East, it’s an unusual place. Alongside Thai curry, you will find akhuni and Naga pork dishes too. Some north-eastern dishes are not mentioned on the menu, you will have to ask the owners.

— St Cruz Bakery, Siolim: A small, almost dilapidated, place run by an adorable aunty who bakes great puffs and croquettes. I used to get breakfast there on most days in Goa. The menu has limited items, but each is made fresh and her technique is perfect.


Avinash Martins
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Avinash Martins

Martins travels down the coast from Goa to Kochi to find his favourite foods. “I am fascinated by coconut, pepper and curry leaves, and Kerala has these in its cuisine," says Martins, who runs Cavatina in Benaulim. His father was in the merchant navy and Martins got a taste for Kerala cuisine when his family lived there. They would explore eateries by the harbour and toddy shops.

— Toddy shops: Most don’t have names, but if you are in Alleppey and Kumarakom, they should be visited. In Kochi, visit Mullapanthal toddy shop for fresh seafood.

— Salikkante chayakada, Alleppey: One of the oldest restaurants in the area, try the idiyappam and chicken mappas.

— The Aurum Cloud, Kochi: A premium space known for varutharachathu (roasted meat), beef fry and special Onam menus.

— Good morning hotel, Trivandrum: Go for their porotta beef and pappadom that’s usually served for breakfast.

— Shwey’s, Panampilly Nagar: A small-batch ice-cream brand with offbeat flavours like smoked beef tallow and ricotta pista.


Ashok Eapen
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Ashok Eapen

Kochi-based Ashok Eapen, executive chef at the retail and hospitality company LuLu Group International, visits Delhi and Gurugram for work, and always goes on street food jaunts. “I am fascinated by the multi-cultural cuisines of these places, an amalgamation of influences. I would say Delhi is the culinary capital of India," he says.

— Sita Ram Diwan Chand, Gurugram: The first thing that comes to mind when I think of this city is chole bhature. And I make it a point to visit this place.

— Mangle di Kulfi, Gurugram: As the name suggests, they specialise only in kulfi, from the classic malai to seasonal mango.

— Lajpat Wale Raam Ladoo, Delhi: A small shop that sells raam laddoo, or potato vadas topped with chutneys and shredded onion and radish.

— Khemchand Daulat ki Chaat, Delhi: A must-stop for every visitor to the city for this cloud-like dessert.

— Kanhaiylal Durga Prashad Dixit Paranthe Wale, Delhi: Although they have uncountable paratha varieties, my favourite is the simple paneer one.

— Karim’s Jama Masjid, Delhi: I order the mutton nihari with soft khamiri roti.

— Sharbat-E-Mohabbat, Jama Masjid: After Karim’s, head to this legendary shop for a refreshing glass of rose-flavoured mohabbat ka sharbat.


Shubham Thakur
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Shubham Thakur

Thakur was born in Delhi, where he still works, but his father was in the aviation industry and had a base in Amritsar. The family would shuttle between the two cities while he was growing up. “Amritsar with its kulchas, lassis and warm hospitality seeded the desire to be a chef," he says. He is the group masterchef at The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts Delhi and heads the award-winning Japanese restaurant Megu.

— Sharma sweet shop: Besides a variety of mithais, they have the softest and freshest gulab jamuns.

— Pehalwan Kulcha Shop: There are many places making amazing kulchas, but this is one of the oldest and best for ghee-laden Amritsari kulchas. It is a sourdough-like bread stuffed with mashed potatoes.

— Bharawan da Dhaba: As a child, I tasted makki roti and sarson saag topped with a blob of butter here, which changed my opinion of vegetables.

—Kesar da Dhaba: Get their signature thali of dal makhani and parathas.


Shorya Nayyar
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Shorya Nayyar

This game ends in Melbourne, which Amritsar-based Shorya Nayyar picks as his food destination. He is the founder of the boutique property The Bagh and heads the kitchen there. Nayyar spent six years (2016-22) studying at Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School in Sydney and interned at hotels in Melbourne. “The dining scene is diverse in Melbourne, because of global influences," he says.

— Attica, Ripponlea: If you want to visit a fine-dining place, go to Attica. They serve tasting menus with a focus on experimenting with different meats, like crocodile ribs.

— Khabbay, Clayton: It serves Pakistani-Indian dishes that reminded me of Amritsar. The food was cooked in tandoor with minimal spices; rotis and biryani provided a taste of home.

— Shabooh Shoobah, Melville Road: It’s a bar with a solid wine programme. Australia is known for its vino and you must visit a wine bar that spotlights local produce. My favourite wines are Penfolds Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio.

A previous version of the story recommended Fernando's Nostalgia in Goa. It was removed, because the restaurant closed after the pandemic. 

Also read: The pickle platter of India


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