This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of Spice Route, the inflight magazine of Spice Jet
Not very far from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai lies the sleepy, quaint old town of Udvada, which is rarely ever mentioned in travel conversations. Most people aren’t aware of its existence, and those who are, typically write it off as a Parsi pilgrimage town.
They’re partially right. Udvada, which lies less than 200 kms to the north of Mumbai in coastal Gujarat, is one of the holiest religious sites for Zoroastrians around the world as it is home to the ‘Iranshah Atash Behram’ or the ‘Victorious Fire of the King of Iran’– the oldest continuously burning fire temple in the world, believed to have been burning for over 1250 years now.
Entrance to one of the holiest fire temples in the world
However, non-Zoroastrians have one compelling reason to undertake a pilgrimage to this seaside town as well – its food! From unique dishes cooked using the choicest of spices, to a simple plate of scrambled eggs made uniquely flavourful, Parsi cuisine has it all.
How to get there?
To reach Udvada, you can either drive from Mumbai (a three hour drive, it is around 8 km off NH8) or take a train – Gujarat Express, the Firozpur Janta Express or Saurashtra Express, to name a few, that ply this route regularly.
How to begin your food journey?
If you are driving down, then it is advisable to start early and on a relatively empty stomach, so that you can make your first pitstop in time for breakfast at Ahura – a famous 24 hour Parsi restaurant along NH48. There is nothing more fulfilling than starting your day with some delicious Akuri Pav (spicy scrambled eggs with freshly baked buns), Salli-par-eedu (eggs on potato vermicelli) and chicken cutlets, all reasonably priced under Rs. 150 each. Ahura also has a small store within the restaurant, from where you can purchase freshly baked bread, cookies and some amazing Parsi spices.
In case you are not hungry by the time you reach Ahura, you can continue driving and make your breakfast pitstop about 20 km ahead at ‘Parsi Da Dhaba’, another Parsi restaurant with great food and an outdoor seating area. Here, you can enjoy your Kheema Pav (spicy minced lamb served with buns) and wash it down with some Dudh na Puff, a chilled and frothy milk drink, flavoured with spices like nutmeg and cardamom, and sweetened with added sugar.
Do note that this drink is prepared overnight and available only in the mornings, so you will probably not find it anywhere else later.
After breakfast, it will take you an hour or so to reach Udvada. Once you arrive at the town, you can walk around and have a look at the Iran Shah Temple. You will not be able to enter inside if you’re not of the Zoroastrian faith, but you can view it from the outside.
You can also use this time to explore the narrow by-lanes, which now house the ruins of what would have been exotic mansions of erstwhile traders. This is a particularly interesting walk for history buffs and photography enthusiasts. Do not forget to visit the small shops while walking these lanes – they sell everything from local sandalwood to traditional Parsi pickles.
Walking around town
All that walking is bound to make you hungry by lunchtime, which is indeed the best time to head over to the famous ‘Globe Hotel’. Established in 1924 by Mr. Sidhwa, Globe Hotel is now managed by the third generation of the Sidhwa family. It is recommended to call a day prior and confirm your lunch booking. Unlike most restaurants, Globe does not have a fixed menu. It serves a different 4-5 course set meal every day, which usually consists of 3 main course items of chicken, mutton and fish, along with chapatis and some fragrant rice, all cooked on a ‘chulavati’ or wood fired hearth. This is accompanied by ‘kachumber’, a tangy salad made from diced onion, cucumber, tomato and coriander. Vegetarian options are also available upon request and each set meal costs approximately Rs. 500.
Time to feast!
Yummy! Eggplant dish available at Globe Hotel
A traditional Parsi style machchi
While you are at lunch, do order a local Sunta soda drink, which is available in a variety of flavours such as masala, orange and raspberry. Not only will it help to wash down that hearty meal, but it is also a perfect antidote to the summer heat.
Besides the Globe hotel, you can also try out other lunch options for your Parsi bhonu.
Hotel Ashishwangh: A popular restaurant of Udvada, Ashishwangh is famous for its Patio (meat based tomato onion gravy) and Tarela Papeta ni Murghi (Parsi roast chicken). Like Globe Hotel, it serves a 4-5 course set meal, which costs around Rs. 500 per person.
Cafe Farohar: Famous for its Mutton Dhansak (meat cooked in a rich and creamy lentil stew served with fragrant brown rice), this cafe is located at the Sodawaterwala Dharamshala and offers set meals as well as a-la-carte options. It also serves its signature homemade Lagan nu Custard, a Parsi styled crème brûlée, which will definitely leave you wanting more.
If you are not a big fan of custard, Udvada has the perfect alternative – the local Sancha ice cream. This hand churned ice cream is a unique facet of Udvada. Not only is it freshly prepared on the spot, but it is also sold in unusual ice cream carts – the rickshaws driving around town! If you do not see them driving though, fret not! You will find at least one stationed near each of the restaurants mentioned above, during lunch or dinner time.
Autowallah? Ice cream seller?
Freshly made mango and sitaphal ice cream
After such an elaborate lunch, you might not feel like doing much, so if the weather permits, you can visit the Udvada beach and relax there. Alternatively, you can also drive south for about 30 minutes and reach the port town of Daman, where you can spend the evening at a beach, bar or casino.
Before leaving, however, do stop by the following places to complete your Udvada experience: Irani Bakery for some mawa cakes and cookies, Adar Antiques at Hotel Ashishwangh for antique furniture, and one of the local tea stalls for some Parsi milk tea infused with mint and lemongrass.
Where to stay?
If you wish to stay overnight, there are three hotels that provide accommodation in Udvada, namely, Globe Hotel, Hotel Ashishwangh and Bawa Inn. The Sodawaterwala Dharamshala has rooms too, but they are only available to Zoroastrians. For more options, you can also consider driving to the nearby towns of Vapi and Daman, which have plenty of hotels at attractive prices.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to plan your gastronomical adventure to Udvada.