The Sweet Streets Of Varanasi
Image Credit: Lavang Latika or Laung Lata Pic- Sidharth Bhan Gupta

“Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” This famous quote from Mark Twain partially explains how old the city of Varanasi is. A visit to one of the world’s oldest and continuously inhabited cities is a must to understand it fully.

Exploration of Varanasi often starts with a visit to the revered Kashi Vishwanath Temple, and as I took my portion of the famous Lal Peda offered as Prasadam, and sat on the ghats, with sounds of bells and aarti in the background, and the holy river Ganga flowing in front of me, the taste of the Lal Peda seemed amplified beyond expectations, “Was it the sheer quality of the milk it is made out of, or Shiva’s Grace”, I pondered! There is something magical about the sweets prepared in the city of Mahadev, and I took it upon myself to find the reason behind it.

The next two weeks, I explored numerous sweet shops dotted along the narrow, ageing lanes surrounding the newly built Kashi Vishwanath temple corridor; it was an experience of a lifetime, which made me happier and 2 kgs heavier.

So, here are some recommendations by me and my sweet tooth.

The Bengali Influence

Where else would you find people eating a sweet dish as a snack? In Varanasi we do. ‘Laung Lata’, an import from Bengal, came along with Bengali emigration a few centuries ago. This crisp and stuffed sugar-dipped delicacy, ‘Labong Latika’ became Laung Lata, the most loved street snack for the people of Varanasi.

Kashi is home to the most number of Bengalis outside of West Bengal, and it’s in Bengali Tola that you find the Bengali culture still thriving.

On a short walk, across the lanes of Bengali Tola, you will find numerous sweet vendors frying laung lata in the afternoon, and the treasure is enjoyed with chai, to lift the mood for the rest of the evening.

With the Bengalis, came the culture of ‘Mishti’; Rosagullas, Cham Cham, Chenna Toast, Kheer Kadam and Rajbhog are a regular sight in the Bengali sweet shops mushrooming in the streets of Banaras.

Such amalgamation of cuisines has led to some innovative sweet dishes, becoming the flavor of the town, like chenna dahi vada chaat, where chenna ball (rosagulla) is dipped in sweetened yogurt, and served like a chaat sprinkled with spices, giving a unique edge to two individual dishes, making it an irresistible combination, and my favorite from the first bite I took of it, it’s instant love, you must fall for it.


 An experience at Rasvanti has to be one of the most unique food experiences I have had traveling across India. Where else will you find such a famous sweet shop in the furthermost corners of the city?

Maneuvering the human traffic while seeking directions from the locals, we reached the sugga gali, near Thatheri Bazaar. The shop looked like an ancient shack but the sweet fragrance of the low-heat cooking reassured us of its divine gastronomic presence. We immediately knew this was something special, ‘Rasvanti is the name of the shop, as well as its most famous sweet dish’ said Ashutosh, My local friend. And we immediately ordered two of those.

One big bite into this round-khoya-based sweet, and the syrupy juices starts flowing out from the gulab jamun stuffed inside, mind-blowing!! Very rarely have I seen meaningful innovations with Gulab jamun, and rasvanti bowled me over.

Another delightful offering from rasvanti mishthan was the pan-shaped Malai Gilori, with its creamy casing stuffed with dry fruits and mawa; it’s one of the must-try sweet dishes of Varanasi. Have you ever tried a sweet dish made out of a vegetable? if not, then you must try the parval/parmal (Pointed Gourd) sweet, It's beyond imagination and tastes delicious.

Sweet shops like these explain the old-world charm Varanasi possesses and the dominance of sweet dishes over the palate of the city.

Tiranga barfi 

Moving towards the Thatheri Bazaar, I learned about the famous Tiranga Barfi at Ram Bhandar historically known as Rashtriya Barfi, which dates back to the times of the British Raj, and was in itself a silent movement of patriotism substituting the tricolor flag. It carried a silent and sweet freedom movement during the times of the British Raj, as the press could be silenced, but the sweetness and patriotism of Varanasi had no stopping.

Lassi in summer, Malaiyo In Winters

Varanasi is dotted with lassi and thandai shops; it represents the culture of the city. Blue Lassi Shop is one such iconic place for a variety of different lassis on offer, and at most times, it’s thronged by people from all over the world and is the favorite amongst foreigners.

Shiv Prasad Lassi Bhandaar, famously known as Ramnagar ki lassi, is an apt example of how much Kashiwasis like their sweets, a few big spoons of Rabdi are added to each kulhad of Lassi. Making it more of a rabdi with sweetened yogurt, than otherwise.

Come winters, and dairy-based shops of Varanasi showcase an unbelievable foamy dish, made with due assistance from the dew drops over the frothy churned milk kept overnight under the moonlight. Such romance and precision of cooking give shape and taste to ‘Malaiyo’, Varanasi’s most loved seasonal sweet dish.

Thandai is another showcase-worthy beverage from the city. 

Varanasi boasts of a plethora of Thandai shops, and even at The Brijrama Palace at Darbhanga Ghat, one of the city’s elitist heritage properties overlooking Ganga, the thandai is celebrated and offered to guests, every evening, celebrating the culinary culture of the city.

There are various layers to understanding the gastronomic might of Varanasi, and each of these layers has a sprinkle of sugar. Various cultures have amalgamated to create what is today’s culinary map of the city, and it must be explored first-hand and celebrated just as we celebrate the presence of Varanasi on the face of planet earth.

Sidharth Bhan Gupta is a Hospitality/F&B Consultant travelling across India exploring regional cuisines.