Eating a Cloud in Banaras

When the other ten-year olds in my school were reciting ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’, I was doing some wandering of my own. My spot next the window allowed for welcome bursts of day dreaming. With Wordsworth as a suitable background score, I was consumed with what clouds would taste like. Would they be fluffy like cotton candy or would they collapse like bubbles? Would they be cool, like raindrops, or be oh so cold, giving me an instant brain freeze?

Years later, I found the answer hidden in the nameless streets of Banaras. The cloud I ate, came in a little mud pot, cardamom scented, and flecked with saffron – it tasted of sunshine. My sweet, airy dream had a name – malaiyo.

Malaiyo – a sweet cloud of heaven

This soft-as-a-dream confection is available in Banaras only on winter mornings. It is made by leaving milk out in the open, the night before, to catch ‘os’ or dew drops. It is then flavoured with saffron and cardamom, generously sugared, churned into a frothy delight, and garnished with pistachios. Wordsworth’s peer, and fellow Romantic poet, Coleridge (first name Samuel)  writes of ‘honey dew and milk of paradise’ in his cocaine fuelled Kubla Khan fantasy. He may as well have been describing malaiyo.

Mood, after having three helpings of Malaiyo • Image credit: Shutterstock
Finding the best malaiyo

Malaiyo, like Banaras, is a state of mind. To experience it fully, make an early start. Wake up with the winter dawn, and take a slow boat ride up the Ganga to Panchganga Ghat, and watch as the lazy sun steals over the river mist. Amble through the lanes of this ancient city, where the temples and crumbling buildings are old as time itself. By and by, make your unhurried way to Shri Gopal Mandir, the landmark for Shri Ji Milk and Sweets – your (sweet) pitstop. The locals swear by the malaiyo found here and are adamant that it is the best in town.

Dawn over the Ganga. Worth the early morning wake up call • Image credit: Shutterstock

Gluttony is well warranted, and for your second helping of malaiyo, head to Godowlia Chowk. Hire a toto (electric rickshaw) or a cycle rickshaw to Thateri Bazaar and ask for the lane that leads to Ram Bhandar (where incidentally, you can pause for a fabulous brunch of kachori subzi). Not only is Shri Ji close by, but also the lane opposite will take you to Annapurna Bhandar, where the malaiyo is a tad richer since it has rabri added to it.

Savour the moment of heavenly perfection, as your heart with pleasure fills.

PS. Both outposts offer a generous, complimentary, ladle of cold saffron milk once you’re done polishing your pot(s).

Getting there: In keeping with the era of Romantic poetry, dispense with Google Maps and ask passers-by for directions.

This story was written by Ekta Poddar.
Ekta is steadily travelling, reading, and eating her way through various cultures.

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