The author is floored by the smell of puris, samosas and kachoris at Indore’s night market.

It’s a breezy Saturday night and we are jostling through a cheerful crowd to reach the chaat and kachori counter. The entire stretch is buzzing with life; people of all ages are pretty much focused on one activity: eating.

I am at Indore’s night market, which is part of the decades-old Sarafa bazaar. “Ma’am, if you don’t visit the night market then you’ll miss something unique,” Balram, my friend and guide from Radisson Blu Hotel, had insisted. I did not believe him but Balram would not relent. Sure enough at 9.00 pm he made sure I there.

Every night, the city’s bustling Sarafa Bazaar (jewellery market) turns into a Khao Gali. Till about 8.00 p.m., all you can see is jewellery. Suddenly kiosks, banners, signboards and stalls — all relating to food — appear as if by magic. Teeming crowds can be seen devouring various delicacies oblivious of the time. Balram points to large groups and says that people collect neighbours, relatives and friends of friends to head to the market.

The air is full of the smell and sizzle of frying puris, samosas and kachoris. An amazing variety of pani puri, pav bhaji, tikki, chhole, badaam milk, milkshakes and ice creams holds me spellbound. I am overawed to actually eat anything but loving it — watching the young and old drooling over the eats. In fact, I will even forgive being pushed around by the crowd because standing at one place and not eating is a sin here.

Balram tells me that Joshi Restaurant is very popular. If Joshi is in a good mood, he will demonstrate his juggling skills as well as his culinary ones. I get lucky and watch pakoris flying in the air before they land in curd.

The not-to-be-missed local dishes are bhutte ka kees, khopra patties and garadu. Bhutte ka kees is served warm with a garnish of coconut, coriander and lemon. The strong flavour of hing keeps me coming back for more.

I head towards Vijay Chaat House known for its khopra patties. Even before I can open my mouth, the busy owner hands over a leaf bowl with red-coloured patties just out of the oil. He also makes batla patties (made of green peas) and batla kachori (green peas, potato and dried fruit). In the morning, he serves the local breakfast, poha-jalebi. The other to-die-for dish is Garadu, chunks of deep-fried sweet potato topped with chilli powder, black pepper and salt.

Those with a sugar craving must try the maalpua, rabdi, barf laddu, kulfi, moong ka halwa, feni and gulab jamuns. Though named after the traditional lemonade of North India, the Shikanji at Nagori Sweets has neither lemon nor water in it. Also called Sheetal Pey by locals, it is made of fruit juices, dry fruits and condensed milk. Another option is the Ghamandi Lassi, made of curd, ice, sugar and rabri. After that drink, I could barely walk. Balram gave me the story behind the name. “The man was very proud of what he had created, hence the name.”

How the jewellery market transformed into a food market is anybody’s guess. No one has an answer to that question. But it has been enthralling locals and visitors for many decades. Sarita, who runs a shop selling chilli paneer, momos and chowmein has been here for 20 years. “We, my husband and I, start at 8.30 p.m. and go on till 2.00 a.m.,” she smiles.

“It is like a festival every night,” says one young boy. “And the prices are so affordable.”

Mohan Kishore, who owns a jewellery shop, says, “The market has co-existed with the chaat chaupaty for years. There has never been any problem either of security or any other nature,” he said.

No time limit, no security issues. Seems too good to be true.

Places to see

Rajwada Palace built by the Holkar dynasty.

Lal Baag Palace, the residence of the royal family, now converted into a museum.

The Sheesh Mahal built entirely of multi-coloured glass

Garden of cenotaphs dedicated to the royal family.

Getting there

By Air: Devi Ahilyabai Holkar Airport in Indore is located 10 km from the city centre. It is well connected to Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Kolkata, Bhopal and Jaipur.

By rail: Trains from Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Pune, Malwa, Delhi and other cities.

By road: Indore is well connected by road. State-run and private buses from various cities ply to Indore.