Thursday, June 21, 2012



When I was a small boy I travelled extensively all over India by trains, and one thing I looked forward to during my journeys was the delicious food, the distinctive Railway Cuisine served in various restaurant and dining cars on prestigious trains and in railway refreshment rooms.

Unfortunately today one gets “standardised” packed food - the inimitable exciting dining experience sitting in restaurant cars each serving unique cuisine has disappeared and now-a-days most trains have crowded pantry cars where they only cook and pack insipid cold food and one cannot sit comfortably at the table and enjoy a relaxed freshly cooked hot meal. In many cases packed food is picked up from Railway Stations and served on your seat.

I vividly remember the delightful eating experience in the restaurant cars of the famous 1 Down / 2 Up Calcutta Mail via Nagpur (now called Mumbai - Howrah Mail) watching the picturesque scenery pass by through the large open windows. I think this Restaurant Car (operated by South Eastern Railway) had the best menu – a variety of meals and the choicest of a la carte dishes, and even an impressive English Style full Tea Service albeit in typical Railway thick white crockery.

How can I forget those piping hot nourishing cutlets, baked beans on toast, and delicious omelettes in the Restaurant Car of the magnificent Deccan Queen looking out of the windows at the magnificent picturesque spectacle of the lights of Khopoli twinkling far down below from the misty Western Ghats. The Pune - Mumbai Deccan Queen is still the pride of the Central Railway. I vividly recall lip smacking memories of the fresh piping hot South Indian Meal Thalis in Madras (Chennai) – New Delhi Grand Trunk (GT) Express (the Dining Car was operated by Southern Railway) and the wholesome continental meals in the Western Railway Dining Car of the Bombay (Mumbai) – Amritsar Frontier Mail (now called Golden Temple Mail) as the magnificent train sped past the plains and the deserts towards Delhi. Some Metre Gauge Trains had “Royal” old-world restaurant and dining cars too, where one enjoyed a leisurely meal, vibrating Metre Gauge style, in the unhurried ambiance.

I recall that many important trains on the Southern Railway and South Central Railway did not have dining or restaurant cars, but delicious hot food in proper white  cutlery was served in your compartment from the excellent refreshment rooms of stations [like the Southern Railway Speciality Meal of Mutton Madras Curry and Rice from Erode, Salem, Jollarpettai, and the tasty spicy Chicken Biryani from Guntakal, Cudappah, Vijaywada and Waltair (now known as Visakhapatnam)]. You could eat the piping hot food unhurriedly as the cutlery was taken away at the next station since trains halted every hour or so, then. It was the same was with the Northern, North-Eastern and North East Frontier (NF) Railways I think, where many trains did not have dining cars, but delicious food was served in running trains from the Refreshment Rooms of the big Railway Junctions.

Even the railway refreshment rooms at important stations served unique railway cuisine. At Churchgate in Mumbai, the Mezzainine Floor food stall served delicious meals and snacks and so did the old world Refreshment Rooms at Chennai (then Madras Central), Mumbai CST (then Bombay VT), Delhi Main (Old Delhi) Station, Howrah, Lucknow, Kalyan, Nagpur, Lucknow, Allahabad, Mughal Sarai and Pune, where one could relish a hearty English Breakfast with cornflakes et al. And there were many tiny refreshment rooms like in Igatpuri and Daund where one could hop in for a quick Mutton Biryani while the engines were being changed.

And how can I ever forget those nostalgic food memories of a quaint railway station called Rampur Hat on the Sahibganj Loop of the Eastern Railway way back in the 1960s. I remember the best thing about Rampur Hat Railway Station was its Refreshment Room - in fact the Railway Refreshment Room was the best restaurant in Rampur Hat town in those days and it was the only decent eatery where you could go with your family to relish a tasty meal. Two important trains halted for meals at Rampur Hat – the Darjeeling Mail [Sealdah to New Jalpaiguri] and Upper India Express [Sealdah to Delhi], and while the travellers enjoyed their meals in the refreshment room the Steam Engines got topped up too. Almost 45 years have passed since and I wonder whether the Refreshment Room at Rampur Hat Railway Station is still as famous as it was way back then.

Those glorious days of delicious dining savouring sumptuous unique railway cuisine relished in deluxe environs in a relaxed unhurried way sitting comfortably in restaurant cars and dining cars enjoying the picturesque scenery through the open windows along with your food are a distant memory – a thing of the past.

Today one has to eat insipid characterless “sanitized” foil-packed standardized food in claustrophobic environs of your berth or on your seat.

The glorious days of the “Railway Dining Experience” are long over.

Will some readers be so good as to comment and recall for all of us their delightful “railway food” dining and eating experiences and tell us of the varied railway cuisine of the “good old days”?

Do tell us about your memories of delicious yummy railway food experiences and also let us know if you have enjoyed good food while travelling on the Indian Railways in recent times.

The next time you travel on a train (or even while you nostalgically travel in your Mind’s Eye) please do tell us about your mouth-watering memories of railway food.

Happy Eating.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2012
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories, creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional research papers in journals and edited in-house journals for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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roopz said...

I too love to have something to munch while traveling in train ;)

village girl

Puru@ShadowsGalore said...

Wow ! I did not know that Railways used to serve good food too. Only in Shatabdi, I found it decent. A nice informative post :)

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting such a great post. It is really help for those who is finding a resources about it.
Travel khana is one of the finest indian railway food service,that provides delicious food on your seats.

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting such a great post. It is really help for those who is finding a resources about it.
Travel khana is one of the finest indian railway food service,that provides delicious food on your seats.