Once the land of Nawabs, the city of Lucknow, still retains the essence of delicacies that it used to serve up to the Mughals. The culture of food in Lucknow, having its own identity, is known to be unparalleled in India. It is the birthplace of still superior culinary delicacies like kaliya, sheermal, zarda, nihari-kulchas, kormas, warqi parathas, roomalirotis and more importantly the various types of kebabs that Indians hog even till date.
Previously the Mughal Emperors’ deputies, the Nawabs of Awadh, were from Persia. They were used to a certain diet in the eateries like the dry fruits, vegetables native to the country, grains and meat in different forms. The preexisting cuisine of the Mughals, known as Mughlai cuisine, was further tweaked by adding the imported dry fruits and flavors of saffron which lead to creating new methods of cooking. Adding dry fruits like apricots, almonds, pomegranates and figs in food, according to Nawab’s culture, symbolized prosperity and royalty. More importantly, the Awadhi style of cooking altered with every season and the festivities that were held.
When the Nawabs ruled the province of Lucknow, they quite liked their feasts (dawats).
The Awadh dastarkhwan or the ‘dinner served on the floor’ in Lucknow would not be complete with side dishes like kebabs (pounded meat that is either roasted or fried on charcoal fire), keema (minced meat), korma (thick gravy of braised meat), salan (either meat or vegetable gravy), pasinda (gravy of tender meat that are fried),daal (lentil soup) and bhujia (cooked vegetables), to go with rice either cooked as chulao (fried rice), pulao (pea rice) or plain.
Along with different types of bread like paratha or sheermal. Finally the desert section included kheer (rice cooked in a thick consistency of milk), sheer birinj (rice dish in milk which is sweet) and gulati (rice pudding). In case you want to give this high calorie content meal a try, you can visit The Mughals Dastarkhwan or the Dastarkhwan Restaurant. They all specialize in this menu.
Lucknowi biryani may come across bland to many who have savoured the real taste of biryani from places like Hyderabad. Since the background to Lucknow has no biryani but pulao and usage of less spices, it is not surprising that the taste might lean towards that of a pulao. Thus, for savouring a proper plate of Dum Biryani, cooked slowly in an earthen vessel and the right amount of spices, go visit Idris Dhaba. The dhaba was started by Mohammad Idris in the year 1968.
It is a secretly kept recipe that includes usage of herbs, milk and saffron. It is again cooked using the Dum style on charcoal stones. Wahid’s Biryani is another place to get a seat to devour this dish.
Keen to have Kebab, Galouti Kebab was first made for a toothless Nawab in the same place that is now famous for serving. Galouti is a meat patty made with aromatic spices with other ingredients. What makes Galouti stand out is the various use of spices like star anise, black pepper and cardamom. All these spices are used then to add flavour to a batter of gram flour, yogurt and thick papaya paste. To this batter the minced meat is added and made patties which are then fried on the girdle of smokey charcoal.
The best place to taste this mouthwatering dish is at Tunday Kababi. Galouti is not the only type of kebab available there (other types of kebabs like Kakori Kebabs, Shami Kebabs and Boti Kebabs are also a must try). For kebabs, other than Tunday Kababi, another popular spot is at Shekhawat’s and NaushiJaan.
Nihari And Kulcha
Nihari comes from the term in Urdu language called nihar that was derived from the Arabic word nahaar which translates to ‘morning’. It was the breakfast dish of the Nawabs after their morning prayers. The dish is a stew which is made out of various types of meats like lamb, chicken or goat.
It is slowly cooked with a lot of spices packing in. This stew is served with a kind of a fluffy bread called ghilaaf kulcha. Raheem’s hotel is also known as Rahim Ke Kulche is the most popular place to try this.
The term handi means earthen pot. The chicken is cooked slowly in an earthen pot one metre inside the charcoal fire. In this procedure of cooking the chicken, it is ensured that all the spices, herbs and flavor is seeped deep into the meat.
The gravy is served hot and spicy along with the bread sheermal to go with it. To give this a try you can go visit places like the Badshah Nagar, Kalika Hut in Azamgarh and Gomti Nagar. The street of the places serving this dish has a different aroma in the air indicating its existence to scrumptious people like us.
It is a misconception that Lucknow is only the place for non vegetarians and serves countless amounts of meat cooked dishes. People who are vegetarians can also go on finger licking and tasty food tours around the city. One of such fulfilling meals is the satvik thali that is prepared without the usage of mustard oil, garlic or onion.
The meal includes several dishes like purikachori (bread made of lentils), curry of potatoes and pumpkin, boondi ka raita (a refreshing savoury dish made out of fried chickpea flour in curd) and saunth ki chutney (spiced powdered ginger mixed with ripe mango). You can taste this meal in places like Madhurima Veg Restaurant, Moti Mahal Restaurant, Shree Rajbhog and Netram Ajay Kumar.
The Tokri Chaat or the Katori Chaat in Lucknow is a must try. The terms tokri or katori translates to basket. Although it is not one of the above mentioned stomach filling meals, it is definitely a snack that must be tried. The spicy yet tangy flavored recipe incorporates a mix of papdi (crispy dough wafers), bhujia (crispy snack made from moth beans and gram flour), lentil fritters, aloo tikki (potato patties) and chickpeas that are topped with khatta chutney (a sauce made out of tamarind and chilli) and yogurt.
Then it is garnished with sev (crunchy noodles made from chickpea flour), spices like pepper, pomegranate, grated carrots and coriander leaves. They are served in a basket-looking fried grated potatoes. Royal cafè at Hazratganj is just the right place to try this.
A desert delicacy that is very much looked forward to during autumn mornings. Nimish is also referred to as makhan malai that is like a milk pudding. Nimish is made with thick milk, cardamom, saffron, rose water and pistachio. It is quite light, creamy and refreshing to taste. Additionally, they are adorned and sold with silver leaf (Chandi ka Warq) on top. The right place to try nimish would be on Chowk street. Try the Ram Asrey for many more sweet and sour desert from their menu.
A haven for people with a sweet tooth, a dessert made with a blend of malai (clotted cream), milk, kesar (saffron) and dry fruits. It was made by mixing the ingredients and followed by the step of freezing them to serve it fresh and chill. The avant-garde of making kulfis at most places have turned to not using freezers anymore. Instead they churn the ingredients in a matka (steel vessel made in a cylinder shape) that is insulated with icicles.
Kulfis are available in many flavors that range from black forest, dark chocolate, shahi gulaab, sitafal, strawberry and many more. Among which kesar kulfi is the most oldest, authentic and evergreen flavor. Prakash Kulfi at Aminabad has made quite the name among locals and tourists.
Other places where you can try them are at Chanakya Ki Kulfi at Parivartan chowk, Moti Mahal and Chhappan Bhog at Sardar Barazar, who are known for their fruit flavoured kulfis.
Tasting food in Lucknow would be considered incomplete without indulging in the street chaats like papdi, ghugni, dahi vada, bhujia, chutneys and the one and only pani-batasha that is available in a total of 5 flavors.
Few of the crowd favorites to savour these are the Radhey Lal in Aliganj, Royal cafè, Neelkanth in Gomti Nagar and Pandit in Aminabad. While you’re at it, do not forget to get your hands on the matar ki chaat that is quite local favorite at Shukla Chaat House.
Honestly there are over 150types kebabs and more (meat, vegetable, desert) dishes than anyone can count that are delectable in Lucknow. These few do not even skim the list of culinary masterpieces that need to be tasted once in your lifetime.
Once you get to Lucknow, the streets are always bustling with the food businesses and no shop (big or small) looks empty. However, before you visit Lucknow, these are the few dishes where you can start when you feel your entire world whirl with the choices available there.