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EAT: A LEGACY OF GASTRONOMIC DECADENCE

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There’s no way to describe just how state-of-the-art food can be in Lucknow sheher. The subject is treated with reverence all the way from palace kitchens to stalls on the street. Gastronomic traditions here also insisted that every part of the process became a specialised activity. They were controlled by experts who maintained strict protocols of procuring, cooking, serving, presentation and eating. They were enhanced by a theory of spices (including the medicinal) and the inclusion of aroma.

Experts believe that Lakhnavi cuisine is more delicate than the Mughlai but inherited its expansive influences (Turkish/Central Asian). The emphasis on texture and flavour was perhaps appropriated from courtly Persian influences. A culinary legend also connects the famous art of dum pukht or slow cooking (favoured by the Persians and the Mughal court), to the construction of the Imambaras. The story goes that since people were labouring round the clock, it was necessary to provide food for them. Rice, vegetables, spices and meat were therefore simmered slowly over coal in large sealed vessels to ensure a constant supply. Much to their surprise, the outcome was nuanced with fine flavours and a delicate aroma. Chefs soon began to vie with each other to deploy this new technique creatively (read elaborately). The goal was to transcend the ordinary and transport you into a sensorial heaven.Rumour has it that Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah’s kitchen expenses amounted to about 200 pounds per day, an enormous sum at that time. And this was just one kitchen. So, as you can see, Lakhnavi’s take their food very seriously. Wander about the city for a while, and you’ll be really glad that they do! Like with every travel experience, you will leave with your own opinions, but here are a few iconic experiences that can help you form them:

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Tunday's Kababs
Tunday’s Kababs

LOCAL EXPERIENCE: TUNDAY KABAB: The story of the Tunday Kabab is an urban legend that evolved out of a one armed (Tunday) rakabdar (gourmet chef) from Bhopal who gave it its name, and a toothless Nawab whose dental difficulties determined its unbelievable texture. The silky soft Galawti Kabab’s at Tunday’s in Chowk have now acquired iconic status since they opened in 1905. But if grunge is not your thing, then find them at various branches across Lucknow (and India). If you’re ready for the real stuff, then a ten minute walk down a narrow lane through the Akbari Gate towards Gol Darwaza will bring you to this no fuss eatery where a photo of Haji Murad Ali, its founder glares at you from above the counter. The kabab joint is terribly functional and has a definite disdain for decor. Waiters slap the creamy buffalo beef kabab and greasy parathas down on your steel table without much ado. They also frown disapprovingly if you linger unnecessarily without re-ordering. But the food makes up for the lack of frills and so you will linger. And re-order. The recipe continues to be a closely guarded secret, but hey, as long as we get to keep eating, not telling is fine.

Where: Tunday Kababi branches are located across Lucknow and India. Find the local experience: Near Akbari Gate, Lucknow (+91 9839609543) and 168/6, Aminabad, near Naaz Cinema Hall, Lucknow. 11am-11pm.

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Making Kulcha’s

LOCAL EXPERIENCE: RAHIM’S : Diagonally opposite  Tunday Kababi, meat sizzles and spits on skewers at the hole-in-the-wall eatery started by Haji Abdul Raheem Saheb in 1890. Try and get here for breakfast. Their famous Nihari (lamb shanks) is a rich broth that was once cooked only during winter. It is simmered overnight with various masalas (i.e potli masala and garam masala) and eaten with special Kulchas, a flat bread that is kneaded with corn flour, milk and ghee, before being fluffed up in a tandoor (oven). The famous Ghilaaf Kulcha has an upper layer called the ghilaaf (quilt) and a bottom layer called the khameer (yeast). The Shirmal roti (flour, milk, sugar, and saffron) is my favourite but there’s another elevated version of it, the Baqhar Khani, that is cooked on a griddle and not baked. Food lovers consider it a cardinal sin if you leave the old city without sampling Rahim’s Pasande and Kakori Kababs and I agree. Top it all off with a small serving of sweet kheer if you still have space.Come here before, after or between Tunday’s, but don’t skip it.

Where: Rahim’s, Near Akbari Gate, Chowk  226003, diagonally opposite Tunday Kababi. Open from : 7am-10pm

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Shirmals at Raheems

While every dyed-in-the-chikan muslin Lakhnavi I know has strong opinions on favourite eateries and where-to-go-for-what, here’s a small checklist to get you on your way. I find it reassuring that most traditional eateries are located in or near busy market areas. It helps burn calories while one walks, shops and bargains between meals.

FINE FARE: Plough your way through: HAZRAT GANJ: Head to Dastarkhwan, near Tulsi Theatre in Hazratganj for chicken masala and shami kebabs. LALBAGH:Mughlai cuisine fans will find manna at Alzaika. AKBARI GATE, CHOWK: Tunday’s Galawti Kebabs or Rahim’s. Don’t leave without tucking into Lucknowi dum biriyani at Idrish. AMINABAD: Locals swear by Wahid Mia’s biriyani.

Hot tip: Stopping by a Lakhnavi Paan (betel leaf) shop afterwards is highly recommended.

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Kakori Kabab’s at Rahims

HOMELY FOOD: The best thing to do is to get yourself invited to a traditional meal at a Lakhnavi home. This is where you get not just the dish, but also the stories! Almost all traditional Lakhnavi food just has to have a context and all city folk passionate about their cuisine just have to give you one!  While the table will certainly be laid out in your honour, simple fare like the tasty Arhar Daal with wheat Roti’s to the turmeric coloured, potato filled, rice Teheri is also a great idea. But if the stars line up auspiciously in your favour, you might be served rarer dishes like the true blue Khichda, a rare Uzbeki Gosht, Khatti Machchli ( tangy fish) and the sweet but seasonal sugarcane and rice Rasawal. And that’s not all.

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I never leave Lucknow without popping out for one last aloo tikki, (potato pattice) or pani-ke-batashe (pani-puri). I can then brag about my chaat eating exploits to envious friends who always end up eating strange versions of it all over the country. Here’s a list of iconic outlets where you get to do the same:

CHAAT ATTACK:  HAZRAT GANJ: Shukla Chaat House, Moti Mahal, Bajpai Kachauri Bhandar, Tiwari’s, Kewal’s and Royal Café. SADAR: Chappan Bhog. ALIGANJ: Radhey Lal. CHOWK: Dixit Chaat House, Ram Asrey Sweet Shop. AMINABAD: Kesarvani, Pandit Chaat House, Net Ram Halwai’s for sukha aloo, kachori and kaddu ki sabzi. GOMTINAGAR: Neelkanth. MAHANAGAR:Classic.

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Local Highlight: The Tokri or Basket Chaat at Royal Cafe can be visually overwhelming and quite a mouthful as well. Try it just the same. Royal Cafe, #51, Hazrat Ganj, Opposite Sahu Cinema, Lucknow 226001.P: +91 522 409 5555

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DESSERT: It’s an unbeatable list and I’m not sure where to begin but here we go! Lakhnavi breakfasts always contain the ubiquitous jalebi’s but when you’re out in the city, try to find the Shahi Tukra and Muzaffar/Zarda. When in Chowk, stuff yourself with Malai Makhan also called Nimish (made by hanging saffron flavoured, unsalted butter overnight in dew and then whacking it to aerate it). Anyone in the vicinity will tell you where the Malai Makhan hand carts are located near Gol Darwaza. Also rummage through Chowk to buy wafer thin sheets of Chandi-Ka-Waraq, the silver foil used to decorate sweets. Pack boxes of Motichur Laddoos from Ritz Sweets (Gomtinagar, Hazratganj and Mahanagar) to take sweet memories back home.

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DRINK: If it’s summer, then locals guzzle flavoured Lassi and Shikanji or cold milk laced with khus (vetiver) or kesar (saffron). Cooling off with glasses of Lucknow’s legendary Thandai is also a must do. It’s a milk based drink laced with mysterious spices, dried fruit and herbs. Find it at Radhe Lal Tiwari Thandai Corner, behind Kasturba Market, Chowk or hang out at Raja Thandai Shop, Gol Darwaza, Chowk. The shop was started by Shiv Adhar and his brother but acquired cultish status when it was inherited by his pehelwan (wrestler) and martial artiste son Vinod Kumar Tripathi (aka Raja). Sip hot tea with samosas at Sharma Tea Corner, Trilokinath Road, Lalbagh if you can fight your way through the omnipresent crowd here. Finally, wait for winter and warm up with a cup of steaming, pink Kashmiri Noon Chai by the roadside at the Akbari Gate Circle.

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OFFBEAT ADVENTURE: Explore Bawarchi Tola, Kaiserbagh, a locality that once housed the legendary cooks of Lucknow. There were three categories of professionals; the bawarchi’s or everyday cooks, the rakabdars who created elaborate gourmet specialities and the nanfu’s who conjured up different kinds of breads and roti’s. Kitchens were supervised by a darogha-e-bawarchikhana who made sure things ran smoothly.

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CREATE AN ITINERARY: LUCKNOW SHEHER: Native Place Travel Guides on Pinterest help you create your own must-see, must-do itinerary.

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NEED TO KNOW:

Old city areas contain great atmosphere and genuinely off beat experiences. But they can have less than perfect sanitary conditions and be claustrophobic if you don’t like crowds and noise. Hole in the wall eateries can be grungy for neat freaks.

Check before eating if the kababs are made from buffalo beef.

The locations for almost all the eateries can be found online, so check the area here and track them down.  Happy hunting!

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