We were in Lucknow for an extended weekend and it was decided well in advance that it will be a food trail for us. There are a few places we never want to miss and there are others which have been on the list but it's not possible in a single visit to sample all of them.
I think a brief introduction of the cuisine is in order.
Lucknow is the heartland of Awadhi cuisine. Awadhi is an offshoot of Mughlai cuisine including influences from central Asia, Middle east and Northern India. There is little similarity with the other offshoots of Mughlai found in our country as Hyderabadi, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Bengali and even Keralite are as different as chalk and cheese from each other. Even though many spices are common and meats and vegetables too are common in all these Mughlai versions. The cooking technique, a few regional herbs, use of nuts and milk or yogurt in the gravy and the marination of meats with different kinds of tenderisers make a lot of difference in how the final product tastes.
Awadhi food is mildly spiced, a fine balance of various spices. The heat of the spices is quenched by the use of milk and nut pastes and the curries are slow cooked for hours. The kababs are grilled on huge flat pans till they get a flaky crust on both sides, the meat for the kababs being tenderised and pounded finely before shaping them in round patties. Much like burgers. These kababs are served with parathas or roomali rotis.
Galawat ke kabab or Galauti kabas are the ones that melt in your mouth with a meaty taste. The fine creamy texture is a result of a tenderising process that involves the use of raw papaya ( the enzyme Papain being responsible for the breakdown of the meat fibers) and a fine balance of spices makes a kabab a lingering taste experience. The Galauti kababs are so soft that they cannot be lifted from the plate in one piece. You have to spoon them up like a pate. Almost.
The shammi kababs are a little granular, soft, crumbly textured patties with a few grains of coarsely ground spices, The crust is a bit firm but the kabab is still so soft you wouldn't be able to lift it from the plate without breaking it. The taste is a robust spicy and yet mildly hot meaty experience.
There are a huge variety of Salans and Kormas and many other popular curries . The breads are quite versatile as well. Sheermaal and bakakhanis are heavier breads and are mean to be shared by the family members, much like Middle eastern culture. The Roomali rotis and the flaky Ulte tawe ka paratha is a lighter almost paper thin bread that wraps your kabab and polishes off your korma with equal ease.
Biryanis of Awadh are a different world altogether. Lightly but very pleasantly aromatic. Each grain of rice would be soft and yet separate seeped into the flavors of the meat. It is achieved by first cooking the meat to make a stock called yakhni and then cooking the rice in that stock. The rice is cooked al dante first and then is cooked on Dum with half cooked meat. This imparts a unique aromatic experience in a biryani.
And that picture of Biryani is torturing me now. The succulent soft rice grains absolutely drunk on the juices of the meat and lightly spiced as if they were genetically modified to have a whiff of the meat and spice.
This is one of the best Biryanis I have ever had. And this was at Tundey Kababi at Ameenabad market in lucknow.
See how a biryani is cooked in a huge vessel that can cook about 20 kilos of biryani in one go. They also do 'take home packs' and you can get anything packed for you. But this cardboard packets for biryani is something I wouldn't like. Yes we need to stay away from plastic packaging but there were better ways with boxes made with leaves or the old fashioned terracotta handis. I wish they used the more easily available handis there.
We had the famous kebabs at Tundey kababi and the mutton korma to go with roomali roti. Everything is perfect. Though I would say the kababs are a bit too high of fat, most likely trans fats (read dalda) and that much fats in the kababs takes away some of the flavors, making the the kababs almost inedible when they cool down while finishing the other stuff. The fats start getting solidified and the flavors too freeze.
Did I tell you the Kababs are not considered a starter in a traditional meal here? It is actually served as a side dish and you eat it with parathas and raw onion slices.
See how the kababs are being shallow fried in a huge shallow pan....
Those parathas are called Ulte tawe ka paratha.
They have a nifty arrangement to bake this paratha, an invverted round bottom iron kadai (wok) is placed on the stove (coal fired angithi) and the paratha is flattened by hands and rolling pin, then tossed and given a spin in the air so the gluten fibers extend and break, then the paratha lands on the inverted kadai. The spinning act makes the central part of the paratha thinner and the margins a little thicker.
The paratha is applied with ghee or butter while it being baked on the inverted kadai, and a cloth pad is used to press it down on the paratha. See in the picture how this guy is pressing down the paratha on the inverted kadai...
The pressing down act and spinning it on the inverted kadai while it cooks makes the paratha really thin and uniquely textured...The flaky and yet soft paratha in the picture are just yummy. You would forget all your diet rules once you are here...
The korma of Lucknow is mildly but very aromatically spiced. Not too hot so you get all the spices well balanced. Meat well done and the gravy rich with some nut pastes and a unique blend of spices.
See a huge lagan (a shallow pot to cook korma and salan) with the Korma bubbling away...those cardboard packets in the background are a sore in the eye :(
The usual roasted chicken is also served. See them being grilled live on the front counter...
They have a huge menu board right on the front counter...very typical of old world street eateries...
Having had our fill we decided to head towards the Prakash Kulfi which is just a few steps away from Tundey kababi..The same old market and it's difficult to miss this board...
The falooda is stored like this. A plain white and a colored and saffron flavored one...
You must order a half portion Kulfi as even the half is quite huge here...The kulfi tastes of real khoya and real kesar (saffron) and is rightly sweetened. Embedded with pistachios which is not too overwhelming, I have had one kulfi which had just too much pistachio and it killed the real kulfi. This one is perfectly balanced.
They have a sugar free version too and though we did not sample that variety, I am sure that must be great too. This place is quite famous and it is the best Kulfi falooda till date for me.
Could we have anything more on the same day? The Lunch at Tundey Kababi and then the Kulfi at Prakash was enough for the day. Yes, we were not able to have our dinner that day.
Another day another place. But we had to work up an appetite so we had a 2 hour walk at the NBRI Botanical garden. The garden is a must see if you are a birder or love greenery and want to see some impeccably maintained gardens. The cacti garden, the aromatic garden, the ferns house etc are the main attractions of this place.
Coming back to food, the walk actually made us hungry and a rickshaw ride took us to Hazratganj.
Dastrkhwan was the place to be. This place has simple seating arrangements both side of the road. Yes, one side of the roads is the open kitchen and a narrow seating area, the other side is also a seating arrangement of about 6-8 tables. The servers keep crossing the road to fetch food and bills. You eat your food watching the traffic on this busy road and the server dodging the traffic to fetch your Korma and the Kabab.
Yet another kabab. Yes, These kababs are actually better than the Tundey Kababis. Larger in size, and more flavorful. The flavor of delicate spicing alive and not drowned by the fat content.
Here is the brief menu...
We ordered Shammi kabab, Galawat ke kabab, Chicken korma, Roomali roti and Biryani. Would have loved if thee were a few more people so we could taste a few more curries.
Look at these kababs. On the left is the Shammi kabab and the right one is the Galawat ke kabab. Both equally delectable. These are large kababs and quite filling. If you have ordered two kababs per person you might not be able to enjoy the main course goodies.
But we were ravenous after a two hour long walk in the Botanical garden and kept nibbling on them through the meal.
See how the Galawat ke kabab is so soft it got a dent of the serving spoon. It barely holds it's shape.
Shammi kakab is more on the crumbly side, yet very soft and luscious. Spicing is awesome. These kababs are so soft they can be lifted in one piece just once and that is when the kababi (the one who cooks them) flips them from the tawa (gridle) to the serving plate.
Once on the plate you have to lift it in pieces.
The chicken korma has a layer of fat which you would like to pour off in a plate. A nice and mildly spiced curry with some nuts and poppy seeds paste.
Biryani is good. But just so. Not awesome.
We liked the Tundey kababi's biryani more, that was the mother of all biryanis.
Dastrkhwan needs to add some more punch to the biryani. Looks almost the same but tastes like a lame imitation.
Look how it is flaky and crisp...Actually the parathas too are better at Dastarkhwan....
One of the best flat breads you would have had. The best tool to mop off the Korma and the best bite with a different textural experience. We finished this paratha as well :-)
Two hungry souls who normally eat simple meals at home. Went berserk with Lucknow food.
There are many vegetarian options in Lucknow as well.
Bajpayi ji at Hazratganj for some great UP style poori subzi.
Mini mahal at Hazratganj for all kinds if vegetarian chaats and meals.
And a nice small restaurant called Marksman in the same area if you are craving some good south Indian food.
Apart from these , there are many small snacks outlets in the Ameenabad and chowk area where you can pick up dry snacks to take home.
Basically Lucknow is a place for a non vegetarian foodie. You would find small carts selling chicken biryani and meat biryani and that would be good too. I didn't get to taste any from those carts but the crowd that mobbed those carts tells much about the taste.
I am sure you are craving a well made biryani by now. Same here :-)
See you again with some home cooked food.