I took the overnight train from Bhopal to Lucknow and it was a good move from one historic city to another. Known as the ‘City of Nawabs’ or the ‘City of Tehzeeb’,Lucknow has its own special place in my heart. My husband spent three years in Lucknow during his graduation and would always tell me tall tales about the place. When we were in Lucknow for a day, I was running a high fever and could barely walk but he bundled me into a car and took me around the city. I remember driving in front of Bhoolbhulaiya and Rumi Darwaza. He took me to Kwality restaurant and Clarks Awadh and then for a melt-in-mouth pan. I was back after decades and wanted to actually check out the city through his eyes. I am sure he must be smiling benignly from up there, watching me Ganjing with our daughter.
My daughter is working in Lucknow at present and as it was Diwali and I was in Bhopal, she asked me to visit her. I didn’t need to be asked twice! I canceled my return ticket and booked one for Lucknow. She picked me up from the railway station and I was gazing at the sights in awe. Her apartment is bang opposite ex-CM Mayawati’s house or fortress as I would call it. Mayawati house is built on spent 5 acres of prime land with over Rs 100 crore of public money spent to renovate her 13 Mall Avenue bungalow .I walked around it but couldn’t see a thing inside as the 20-feet-tall walls made of red sandstone keep away intruders. She may look manly but all rooms have pink Italian marble flooring in keeping with Maya’s fondness for pink stone. The periphery has a pavement made of granite and the street outside has barricades.
I lazed the first day and the next I set out to explore the city while my daughter was away at work. It was Diwali time and there were no cabs available and I took a cycle rickshaw to Hazratganj, the famous shopping market in Lucknow. My husband used to tell me how his friends and he would loiter around this market. When I asked him what he did there, he winked and said he went there for some “Eye Tonic” (ogle at the girls is what he meant!)
I got off at the start of the avenue and strolled down or as the youngsters refer to as ‘Ganjing’. I checked out almost everything except the big stores. I was fascinated with the people, the junk jewelry, street food and flea market clothing. My daughter called to ask me where I was and I asked the nearest hawker and he replied ‘Love Lane’. I burst out laughing and my daughter calmly replied that she knew the place. When I looked around I realized that the place was full of young girls and boys and thus called Love Lane. I guess my husband too must have walked this lane.
Hazratganj is home to bazaars, retail complexes, restaurants, hotels, theaters, and offices. The quaint Victorian-style street lamps, benches on the footpath, numerous street food joints makes it a popular place for locals and tourists. Books were being sold on the pavement and so were colorful diyas and candles for Diwali. The fashion in the flea market looked more interesting than the up-market stores.
There were a number of Bhelpuri and roasted peanut vendors on both sides of the road and they were doing brisk business.Panipuri is omnipresent everywhere these days. Royal Café chat was very tempting and the cook was being very persuasive. I said it looks really very oily and he replied that it was all made in desi ghee or clarified butter.I balked and just took pictures of the Bread pakoda, kachori, aloo tikki and the famous tokri chat.
Lucknowi Lucknowi tehzeeb and mehmaan nawazi , makes them the warmest and the most courteous people in India. They are very soft spoken and treat guests like Gods; that’s what Indian culture is all about but sadly it’s a dying trend.
Lucknowi cuisine has its own distinctiveness and uniqueness. The traditional food of Lucknow was highly patronized by the Mughals thus giving it a very royal touch. The royal chefs and cooks were trained to give that special royal touch and regal presentation to anything they cooked. In short, it was food fit for the kings. A very high degree of elegance and finesse was required to cook the elaborate Lucknow cuisine with a number of spices. The recipes were a closely guarded secret and were passed on from one generation to the other. Slow cooking is always much tastier and richer. This style of cooking was called as the Dum style.
The most famous dishes of Lucknow are kormas, kebabs, nahari-kulchas, zarda, sheermal, roomali rotis and paranthas. The most famous of all dishes are the Kebabs or the meatballs that come in diverse flavors. Some of the famous and delicious are Seekh Kebabs,Kakori Kebabs, Shami Kebabs, Boti Kebabs, Tangdi Kababs, Ghutwa Kebabs but I am a vegetarian and I could only watch, sniff and take pics.
Tunday Kababi is an internationally renowned eatery for their melt-in-the-mouth ‘Galauti Kababs’. Haji Murad Ali (Tunday Kababi), established the place in 1905 at the Chowk and it is still running to this day with other branches in the city and franchisees in other places. They have preserved the original taste and flavor of the kebabs with the recipe a closely guarded secret.
The story is very attention-grabbing. A toothless nawab, a tunda(broken limb person) chef with one arm, and the result legends are made of; melt-in-the-mouth kebab. A Nawab who really loved to eat kebabs, lost his teeth as he aged, therefore he was unable to enjoy kebabs. He held a contest wherein whoever created the softest and most succulent kebabs would enjoy royal patronage henceforth. Tunday was the acclaimed winner and his secret kebab recipe has 160 spices. It is a closely guarded family secret and is passed down to the generations by the ladies of the house. The mutton galauti kebab with Mughlai parantha is said to be soft and flavorful. I sunk my nose in the Mutton Biryani handi and the aroma just made me drool.
My daughter took me to a famous chat outlet; Jain ki chat. I had two (who eats only one?) plates of panipuri and a plate of Kulfi Falooda with some extra falooda.While I was going around the historical sights, I got hungry and my cabbie suggested a Dikshit ki chat at the Chowk. It was past lunch time and I was ravenous and in no mood to have chat. I had one plate of panipuri and then saw a chef rolling out a fancy Frankie that he called veg keema roll. I also asked for one and was amazed by the taste and the low price. The paste inside was made of dal and raw banana and he spread mint chutney chopped onions, lots of cheese, and rolled it and handed it over. I have never tasted anything like it till date. Next to this place was a man making these amazing aloo parantha with such ease and speed that I had to capture it.
This was a summary of the traditional foods that I had eaten. My daughter took me out to dine at Cherry Tree, Royal Café, Mocha café where we had some awesome food. Mocha had a live band and the Mojito and Sangria made us a bit mellow. It sounds like lots of eating out but actually I did some cooking too in the bachelor kitchen. I made rajma-chawal, dal-chawal, kaala chana, bhartha, aloo parantha, upma, poha and kadha parshad on Diwali.
This was just my food journey in Lucknow. Stay tuned for the actual sightseeing saga which will follow.