The best way to discover the food of Lucknow is to hit the streets, and a quick guide to that doesn’t
There are two sides to Lucknow. One that desperately clings onto tradition, amidst dilapidated buildings, and narrow bustling lanes, and the other that is the new Lucknow with its broader roads, countless number of ‘parks’ that don’t boast of greenery, and statues that defy all logic. And somewhere in the middle, the two meet. And one of the strongest connects between the two avatars is food — homegrown, simple, and yet sinful. Here are the five things you must eat in Lucknow:
— Priyadarshini Nandy
Lucknow is a lot about its kebabs, and the ones at Tunday Kababi are a must-try. The outlet at Aminabad is a busy eatery, which smells of meat, oil, spices, as soon as you walk in. Apart from the absolutely delicious gilawati and the kakori kebabs (which I did overdose on) that melt in the mouth, the roomali rotis, the mutton quorma and sheermali, and the biryani at the end of it are brilliant accompaniments. The kebabs are priced at Rs.40 onwards. Behind Tulsi Cinema at Lalbagh is a 15-year-old hole-in-the-wall place called Dal Mein Kala. If the name itself doesn’t interest you enough, their butter naan with Burra Kebab (160 for half) definitely would. Details 05224004948 (Tunday Kebabi); 05222626420 (Dal Mein Kala)(Grandson of Tunday Kebabi); 9565020202 (Sakhawat Restaurant); 05222626420 (Dal Mein Kala)
There’s enough and more meetha to be found in Lucknow — from the Kulfi at Chanakya’s, the sweets at Radhey Lal Sweets in Aligangj, to the malai ki gilori at Ram Asrey Sweets at Charbagh, and on the streets of Chowk. And then there’s the jalebi served with curd. But once you’ve put a spoon of Lucknow’s famous makhan malai into your mouth, nearly all memories of any dessert you’ve ever had are wiped out. Made of milk, cream, and sugar, which is then hung in a clay pot overnight, and eventually beaten with a wooden blender, it’s rumoured that the magical ingredient in this dessert is dew. Added saffron, pistachios, almonds, and warq make the dessert complete. Makhan Malai is found pretty much all over the city. Rs.20-30.
There’s something special about the way chaat is served in this city. It’s like a celebration of sorts. At Royal Cafe in Hazratganj, one of the oldest shops in the city, the man behind the counter doles out basket chaat (`120) with such flourish, that his enthusiasm adds extra flavour to the dish that’s already filled with boondi, chickpeas, boiled potato, tomato, chutney, coriander, pomegranate, sev, and finally topped with lots of curd. And one simple has to try the pani batasha (panipuri) here as well; it’s made with mineral water incidentally, and instead of dipping one’s hand into a pot to fill the batashe, the server has dispensers that hold two different kinds of ‘pani’ for your batasha! Royal Cafe has about five outlets in the city. Rs.40 onwards. Details 05222627070
You cannot leave Lucknow without having at least two meals of biryani. And Idris seems to win the most votes when it comes to recommendations. Prepared in dum, the fragrant grains of rice, along with the tender meat, will have you licking your fingers. A half plate mutton biryani will cost you about Rs.90, and you can cover the cost by talking about it for months to come. You can also find excellent mutton biryani at Wahid Biryani (Rs.80 for half) across six locations in the city, and at Lalla Biryani (Rs.90 for half) in Chowk too. Details: 09415093727 (Idris) 0522 2611878 (Wahid Biryani); 09450646498 (Lalla Biryani)
It would appear that the people of Lucknow take their chai quite seriously. At least that’s the impression I got when I asked where I could get some good roadside tea. But it’s not just tea they’re talking about. At Sharma Tea Stall in Hazratganj one can find in a glass, or an earthen cup, and it’s thick, sweet, and can recharge your brain in minutes. But with that, the most important accompaniment is the bun makhhan, which is nothing but sliced soft bun generously slathered with white butter. It’s almost customary to order the two together.
Rs.10 onwards. Details 9621329247
You can take a direct flight to Lucknow from Bengaluru that takes about two and a half hours. Or you could get a hopping flight from Delhi or Mumbai.
The new Renaissance Hotel at Gomti Nagar is the one of the newest addresses in Lucknow. A swanky property, the hotel does offer a lovely view of Gomti Nagar from nearly all the rooms. And despite being a five star property, which naturally assures its guests of good service, well-appointed rooms with ample space, there’s also a familiar charm about the place, credit for which probably goes to its staff members. From the Navigator who’ll make sure you know can find your way around the city and discover the ‘hot spots’ to the affable chefs at the restaurants who are more than willing to cater to your palate, to even the wonderfully well-informed chauffers who take you around the city, you do feel a lot at home here. This 112-room contemporary hotel has a rooftop bar (with a swimming pool) where you can unwind over a drink and appetisers after a long day of sightseeing, and look over the city of Lucknow. Incidentally the hotel is currently the tallest building in Lucknow as of now. And if you don’t feel like stepping out, eat at their all-day diner or at the Indian restaurant. Rs.9,000 onwards (inclusive of breakfast). Details: 05224055555.
(The writer was invited by The Renaissance Hotel, Lucknow)