From being a culturally inspiring city to being the seat of politics, Lucknow has donned diverse hatsover the ages. The one thing that has united its fans though, has been its stellar gastronomy. Thecapital city has been synonymous with its legendary Tunde kebabs, but look closely and it has anequally strong tradition of vegetarianism. From the nooks and crannies of old Lucknow’s alleys toits high-end establishments, there runs a green undercurrent that is hard to ignore.
Mornings in Lucknow are busy with the preparations of a typical UP breakfast; shutters of bigstores are still down, but it’s showtime at Bajpayee Kachauri Bhandaar with queues extending allalong the sidewalk. Big woks on high flames heat up oil to deep fry khasta kachoris, flour-basedround shells with spicy lentil fillings, paired with aloo sabzi or curried potato. Diagonally across the eatery is the 1805-established Ram Asrey, where verses on the city’s finesse welcome you inside.
Poetry in a sweetmeat shop…
Lucknow is probably the only place where you will find poetry in a sweetmeat shop; art runs in theveins of the city like an unassuming river waiting to flow through every channel it can find. You cantry any mithai here and they will all be great (except the boondi laddoo which has been claimed byRitz, an establishment that has been making the best melt-in-the-mouth nuggets since the 70s),but the definite follow-up to a North Indian breakfast is the jalebi-dahi combination of wheat pretzels dunked in sugar syrup, served with yoghurt. Try that or the ‘king’ malai gilori made of milk cream and dry fruit folded together like a betel leaf. Some love it and others find it a tad too sweet,but it is unanimously adored for its design that mimics the paan.
“Food is the fabric that unites Lucknow, and Bada Mangal perfectly illustrates that,” says Anubhuti Krishna, who grew up in the city and leads food tours in her hometown. A 400-year-old traditionstarted by Begum Janab-e-Alia, the second wife of Nawab of Oudh Shuja-ud-Daulah, BadaMangal or the “Big Tuesday” is a festival and temple feast that was created to honour the queen’sdivine dream about Lord Hanuman, which also predicted the birth of her son. The traditioncontinues bringing together people across faiths and food choices at the Hanuman Mandir inAliganj over a blessed meal.
A frenzy for street food
While Lucknow loves its traditional food, it has an equally thriving population with a growing tastefor Western flavours. Danbro, which started as a small family-owned pastry unit called Mr Brown inthe heart of Lucknow, has grown over the years to become an institution today. It’s a city favouritecatering to vegetarian needs through its delectable pizzas, quiches, pan Asian bowls and gourmetdesserts. Essentially a bakery, the chain, with multiple outlets across the city, makes its own versionof designer cakes that Lucknow loves — including the North Indian festival-themedHoli andJanmasthmi cakes! They’ve been the hottest-selling item here apart from their handcraftedchocolates, toffees and cookies, leading Danbro to run its own culinary institute today which offersdiploma courses in patisserie art.
Come evening, and it is time for a universal pick that transcends the boundaries of both meatlovers and plant eaters — the quintessential UP chaat. Every old timer in Lucknow has his or herfavourite neighbourhood chaatwala, but for an evening out, there is no ideal stretch likeHazratganj, sprinkled with a little of everything. Stop at Shukla Chaat for not just the regular pani puris, dahi bhalla and aloo tikki, but also the unique nimbu matar chaat, a spin-off that putstogether boiled peas in an array of spices and lime juice. Try another version for variety at MotiMahal, and cool off the spices with a heavenly mango lassi at Chedilaal, a small shack selling avariety of shakes. If you still have room for more and the will to navigate the lanes of Aminabad,the familiar comfort of Prakash Ki Kulfi awaits you with its brass tokens and falooda kulfi.
Dine like the Nawabs
Finish off the night in style with dinner at Oudhyana, the in-house restaurant at the iconic TajMahal, the hotel’s tribute to the cuisine of Awadh. The fine dining spot spellbinds you with not onlyits food but also its architecture and ambience which draws inspiration from the rich history of thecity and the influence of both the British and the Nawabs.
The colonial architecture, sculptures andmarble pathways of the main building give way to Awadhi-style interiors at this speciality restaurant that showcases traditional design with food that encompasses the flavours, history, and stories ofthe region’s finest. The menu is a grand showcase of plenty of green dishes, meticulously prepared to match Oudh’s legendary cooks. Start with the Niloferi raamdana tikki or amaranthpatties, and follow it with the exquisite saffron-flavoured flatbread sheermal and the layered warqiparatha with curried eggplant, baigan mirch ka salan, and it is guaranteed to tantalise your finerpalate. There are desserts for a sweet ending, but nothing beats a night drive to the Chowk for a good old paan.
With its focus on singular cuisines and dishes, from small joints to top-notch eateries, Lucknow is areminder of a time before multi-cuisine restaurants and before a multi-tasking approach towards life.
Be it its bookstores with its massive sections dedicated to Sahitya, classic Hindi literature, orclothes shops that only specialise in chikan and mukaish work, its colonial-era buildings that jostle for space geographically and historically with the Bara and Chota Imambaras, or a simple stroll atnight across Hazratganj, there is something about this city that begs prose to be left behind andonly for it to be described in poetry, and a tasting done with your eyes closed.
(Published 05 November 2023, 04:05 IST)