"Kal bhi jiske tazkire the, anjuman dar anjuman Daastaan dar daastan, Shaam-e- Awadh hai aaj bhi"
Saiyed Anwar Abbas,Incredible Lucknow
[Being nostalgic is now becoming a part of my daily routine since it was yesterday that I recalled all these associations and engagements of my past and today it is again that I am missing Shaam-e-Awadh -my evenings in Lucknow, indeed the best period of my life.]
Get lost in the Labyrinth , or Bhool Bhulaiya of the famous Bada Imambara...view frm the top(below)
Lucknow, the Golden City or the Shiraz-i– Hind, known for its fine cuisine, courtly manners, beautiful poetry and historical monuments was a city I had always wanted to visit. So after visiting my sister in law, Ambika, in Varanasi (that visit will be an upcoming feature!) , I decided to travel to Lucknow by train with her. It is her home town, so I felt relaxed as I was in safe hands.
The train chugged along for 10 hours (it seemed as if we caught the slowest train on earth!) to our destination, but we had so much time …and we used it well, to talk of all the delights waiting for our taste buds in Lucknow.
The Lucknow train station , known as the Charbagh Station (Char means four in Hindi and Bagh means gardens, named for the 4 gardens located here), is itself an architectural masterpiece. It was originally an orchard, and the present station was built later in 1926 with its domes and minars in typical Mughal style.
We reached Lucknow late at night and we were ready to explore the city after a good nights rest.
View from my seat ....somewhere in Rajasthan...
Somewhere in the Bada Imambada
A bit of history about how Lucknow came into being:
According to popular legend, Ramchandra (Hindu God) of Ayodhya, the hero of the Ramayana, gifted the territory of Lucknow to his devoted brother Lakshman after he had conquered Lanka and completed his term of exile in jungle. Therefore people say that the original name of Lucknow was Lakshmanpur or Lakhanpur.
Ayodhya, or Awadh, as it was later known, is claimed to be among the most ancient of Hindu States. Ayodhya was so large a city that Lakshmanpur was described as its suburb. The history of Ayodhya, however, as of nearly all Hindu Kingdoms between 7th & 11th centuries, remains a mystery.
In the ancient period, Ayodhya was the capital of Kosal Province, and was known as Kosaladesa. The Atharvaveda describes it as a city of gold, which could never be conquered.
By 1226 AD , Ajodhya was the capital of the province of Awadh (Oudh) within the Delhi Sultanate.
In the 16th Century, there was a shift in power and Ayodhya came under the Mughal Empire. After the 16th c. AD, Ayodhya came to be called Awadh.
At the Top...Bara Imambara
As in earlier times, Ayodhya was given importance in the reign of Mughals. Babur himself visited in 1538 AD with his army. Awadh became a "Subah" or province of the Mughal Empire after Babur annexed it.
Awadh was formally established under the Mughals around 1722 AD with Faizabad as its capital and Saadat Ali Khan as its first Nawab and progenitor of Nawabs of Awadh. During the reign of Nawab Asaf-ud –Daula (1775-1797 AD), the 4th Nawab, the capital of Awadh province shifted from Faizabad to Lucknow.
Awadh was known as the granary of India and was strategically important for the control of the Doab, the fertile plain between the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers. It was a wealthy kingdom, able to maintain its independence against threats from the Marathas, the British and the Afghans.
There is a famous phrase, Sham-e- Awadh, which indicates that it is worth it to experience the evenings of Awadh …
But we were there to experience the days in Awadh as well, so the next morning, we set out to see Lucknow’s historical sites, the famous Bara Imambara, Chota Imambara, and Rumi Darwaza to get to know a bit about the history and culture of the city, and then start the food journey .
At the entrance ..Bara Imambara
The Bara Imambara was built in 1784 by Asaf–ud-Daula , the 4th Nawab of Awadh. It was built as a relief project for a major famine which took place in 1784. It is an important place of worship and was once the residence of the Imam, or religious leader. It has a 15-metre high vaulted central hall that stretches for 50 metres (the longest in the world) without any intermediary supporting pillars. And the acoustics are remarkable. Our guide lit a matchstick at the far end of the gallery and we could hear it being struck on the opposite side of the large hall.
Also within the Bara Imambara complex is a fine mosque, but it’s off-limits to non-Muslims, so we explored the ancient stepwell,or,baowli instead.
The Pillarless Central Hall..Bara Imambara
After the Bara Imambara , we took a tour of the Chota Imambara and the Rumi Darwaza.
Built as an imambara or a congregation hall for Shia Muslims, by Muhammad Ali Shah, the third Nawab of Awadh in 1838, the Chota Imambara was to serve as his own mausoleum and for his mother, who is buried beside him.
The Chota Imambara
The beautiful Rumi Darwaza...viewed with a bit of rain...
After a tiring but stimulating morning , we were ready to set the Pin …Rolling!
Our first stop was the famous sweet shop , Ram Asre in Hazratganj. This is supposed to be the oldest sweet shop producing sweet delicacies since 1805. As we entered, we saw there was a grill set up at the entrance, on which dosas and tikkis and chaat were being prepared on the huge tawa.
Ram Asre is very famous for the Malai Paan or Malai Gilori . This is a delicacy of Lucknow - a milk based sweet, shaped like a paan, and it just melts in your mouth.
It contains soft pistachio nuts, cashew nuts with a hint of saffron and kewra sweetened and rolled in a thick layer of malai or cream. It is covered with a chandi ka varq or thin silver foil.
Unfortunately I did not get to taste Nimish, lightly sweetened milk beaten to a froth, which is another famous delicacy but is not available in the summer months.
Trayfuls of Mithai(sweets) on display...a real feast for the senses!
Melt in the mouth Malai Gilori
We tasted the Kachori (crisp deep fried puffed flour shells)with dry Potatoes (aloo) too. This is a typical breakfast and snack food.
We also tasted Anarse ke Gole–a slightly sweet rice flour and milk dumpling rolled in sesame seeds and fried, popular during the monsoon time.. and the Orange barfi(sweet)…I found it unique..fresh fruit sweets..mmm ,it was yum!
Kachori...with dry potatoes
Anarse ke gole
As we came out of Ram Asre I spotted a star chart,but the difference was this one had a sweet was compatible with your sun sign! It turned out i was highly compatible with kala jamun (small black jamuns)and any sweet made of dairy..quite a cool marketing gimmik!:)
With our tummies quite full, we spotted a huge crowd waiting for hot kachodis and deep fried puris …I would have loved to try a bite but the long queue discouraged me since we were short on time!
We passed the much talked about Shukla Chaat House which was locked – we were told it would open its doors only in the evening!
( Chaat is very famous snack of Lucknow and the north of India, A must try if travelling to Lucknow)
We walked to the city’s main market of Hazratganj..which is a mix of old and new restaurants, shops and boutiques.
We then met Deepak ,Seema and their dear son Aman Rastogi (friends of my sister in law’s ), who graciously agreed to be our guides and take us on a delicious food trail experiencing the hidden gems of Lucknow…
I was treated to delicious poha ...a different kind that I was used to ..this one was made of puffed rather than flattened rice...its flavours were perfect and set the mood for us to get on the streets of Lucknow..
Red Chilli Paste
Poha at Seema''s home
Our first stop was Tunde Miyan ke Kebab, the famous shop serving mouth melting and watering kebabs for over a 100 years..His original shop is in the Nakhas ,Chowk area .
As we entered the lane where the shop was situated, I could make out the focus was only on the food!
Street food...making our way to Tundy Kebabi
The Shop hardly had a sign board worth the name, and one could make out it was over a 100 years old.. …but he doesn’t need all that marketing gimickery…the whiffs of the hot kebabs on the tawa..the sheermals and the roomalis… just lure you into the shop.
This shop serves only beef kebabs I was told..and I saw an old man sitting in the middle of the shop overseeing orders and the tawas…He smiled at me as he saw my camera and I knew I had met the owner of Tundey Kababi..now run by the grandson of the great Masterchef Tundey, Shri Wajid Raees.
The King of Kebabs
at Tundey Kebabi...
their oldest branch in Lucknow
Legend has it that the ruler of Lucknow, Nawab Asaf-Ud-Dowlah, had lost all his teeth. And yet, the toothless Nawab was so big that there was no horse that could carry him. What was his secret? He commissioned the creation of a version of his beloved kebabs that could be eaten without teeth. His court chef designed a new kebab that would use the finest lamb cuts, mince them twice very finely, add a tenderizer and flavor the whole with a heavenly spice mix. I have tasted this kebab in some of the best restaurants in India and of course at every single meal in Lucknow. Gorgeous! The texture is so fine it surprises at first, but being dispensed from any chewing is blissful. Kebab makers in the Chowk bazaar claim to use 100 spices in their kebabs - that's about every spice they can get and I'm not sure the meat is any better for it.
Shri Wajid Raees, very generously invited me in for a chat and told me about how he has kept the original recipes and the method of cooking the kebabs. Her said that consistency was key to him, and he oversees this aspect himself in his shop.
Shri Wajid Raees
Since I don’t eat beef, he was visibly upset that I couldn’t taste the amazing kebabs but urged me to visit his shop in Aminabad that served mutton kebabs as well.
I bid farewell to Tunday Kebab, and saw and in front of me a small opening in the wall, where two workmen sat working on the production of Varq - the famous razor-thin foil typically made of metal, particularly silver, used for garnishing various sweets in India.
Vark is made by pounding silver into a sheet a few micrometres thick, and backed with paper for support; this paper is peeled away before use. It is extremely brittle and breaks into smaller pieces if touched. It is the delicate silver foil seens on top of Indian sweets.
The two workers were so focused and engrossed in their work, and the varak was so delicately placed on the sheet, it was a real treat to watch.
We were on our way out , when we spotted a very adept Roomali roti maker who was enjoying his job and demonstrating his talent to the passers by! It was quite a show...Watch on!
We made our way to Chowpatia Chowk where I was told was one of the most famous biryani shops in Lucknow ..Lallas Biryani. It was a very small shop with hardly any seating. There were counters towards the walls..and a small area where the mutton shammi kebabs and Biryani were being dished from. The owner was sitting with his big degchi (huge pot) of Biryani, and with a 1000 mega watt smile. He personally supervises the shop and the cooking all day and is a proud owner..he was very gracious and treated us with a lot of respect.
from the degchi!( heavy bottomed vessel)
He told us he cooks 25 kgs of Biryani (rice and meat) daily and around 2 kgs of kebabs , all of which gets sold.
We got ourselves a plate and some kebabs with paranthas that were being made at the site..the first bite said it all..the kebabs just melted in the mouth and now we knew how the nawabs could eat these without any teeth!
Shammi Kebabs and paranthas.....
Delicious biryanis at
The paranthas were a delicious accompaniment to the kebabs and the biryani was just perfect. The mutton pieces combined with the richness and the spices of the biryani was second to none. I can safely say this was one of the best biryanis I have ever eaten.
It is said that Lucknow is famous for its pulaos and not biryanis. So what is the difference between a pulao and a biryani? While cooking a pulao, the rice and meat is cooked separately and then combined together before the Dum cooking. Whereas while cooking a biryani , the soaked rice is fried and cooked with the meat and stronger spices, layered and then kept on dum.
While our tummies were full with the Llucknawi delicacies, we carried on our food trail.
The next stop was the famous Lucknowi Chaat and batasha. Contrary to the popular belief , that Delhi is famous for chaat in north India, it is actually Lucknow that is the king of chaat!
Chaat is a savoury and spiced snack prepared with fried bread served with potatoes, letils, tamarind, green chillies and yoghurt, a well known street snack in Northern India.
Lucknow is very famous for batasha (known as gol gappas in Delhi, as paani puri in Mumbai and as puchka in Kolkatta). These are round, hollowed and fried small crisp puris filled with spiced potatoes or lentils, and topped up with tamarind water. A very popular street food snack, this is eaten at all times of the day..
We then went to the famous Jain Chaat House in Lalbaugh Chowk, and of course, there was a crowd outside the shop - a testimony to their taste and popularity.
Batashe...or paani puri
fried puffed puris of goodness
Aloo tiki...potato patty chaat
Tokri or basket for the chaat
Lucknow's famous chaat..
We had our fill with many Jal jeera batashas , matar, aloo tiki, (peas potato fried patty) and the famous Dahi badas (these are patties made of lentils and then fried and served with yoghurt).
We also tried the famous tokri or basket chaat at another chaat house near Shri Lassi in the Chowk area. The basket is made out of fried potatoes and is filled with Aloo matar tiki, lentils, tamarind chutney, spices and topped with a dollop of curd!
After the spicy chaat , it was time to have some fresh, cooling Lassi…I love Lassi. It is churned yoghurt either enjoyed spiced or sweetened. The weather was hot and humid and we were in for a treat when we reached Shri Lassi - ..one of the most famous lassi houses in Lucknow. As is usual for this place, it was packed with customers sitting and enjoying their customised lassis…
It also sells chole bhature, once of the most popular mini- meals in North India. Their chole were so dark in color because of cooking continuously on a slow flame for hours..and garnished with the freshly made paneer they prepared in the store itself.
As I sipped my masala lassi (I always like my lassi spiced up!), I watched the bhaturas being prepared and fried crisp , ready to be served.
They serve badam milk (almond milk) too, which is considered very special.
Sipping Lassi...a way to cool off!
Then off for some desert to Radhey Lal, Parampara Sweets, nearby, for a bag of imartis ,flower shaped fried batter dipped in sugar syrup that were being freshly prepared! It is very famous for its gajaks(sesame seed sweets ), dodha barfi , besan ladoos (my all time favourite) and doodh pedas(varieties of mik and gramflour based Indian sweets)
Then we spotted Raja Thandai at Chowk area … this is a very famous thandai shop. Thandai is a chilled sweetened milk, usually flavoured with almonds, fennel seeds, watermelon kernel , rose , cardamom and saffron. It is very popular in U.P. (The state in Northern India where Lucknow is situated). It is thought to give lots of energy in hot and humid climates and is also drunk on festivals.
Mixed with small amounts of Bhang (cannabis leaves and buds), it is sometimes made into an intoxicating drink usually enjoyed on the festival of Holi (the festival of colour celebrated in spring).
The owner , a fourth generation Tripathi who knew my hosts , met us with a smile and showed us comments written by them. He was very proud of his thandai. His shop which is frequented by many celebrities, was a small corner space with little seating.. He made the thandai himself for us and told us confidently that it was the best in town!
Our final destination involved more kebabs and biryanis . I wanted to taste the kebabs at Tundey Kebabi’s second branch and Dastarkhwan.
Tundey Kebab , in Aminabad , serves kebabs and biryanis of meats other than beef and after visiting his other shop, I wouldn’t have missed this for anything! As we entered the area, smells of tandoori chicken, mutton korma and sheermal took over. We ordered the famous galouti kebab with sheermal. What a treat!! It melted in seconds, with an amazing texture and taste. You just don’t need anything else. The sheermals and paranthas just complement the main hero, that is, the kebabs.
Paranthas and galoutis
We then trudged our way to Dastarkhwan in Hazratg Ganj…a restaurant well known for its grills, curries and biryanis. I wanted to walk the famous street full of kebabs and biryanis which also housed restaurants with names like: e…Daal mein Kaala, Zeeshan Biryani Corner and Naushijaan, and many many more. We finally made our way to Dastarkhwan Restaurant in Lalbaugh. This is a full seater restaurant and we of course ...ordered the Galouti, Seekh with Roomali and Chicken biryani. This being my last stop ....I wanted to savour each bite....
Sumptous and absolutely bursting with flavours., the kebabs were a hit.
The biryani was average but very well flavoured.
Kulhad Kaleva..a bite of Uttar Pradesh* in Jaipur
Street of Kebabs and
Galoutis, seekhs, romali and biryani..
Bedvi pooris and spicy potatoes
My hosts, Deepak , Seema and dear Aman Rastogi were the actual hidden gems in Lucknow. They took us to all the foodie places in Lucknow and gave us a fabulous food tour! I have never tasted such rich and fantastic food with such great company. It is true when they say respect for guests and the hospitality of Lucknow is second to none!
As we made our way out and headed home…I thought about how much I had truly relished my short but very memorable trip to Lucknow. It is a place where food is given so much importance and is of such great quality nearly in every nook and corner of the city.
I am very thankful to my sister in law’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Razdan, who hosted me during this trip ,gave me a second home and a reason to visit Lucknow again!
It may be the land of nawabs or palaces, culture and art ...for me it was a land of great hospitality...and a foodies haven!
I leave you with some shots of Lucknow...the city that I shall surely visit again......(As much as I have loved taking these photos in my blog, kindly dont use them for your personal purpose..)