“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” – George Bernard Shaw
Hitting the food trail in Lucknow, a city known for its royal heritage, architectural brilliance and incredibly delicious food, is like a pilgrimage.
The traditional food of Lucknow was highly patronized by the Nawabs of Lucknow during their time. The royal chefs were trained to render an exquisite culinary spread that included some of the richest and most exotic preparations in the country.
The cooking techniques of char-grilling and dum pukht (slow cooking over a low flame), and the balanced blend of aromatic and fiery spices they developed gave the Lucknowi food a distinct flavour. Today, the meticulously elaborate way of preparing and presenting a Lucknowi dish is a skill that has been acquired by rigorous practice and something that has been passed down by generations over the years.
A quintessential gourmet central for every foodie, the city’s cuisine includes a wide range of mouth watering relishes like kebabs, nihari-kulcha, zarda, kaliya, sheermal, warqi parathas, kachoris, ghewar, nimish and many more delightful preparations to appease your taste buds.
Mornings in Lucknow are reserved for the traditional puri or khasta kachori with alu-kaddu sabzi, served with jalebi and rabdi that has simmered for hours, or a glass of lassi. For the rest of the day, it is Lucknow’s legendary kebabs, kormas, biryanis and traditional flat breads that take centre stage.
Other than its outstanding kebabs, some of which are made only with advance notice (like the burras, patili, and ghutwa), the city has some good fare for vegetarians too. The vegetarian kebabs include Dalcha and paneer, as also others made of kidney beans, raw jackfruit, colocasia and yam.
For those who happen to be in Lucknow and want to experience the city’s culinary culture, here is a list of scrumptious must try delicacies from the ‘City of Nawabs’, as well the iconic eateries they can be tried at. As it is said, the Lucknowi kitchen is the gift that keeps on giving!
1. Nihari and Kulcha at Raheem’s
Started in 1890 by Haji Abdur Raheem Saheb, Raheem’s hotel is world famous for its Nihari-Kulcha. For the uninitiated, nihari is a robust meat curry, simmered overnight with spices & special herbs on a low fire, that is best served with a warm, fluffy ghilaaf kulcha (the upper layer is ghilaaf and the bottom layer is khameer). Paaye, sheermal, kakori kabab, parsande, seekh kabab and kheer are also much-loved delicacies served at this eatery.
2. Awadh Biryani at Wahid Mia’s Biryani
Cooked in the royal Awadhi style, the textures of Lucknowi biryani are softer and the spices milder. The first step involves making a yakhni stock from meat that is slow boiled in water infused with spices for about two hours or more. This is the reason why this biryani is more moist, tender and delicately flavoured than other biryanis. Wahid Mia’s Biryani was established in year 1955 and its irresistible aroma and taste have remained the same since then.
3. Shammi Kabab at Sakhawat
Juicy chicken kebabs mixed with chana dal and aromatic spices, smeared with eggs and fried crisp, Shammi kebabs at Sakhawat are sumptuous, melt-in-your-mouth and definitely a must try. This highly recommended hole-in-the-wall doesn’t look like much but it has won international accolades and doubles up as an Awadh cooking institute.
4. Boti Kabab at Dastarkhwan
Dastarkhwan in Hazratganj is the best place to sample authentic Mughlai fare from Awadh. From lip-smacking galawat kebab and mutton rogan josh to chicken biryani and shami kabab, this restaurant is a non-vegetarian’s delight. However, the star of its mouthwatering menu is undoubtedly the boti kebab – small pieces of boneless mutton slow-cooked in a thick gravy. Interestingly, did you know that dastarkhwan in Persian means a well-laid-out spread of dishes?
5. Galawati Kabab with Ulte Tawe Ka Paratha at Tunday Kababi
The best-known kebab of Lucknow is, of course, Tunday Kababi’s galawati. What makes this kebab irresistibly delicious is the heavy use of spices like black pepper, cardamom and star anise, among others. These spices are added to a rich, thick paste of papaya, yoghurt and gram flour, blended in with minced meat and made into small patties that are shallow-fried on a large cast-iron girdle heated by smouldering charcoal. The galawati was first made for an ageing nobleman with no teeth by the one-armed chef Haji Murad Ali, who also founded the legendary restaurant in the old quarters of Aminabad.
6. Handi Chicken with Sheermal Roti at Kalika Hut
The Handi Chicken is cooked with a rich spicy gravy in an earthen pot over a flame in a meter deep charcoal pit. This process allows all the potent flavours to seep into the chicken. The main Kalika Hut, which serves the best Handi Chicken in town, is in Aramark. However their Gomti Nagar and Badshah Nagar branches come a close second. Fragrant and flavoursome, Handi Chicken served with glazed caramel sheermal bread is a dish sure to stoke your hunger and leave you craving for more!
7. Mutton Biryani at Idris
Situated in one of Lucknow’s most historic areas, Chowk, this small and partially-hidden eatery serves an unmatched range of Mughlai flavours, prepared with fresh local spices. The restaurant was founded by an expert biryani maker, Mohammad Idris, back in 1968, and is now managed by his sons Abu Bakr and Abu Hamza. The secret of Idris’s exquisite mutton biryani is use of milk, herbs and saffron in the recipe which is cooked in a copper degh on a ‘paththar ka koyla‘.
8. Chaat Tokri at Royal Cafe
Lucknow’s Tokri Chaat is made by frying grated potatoes in the shape of a basket. This basket is then loaded with aloo tikkis, papdi, lentil fritters, chickpeas, and sweetened yogurt topped with tamarind and green chilli chutneys. This scrumptious basket of flavours is finally sprinkled with grated carrots, sev, pomegranate kernels and aromatic spice powders. Do not miss this one!
9. Matar ki Chaat at Shukla Chat House
No trip to Lucknow can be complete without a jaunt down to Hazratganj and trying out special matar ki chaat with aloo tikki at the old Shukla Chaat House. A local favourite, ground chickpeas are cooked in an onion and green chilli based masala, shaped into tikkis and deep fried before being served with curd, tangy tamarind chutney and a sprinkling of chopped coriander.
10. Nimish (Makhan Malai) at Chowk
A whimsical frothy seasonal sweet, Nimish is why autumn mornings are much awaited by Lucknow’s foodies. Dexterous sweetmakers in Lucknow use thick milk, dew drops and a dash of saffron, cardamom, pistachio and rosewater to make these creamy, airy and intensely flavoured sweets. Beautifully embellished with ‘Chandi ka Warq’ (silver leaf), nimish can be found on the streets of Chowk as soon as the sun mellows down in autumn.
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