An exploration into the history of Awadhi cuisine and the most iconic Lucknowi dishes representing the ‘land of the Nawabs’
Lucknow, the city of the Nawabs, also the land of Awadhi cuisine, has a lot to offer than what typically meets the eye. The cooking techniques and a variety of dishes in this city is influenced and inspired by the Mughals. When in Lucknow, experience the brutal fight between unavoidable vegetarian and non-vegetarian food, and uncountable calories, stemmed from the exotic herbs, spices, and dry fruits added to justify the Nawabs’ elegance and sophistication of Awadhi cuisine.
In the midst of crowded streets, the aura of grandeur, laidback atmosphere, and exotic aroma emanating from the street side as well as royal eateries, food is all that keeps the city running. From an elaborate spread of Kebabs to piping hot Masala Tea, silk-like Roomali Rotis to a handi full of Biryanis, and drool-worthy sweetmeats to flavored Bhaang Thandai, the city offers a haven for gluttons to escape. There’s nothing you’ll not like and I’m certain, you’ll proudly spell the words of praise for the city, just the way I did – Muskoorayiye, Khayiye, aap Lucknow mein hain!
The combination of Tunday Kebab with Paratha at Tunday Kababi represents Lucknow in so many ways. Not many of you may know that this dish was named after Haji Murad Ali, a one-armed chef who gave birth to these Kebabs by blending unique spices and juicy, finely-minced lamb. The dish is unique because of the secret recipe for the preparation of the masala that infuses flavours of over 160 spices. The Aminabad outlet serves Mutton and Beef Kebabs, while the Chowk outlet serves only Beef Kebabs, that too at a very reasonable price.
Chaat being the comfort food in India, almost every state manages to add its personal spin to it – and how could Lucknow miss this opportunity? If you are a true gormandizer, there’s very less possibility that you’ve not heard of Basket Chaat, also called Tokri Chaat. The outer covering, that is the basket, is prepared with potato shelling, which is loaded with mashed tikkis, finely chopped vegetables, spicy and tangy sauces, and a ton of spices to give it an edge. Though the basket may appear small, I assure you’ll be left with no space in your stomach for a dessert – thanks to its filling!
We’ve all, at some point or the other tried or heard of Awadhi Biryani. But its history remains unknown to us. This form of Biryani was discovered by the tenth rule of the Oudh or Awadh Dynasty. A popular eatery named Wahid’s Biryani is known to serve the best Awadhi Biryani in the city. Made with rice and meat, and then cooked over dum, enhances its flavors and richness that’s parallel to none. This Biryani is absolutely sinful and often the go-to meal for tourists and connoisseurs alike.
Nahari is a popular Lucknowi savory breakfast item that gets served with warm Kulchas. This lip-smacking favorite of foodies has traveled from the streets of Delhi to the tables of Nawabs, which has now proved to be a masterpiece of slow-cooking. Nahari is prepared with stock and goat meat which is left to cook overnight and then served in its thickest form the next day with tempered mustard oil from the top and butter-laden Kulchas.
A sweet delight loaded with dry fruits, Zarda Pulao, is made with basmati rice which is flavoured, and cardamom sugar syrup is added to it. The strands of saffron used in the preparation give it a refreshing taste and lovely colour. A must-try delicacy, Zarda Pulao not only tastes amazing but filling, too!
Warqi Paratha or layered Paratha, usually prepared with all-purpose flour, sugar or saffron, serves as an ideal combination with curries. These Parathas, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, can be sweet and savory, or both. Ghee is the key ingredient for making these delicious flatbreads flaky and flavourful.
A rich Lucknowi stew of lamb or goat meat slow cooked in brown onions, nuts, spices, yogurt and aromatic essences like saffron and kewda (screw pine), Awadhi Korma is an absolutely must-have! Yogurt gives a beautiful velvety base, ground brown onions gives texture, and gentle spices with nuts give richness to this exceptional Korma recipe. They are mostly a mild preparation making a use of Kashmiri red chilies to get the rich red hue but gentle on the palate.
Dal Sultani is a rich and delectable lentil dish, considered suitable for the refined and discerning palate of Sultans, Nawabs, and aristocrats. This arhar dal recipe is cooked with milk and cream for a smooth, creamy, and luscious texture. It is flavoured with a mélange of spices for a delightful aroma; infused with smoke (dhungar) from a piece of coal for enhanced flavor; and then finished off with a tadka (tempering) of ghee with cumin and garlic. It goes best with Paranthas, Bakarkhani, Nans and Rice.
Besides an array of chaat items and appetizers, the city also boasts of its desserts. And Makkhan Malai tops the list, owing to its taste, flavor, richness, and appearance. This dessert can be commonly found on the streets of Lucknow, generally garnished with a generous amount of dried nuts, khoya, and beautified with edible silver foil. The beauty of this dessert lies in its fluffy, airy, and smooth creamy texture.
Kali Gajar Ka Halwa
Kali Gajar Ka Halwa is extensively made and served during the winter months. Legends say that the delight was enjoyed as part of the Royal Awadhi culinary fare. Grated carrots are sautéed in a thick bottom pan with pure desi ghee. Once the carrot is perfectly sautéed, milk/condensed milk and a host of aromatic spices such as cardamom powder, cinnamom pods, cloves and dried fruits and nuts like cashews, almond and raisins are added to it. This is stirred well with khoya and sugar until it becomes a dense and intensely rich black halwa. The dessert is then decorated with a layer of silver foil, chopped nuts, and khoya.
Besides the aforesaid food options, there’s so much more that you can find here. So, do prepare your appetite well in advance to binge on these delectable delicacies.