The belly rules the mind ∼ Spanish Proverb
Visiting Lucknow for a food trail had been on the top of Bearded Biker’s wish list – and mine. Finally, we made it to Lucknow alibi a night halt, before we could take the flight back to Dubai after an epic Jaipur-Agra trip. Lucknow’s alleys are still steeped in history and we knew that without seeing it’s architectural or cultural heritage was a sacrilege. In our defense, we’ve already set our intentions to come back to the city soon. This time however, our agenda was to eat. There are numerous popular food trails and food tour companies in Lucknow offering special itineraries that revolved around both street food as well as curated dining experiences at noble homes. In the latter, one could feast on authentic Awadhi recipes belonging to noble families that were passed down the generations. We decided to be on our own this time – a mini recce if you like. We were overwhelmed with information overload, thanks to whatsapp forwards from kind friends, specially my cousin sis who had also joined us with her family on our Jaipur segment. Every morsel that we ate, needed her approval. Thankfully, we made her proud!
Many of you may be aware, eating and cooking is more than just a passion in Lucknow. It’s a way of life. The city of Nawabs and their love for food transcended to the common people too. While Lucknowi kababs are legendary, the galawati or galauti kabab, the so called melt-in-the-mouth kababs are what legends are made of. The first galawatis were made for the ageing and toothless Nawab Asad-ud-Daula (1748 to 1797), heir of the great Siraj-ud-Daula. He was so fond of his kababs that his seasoned khansamas reinvented them with minced meat that was pounded to melting softness along with more than 150 spices going into them. Much later, the galawatis made by expert kabab maker Haji Mohammad Fakr-e-Alam Saheb or Tunday Kababi attained an iconic status when Nawab Wajid Ali Shah fell in love with the galawati kababs and extended his royal patronage to the ‘Tunday Kababi’. Apparently, while perfecting the mixture for the galawat, Haji Ali fell off the roof and broke one of his arms. He carried on making galawatis unhindered with one arm and his shop became known as Tunday Kababi. Tasting the galawati kabab at Tunday Kababi was big on our Lucknow itinerary, the other one being the Lucknowi Biryani.
Talking of Biriyani, the only Biryani known to a Bengali is the Lucknowi Biryani. Or the Awadhi Biryani. For as legend (and history has it) and I have written in an earlier post… although the Awadhi cuisine has travelled far and wide, nowhere has it settled down strongly as in Kolkata. Mohammed Wajid Ali Shah Bahadur (1822 AD-1887 AD), the Nawab of the princely Indian state of Awadh or Oudh (modern day Lucknow), was a well-known food aficionado, a khadyo roshik as we say in Bengali. The Dum Pukht style of cooking was invented in this Nawab’s kitchen where the meat, rice or vegetables are covered and sealed in a copper or an earthen pot with a flavoured dough of flour, and everything is let to cook in its own juices on a very slow flame. Exotic nuts, herbs and aphrodisiacs went into these Nawabi dum pukht meals. In 1857 AD, when the Awadh kingdom was annexed by the British, the Nawab was exiled to Calcutta (today’s Kolkata). His passion for gourmet food travelled from Lucknow to Kolkata and was nurtured, garnished and fuelled by his special Bawarchis – the chefs of the Nawab. The Biryani that originated in Lucknow didn’t have potatoes in it. Subsequent economic downturn of the Nawab later led to the addition of potatoes in order to substitute meat and this began the tradition of the famous Kolkata Biryani – Biryani with potatoes in it and occasionally some eggs too. It is believed that only a handful of chefs with royal khansama or lineage knew the secrets to authentic Awadhi Cuisine and each Mughlai restaurant in Kolkata today claims to have one such gem working in their kitchen!
Biryani conjures up all things emotional. Most of our hangouts during our school and college days in Kolkata ended up with biryani followed by a drive to Scoop at the Outram Ghat for icecream. With the limited budget that we had, the most generous feast that we could manage was a packet of Special Biryani per person (also taking a few beers in account – Stroh’s cans in those days!), sometimes two packets for a gluttonous few, from Shiraz at Park Street. A special biryani got us a coveted potato and egg along with the fragrant biryani. Even to this day, when we visit Kolkata, we have to have at least one evening of “Dear Shiraz, we do!” One can argue that there are restaurants who make better biryani than Shiraz but for us, it is Shiraz that takes us back to our childhood.
With one evening in our Lucknow itinerary, speed was of utmost importance. Considering that Lucknow traffic had quite a name, we booked into a hotel near Hajratgunj so that it was easy to navigate between the older parts of the city which had most of the eating joints and MG Road which would take us to the airport the next day. We zeroed in on two of the most recommended joints – Idrees Biryani and Tunday Kababi. We decided that if we had to fit another one in this list, that would be only at a later stage, depending upon tummy storage!
A visit to Idrees was on my cousin sis’ recommendation and we are so glad that we did. Already a veteran on Lucknow eats, she warned us that the eatery was small, crowded and perhaps not fit enough to sit there and eat. Located in the historic Chawk area, Idrees is supposed to shut shop as early as 7 pm. The Biryani got over very quickly. We panicked as it was already 6:30 pm, but our driver suggested that we take a chance. People queued endlessly to pick up biryani from the eatery – literally a hole in the wall. The restaurant was founded by Mohammad Idris in 1968 and is now managed by his sons. One of the sons (above left) sat behind the big vessel or degh containing biryani and was busy filling up take-away boxes. When asked how many people ate at Idrees daily, he replied, “Wo to maloom nehi/I don’t have an estimate for that”. He shared that they cooked around 18-20 deghs daily with each degh taking a preparation time of as long as 3 to 4 hours. The biryani was slow cooked in the degh on chulla or open fire using stone coal, on the street itself. As we approached inside, we felt the heat emanating from one such chulla that had already been abandoned. Fresh rotis were being made by the side of the eatery in open tanours. The aroma of the Biryani hit us so hard that there was no going back to the car with packed biryani packets. The Z-Sisters strutted behind me as I urged the Bearded Biker to make some space in the sitting area. There were two tables inside, one table could sit upto eight persons – four one side and four on the other. The second table faced a green wall and could sit another four people. The manager cum waiter cum usherer cum senior staff welcomed us and once inside, the four of us somehow squeezed in and fit perfectly. It seemed like we were dining out together as a family in a roadside supper club of sorts, along with other strangers. The cacophony of loud banters, squealing car horns created a perfect backdrop to the orders being screamed out to the kitchen staff. A colourful printout of the menu was splashed across the wall. There were only a few dishes that one could choose from – a mutton biryani (either a half portion or a full portion), mutton korma, mutton stew, chicken korma and three kinds of breads – sheermal, kulcha and rumali roti. We ordered two half portions of mutton biryani and two mutton kormas between the four of us, keeping in mind that this was our first stop. A maximum wait of five minutes and the food had already arrived on the table. The staff insisted that we try some kulcha but we needed to prioritise. No adjective can be adequate enough to define the Biryani we tasted at Idrees – each grain of rice distinct, cooked perfectly with its flavour intact, and the pieces of meat falling off gently from the bones as we touched. The level of greasiness was perfect and seemed to caress our fingers. I looked around and discovered two bags of Basmati rice on the shelf, under the brand named Zaika. The mutton korma was delicious too with a light gravy which was spicy, but not hot. As for most popular restaurant recipes, secret ingredients went into the biryani here too that the staff didn’t divulge. ‘Special Awadhi spices’, along with milk and saffron. “That’s all”, he said and that was the end of our conversation as I was left licking my fingers!
It cost us Rs 500 for four persons (2 half mutton biryanis at Rs 120/plate and two mutton kormas at Rs 110/plate).
Raja Bazar, Chowk, Lucknow
12noon – 3pm, 6pm – 8:15pm
The legendary Tunday Kababi
This one name – Tunday Kababi conjures up the best kababs of Lucknow, specially the galawati. The original eatery is located in Chawk behind Akbari Gate in Old Lucknow and was set up by Haji in 1905. It still serves galawati kababs made only from the traditional water buffalo meat and ulte tawa ka paratha – paratha made on the inverted griddle. A branch in Aminabad was set up in 1996 by Haji’s grandsons and served lamb galawati and other Mughlai dishes which helped the brand to reach out to a wider audience. This Aminabad branch has now expanded to three storeys, with the basement itself hosting more than 100 covers. I was told that Aminabad was so crowded that cars won’t be able to reach the restaurant, while only a rickety rickshaw could take one to the Tunday Kababi in the chawk. I’m not too sure of the route that our driver took, but it took us less than five minutes to walk to the restaurant from where he parked the car. The façade of the restaurant wasn’t fancy but was extremely busy, with multiple takeaways being organised simultaneously. As we entered the restaurant, it was apparent that the space inside had expanded organically with whatever space seemed to have been available from neighbouring structures. Photographs of celebrities – Bollywood film stars and cricketers alike, and who have eaten in Tunday Kababi hung on the entrance wall as brilliant testimonials. As we settled down at our table, we realised that most diners, like us, had travelled from far and wide. We were attended by a Bengali staff and soon realised that there were lots of Bengalis working here. Most of them seemed to come from Mushirdabad district in Bengal. The restaurant buzzed and we were told that being a Thursday, it was actually less busy than other nights as some Hindu diners refrained from eating non-vegetarian on Thursdays. There were more than 150 people in the kitchen team, three-fourth of the staff strength tending only to the huge number of daily takeaways.
At a Tunday Kababi too, our food arrived as soon as we placed our order – four plates of galawati kababs with mughlai parathas, lachcha paratha, sheermal, followed by Mutton Biryani. This was the moment we had waited for. The kababs were intense in their after smoked aroma and truly melted in the mouth, while the parathas were crisp and beautifully flaky. I was taking my time to savour each bite, also speak our attendant as I wanted to know more. Even today, the spice mix going into the kababs is a guarded family secret and prepared by the women in the family. The only thing that we learnt, not surprisingly was that the kababs were cooked in ghee using the famous dum technique. The Mutton Biryani was brilliant too but didn’t come close to the Biryani we had tasted at Idrees earlier. It definitely wasn’t the case of law of diminishing returns either. In fact, we found our girth to be more elastic than we had originally thought, and adjusted by itself to accommodate any additional morsel. The interesting thing that we learnt was that the original Tunday Kababi at the chawk served paranthas and kebabs at very modest prices so that the food that was once confined to the royal kitchens of the nawabs could also be available to every diner who visits!
It cost us Rs 600 for four persons (2 half mutton biryanis at Rs 120/plate; 4 mughlai parathas; 1 sheermal, 1 laccha paratha, 4 portions of buffalo galawati kababs at Rs 44/plate)
+91 522 262 2786
No.168/6, Old Nazirabad Rd, Beside St.Marry Inter College, Khayali Ganj, Aminabad
Open 11am until 11pm, daily
A few hundred steps away from Tunday Kababi was a small kulfi shop called Prakash Kulfi, a recommendation from the hotel team. “Prakash ki mashhoor kulfi/the famous kulfi from Prakash”, read the board of the shop which barely had five to six tables. Prakash Kulfi was started by Late Shree Prakash Chandara Arora in 1965 and currently his sons and grandsons run the business. Although the menu card now offered a variety of flavoured kulfis like chocolate, strawberry, butterscotch etc, the bestseller is still the traditional Kesar Pista. The kulfi is served either in stick or in a plate with falooda. We opted for the latter, and a plate came with a generous portion of kulfi – a palm sized block that could easily be shared between two persons. The kulfi was creamy, nutty and tasted more like a dense kheer. Although I’m not really a fan of falooda, the traditional vermicelli noodles at Prakash Kulfi won my heart. The noodles here weren’t soaking in a dense sugar syrup, instead chilled rose flavoured falooda was served almost plain, semi-draping the kulfi. At Rs 60 per plate, it was the perfect culinary souvenir to compliment the romance of kababs and biryanis of Lucknow.
It cost us Rs 120 for two portions of Kulfi
+91 9415083536/+91 9415083536
2/432, Vivek Khand Gomati Nagar/ Mohan Market, Khayali Ganj, Aminabad/ Santoshi Mata Mandir Crossing, Chawk
Open 9am until 9pm, daily
We came back to the hotel satiated, yet felt a strange emptiness with the knowledge that we would be leaving the next morning without tasting a few other famous kababs that Lucknow served – Kakori Kebabs, Shami Kebabs, Boti Kebabs, Ghutwa Kebabs, Seekh Kebabs etc. In the meanwhile, my sis insisted that we call up Dastarkhawan in Lal Bagh the next morning, requesting them to keep some ulte tawa ke parathe and galawati kawabs ready to take back home. She refused to give in that we had an international flight to catch at 2 pm while the restaurant opened only after 12 pm. We are back in Dubai for more than a week now and I just received her whatsapp… “did you all go to the real Tunday in Aminabad? It’s very congested and cars can’t go there at all. Are you sure you didn’t go to the one that’s in the Chawk, near Idrees…. .” I sent her pictures as evidences, zooming in on addresses written on shop-boards and headers from Aminabad area. I’m happy to share with you all that I’ve just received a thumbs up emoji from her. Yes, we did ‘eat’ right in Lucknow!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Note: Some of the older parts of the city aren’t accessible to cars, so taking a rickshaw or walking are more convenient options. If you hire a car with a driver, do make sure he’s an expert on Lucknow roads and knows where to park if you intend to eat at these well known old eateries. Also, most places don’t take credit cards and have cash only policy. I must mention here that the national highways and the new expressways built in the last few years are incredible – we came to Lucknow from Agra by road and there are registered tourist cars which ply. Charges are roughly Rs 13/km, sometimes inclusive of toll charges. Lastly, we were flying out of Lucknow International Airport and we didn’t spot even a basic convenient store which sold water, leave aside any light bites. Both the check-in and immigration lines were long and took enormous amount of time… may have been just one-off days. So I would suggest that you keep adequate time in hand… and a few ulte tawa ke parathe and galawati kawabs packed beforehand, if you can!
Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all my bills have been self paid. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Try these recipes from my blog: Ananta in Oberoi Dubai | For The Love Of Galouti Kababs, Here’s The Royal Recipe Kolkata Biryani | Cooking The Royal Dish In Lafayette Gourmet Other reads: History of Lucknow food Curated dining at Mahmudabad house How the galouti kebab assumed mythic proportions in the City of Nawabs, Lucknow Prakash Ki Kulfi