For anyone with any interest in the art, history and culture of the Indian subcontinent, Lucknow is a must-visit. The sights, sounds, tastes and smells of each corner of Lucknow are an exclusive exposition of the evolution of not just a city, but a culture and a way of life.
Much has been and will continue to be written about this city and the zenith of its glorious past. A must-read is Abdul Halim Sharar’s Guzishta Lucknow or the English translation Lucknow: the Last Phase of an Oriental Culture. Another quirky piece on Lucknow’s History can be found in the Awadh Punch edited by Prof. Mushir Ul Hasan.
Some believe the city has lost most of its charm and is bursting at its seams like a mufassil town on steroids, while others continue to know with certitude that Lucknow lives forever in the heart of those that will never be able to call anywhere else “home”. I grew up in Lucknow and have never loved any city quite as much. Lucknow is aaram (rest), itmenaan (easy) and rehaish (the home that has nurtured me).
Lucknow, remains, in large parts still, one of those places where tehzeeb (culture) and tameez (grace)is a part of everyday life – the beauty of the language that the rickshawallah speaks, the swift twirls of a kathak performance, the perfection in each stitch of chikankari, the way the kebab melts onto the paratha or how the “malai gillori” transcends the barriers of the palate cleansing paan and subtly sweetened mithai.
In Lucknow, culture is supreme – nafees.
Ideally take a train because the experience of getting down at the historic Charbagh Station can be gorgeous in itself. You could also fly into the Amausi airport, but it isn’t quite the same. Although the station can be really busy and crowded during the day.
And once your reach: “Muskuraiyye ki aap Lucknow mein hain“. (Smile because you have found yourself in the city of Lucknow).
The gourmet street food trail that helps you discover the essence of Lucknow:
The true flavour of food is in Lucknow’s homes and streets. Unfortunately, fancier places don’t entirely match up. Take this gourmet walk in the truest culture gullies of India
The many options you have for Breakfast:
- Head to the old city – Chowk – and get a flavour of nimish (also known as makkhan malai). Traditionally the froth of milk was mildly flavoured with saffron and cooled in the overnight dew and served with nuts. The process remains largely the same and nimish is available on in little carry along with glass-covered flat plates everywhere on the streets of Chowk and Aminabad.
- If you are a non-vegetarian and in Lucknow during the holy month of Ramzan, have the nihari and kulcha. The kulcha, unlike anywhere else in India is a thick, slightly sweet, flaky bread. Especially good at Rahim’s hole-in-the-wall eatery near the Akbari Gate area of Chowk.
- Stop near the Golewaza entrance to Chowk and have a glass of thick lassi with blobs of cream in it at Sri Lassi Corner; and thandai, a refreshing cashew-milk concoction at Raja ki Thandai.
- On another day you could also head to the more accessible Novelty Cinema crossing in Lal Bagh and discover the world’s most addictive bun makkhan, samosas, and tea at Sharma’s Tea Stall.
- Head to Aminabad and walk through the crowds to Net Ram Halwai’s 150-year-old shop to get yourself a thali replete with kachoris, aloo tari, sukha aloo, kaddu ki sabzi and chutney.
- If you’re still hungry walk a little further on to the intersection of La Touche Road and A.P Sen Road to Ratti Lal’s thela and get some kachori matar.
- You could also go to Bajpai Poori-Aaloo wale (opp Ram Aasrey on Shah Najaf Road) and get into a queue to have a takeaway lunch of some very delicious poori aloo.
- If you are around during the late monsoons you will get off the streets of Aminabad freshly friedAndarse – a slightly sweet rice flour and milk dumpling rolled in sesame seeds and fried. Seasonally Yum!
In the evening:
Walk through Hazratganj and pick up a packet of chipte channe at the Janpath entrance, drink a milkshake at Chedi Lal (near Calcutta’s In Style). If you like try the gol gappas at Royal Café or walk a little further to Shukla Chaat House on Shah Najaf Road (opp Sanskriti) or King of Chaat (close to K.D Singh Babu Stadium). The papri chaat and the aloo tikki is highly recommended at both. Try the matar suhaal at vendor who sits at the Halwasiya Market Entrance in Hazratganj or the mutton burger at Marksmen. The franky at Rover’s and the dahi bade opposite the GPO are highly recommended.
Some of the most popular dishes in Lucknow are passed down generations – some families’ have well-kept secret recipes and the unique flavours that you get in homes of Lucknow is incomparable to any other city. People from Lucknow have large hearts and even larger dining tables. Try wangling an invitation to a dinner at home if you can. It’s your only hope to getting authentic versions of dishes like khichda, rasawal, uzbeki, zarda, kaali gajar ka halwa, ande ka halwa, khatti machchli, etc.
The list of Lucknow specialities is endless : kormas, zarda, sheermal, warqi parathas, kofte, shami kebabs, boti kebabs, kakori kebabs, ghutwa kebabs, hariyali kebabs, patili-ke-kebabs, nukti kebabs and a million other uniquely Lucknow food experiences.
Try the most obvious Kabab Parathe at Tunde Kababi: The name Tunde comes from the Hindustani word “Tunda” which loosely translates to a man without arms. It is said that the first of these delectable kababs were shaped in the armpit of Tunde Kababi. But please don’t let that deter you. The secret recipe has been passed down generations and any Lucknow experience remains incomplete without a visit to Tunde Kababi in Chowk or Aminabad (Near Akbari Gate in Chowk or on Naaz Cinema Road, Aminabad).
While in Lucknow also try:
- the biryani from Idris in Chowk
- the chicken boti from Dastarkhan (near Press Club),
- the shami kebab from Sakhawat (near Gymkhana Club)
If you aren’t particularly keen on more street food go to Royal Café in Hazratganj and order butter chicken, chicken rara and dal makhani.
Kulfi from Chanakya (near the KD Singh Babu Stadium) or Prakash (in Aminabad).
And no meal is considered complete without paan. Most of the Lucknow paanwalahs give you a well-made paan. Get one customised with the patta, supari, gulkand, saunf, etc of your choice. One especially good paanwalah sits outside the State Bank of India building at the beginning of Hazratganj
Food snobbery starts right about now – you’re set to put your nose up at any “Mughlai” or “Dum Pukht” or “North Indian” food, anywhere in the world. Nothing else is going to compare. EVER.
Recommended food you can carry back home
- The mangoes from Malihabad in Lucknow are considered among the best in the world but are only on sale during the monsoon. They say that the mango from Malihabad must be eaten after the first shower of rain because it helps wash the sticky sap.
- Motichur laddoos from Ritz Sweets in Gomtinagar, Hazratganj and Mahanagar: These melt-in the-mouth laddoos are made with pure desi ghee.
- Chandi ka warq: Silver sheets beaten into a thin foil which makes for a great food presentation idea. Available in Chowk.
- Namkeen from Nanhe in Daliganj: The corn sev and the paneer bhujiya are especially good.
- Arora’s mirche ka achaar and navrattan chutney from Arora’s Achaar Shop in Aminabad.
The must take back stuff from Lucknow:
- Non Food Chikankari kurtas and dupattas available across Chowk, Aminabad and Janpath. The nicest work comes in 4-5 primary chikan stictches including tepchi, murri, jaal and makaish.