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The land of the decadent Awadhi cuisine, Lucknow is a foodie's paradise. From a host of delectable kebabs to the biryanis and kheer, there's a lot on offer.
Hard-boiled eggs wrapped in ground lamb meat, or keema, and cooked in rich gravy, make for the perfect kofta, a delicacy of Awadhi cuisine. Nargisi kofta is a dish native to Persia and chefs prefer eggs to give kofta balls the perfect shape. The gravy is made using tomato puree, dry fruit paste and onions. The ground meat is flavoured with a blend of spices, so when the gravy and koftas come together, they create a medley of unforgettable flavours.
It is especially favoured during the festival of Ramazan, but is prepared for other special occasions throughout the year. It is essentially a snack, but can also be eaten with plain rice, pulao or biryani. Nargisi koftas resemble a flower named Narcissus, which is a winter flower grown in India. The flower has a yellow centre as does the cooked yolk of the dish.
Paneer Gulnar kebab is the vegetarian version of meat kebab, with cottage cheese as the main ingredient. In the dish, paneer cakes are filled with khus, and marinated in a thick, flavourful beetroot paste. With a lovely pink hue, these kebabs are rich and creamy, and a particular favourite during weddings and other special occasions. Garnished with pomegranate pearls, green chilli and fenugreek leaves, Gulnar kebabs are a filling snack, which are sometimes served with chapathi (Indian flatbread) or rice.
Gulnar kebabs are said to have originated in Persia, and then spread to Asian and Middle Eastern countries. It is said that to prepare the meat variant of the dish, soldiers would even use their swords to skewer small pieces of meat and grill them on an open fire.
Pasanda kebabs derive their name from the Urdu word 'pasande', meaning favourite, as they include the prime cuts of meat in their preparation. A dish served to Mughal emperors, it is usually prepared as curry, with large pieces of marinated lamb cooked in a spicy gravy. Today, several restaurants and joints also serve it as a kebab concoction.
Two-inch square boneless kebabs are made from thin layers of mutton that are marinated in raw papaya, white pepper power and a generous dollop of ginger garlic paste. These kebabs are barbecued on a coal fire grill, and are best savoured with chaat masala, which gives the dish a heavenly flavour. There are two main methods of preparation– the mutton pieces can either be skewered or cooked. The majority of the chefs in Lucknow prefer the latter.
A delicacy curated during the rule of the nawabs, shami kebabs are one of the most popular snacks in the city. They are known for their fine textured meat, softness and aromatic flavour. Round patties full of spices, raw mango and Bengal gram are pan-fried to create a crispy exterior that is increasingly soft on the inside. Kairi or raw mango is the main ingredient of the dish.
To prepare these kebabs, lamb meat is boiled or sautéed, and then ground with chickpeas. A blend of spices (garam masala, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves and bay leaves) is added to the mixture, along with whole ginger, garlic, onions, green chillies, turmeric, red chilli powder and chopped mint leaves. Some recipes call for an egg to be added as well, in order to hold the kebab together. Most restaurants in the city also serve vegetarian versions of the kebabs.
This unique version of kebabs is spicy and cooked on slow fire. The dum style of cooking adds to the taste. Unlike other kebabs, patili kebabs are neither barbecued nor fried. They are cooled in a round-shaped brass or copper utensil called 'patili' from which the dish draws its name. These kebabs are served as a whole portion and not in pieces. When cooked in a patili, they become super soft and retain the flavour of all spices and other ingredients. They are generally eaten as a snack or appetiser, but when paired with rumali roti, turn into a filling meal.
Lucknow's basket chaat includes potato tikki or patty, cooked black chana, sweet and spicy chutney and curd stuffed into a crunchy basket made of sev or fried potato. It should be tried with the five-flavoured pani batasha (fried and puffed balls filled with water), another speciality of Lucknow.
The ultimate snack, basket or 'tokri' chaat is available across the city of Lucknow, sold by street stall vendors as well as restaurants. It is a spicy, filling street food that has now become popular across the country, and is even served at weddings and other special occasions. Savour a plateful of tokri chaat with a cup of hot tea as you soak in the spirit of Lucknow.
One of the best Nawabi dishes, zafrani kheer is the perfect finish to any meal. A dessert made with milk, boiled rice, cardamom and delicate strands of saffron, it is garnished with almond and chopped cashew nuts fried in ghee (clarified butter). The garnish imparts a distinct flavour to the kheer, which is filling and tastes heavenly. This dish is a variant of the simple kheer, which is one of the most popular desserts in Indian cooking, with several versions across the country. The zafrani version is mostly prepared during special occasions like weddings as well as religious celebrations.
A variant of the decadent galawati kebab, the iconic and beloved Tunday kebab is prepared with almost 160 ingredients, including meat, yoghurt, ginger, cloves and lime. Tunday kebab is best served with rumali roti or crispy 'ulte tawe ka paratha', which is cooked on an inverted griddle. This is perhaps the most favoured kebab in Lucknow after the galawati kebab, with people flocking to street vendors and restaurants alike for a generous helping. The kebab has been named after its creator, Haji Murad Ali, who was a popular kebab-maker with only one working arm. Legend has it that once Haji Ali was working on improving the galawati kebab when he fell off the roof and broke one of his arms. This did not stop his pursuit of culinary perfection – he hired workers and taught them how to ground meat into such a fine paste that the kebab would instantly melt in the mouth. Rather than having the chewiness, typical of other kebabs, his version had a silky and smooth texture.
The then Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah, fell in love with this variant, and propagated it across the country. Starting from 1905, Haji Murad Ali sold his lovely kebabs in Gol Darwaza in Lucknow, leaving behind an impressive legacy.
A truly melt-in-your-mouth dish, galawati kebab or galouti kebab is prepared with finely ground meat and unripe papaya, which is seasoned with a rich blend of spices. Egg is used to bind the meat and other ingredients like crushed ginger and garlic, and fried onion, together. This blend is then shaped into thin, round patties and lightly fried in ghee (clarified butter) on a pan. Once a golden sizzle is seen on the exterior of the patties, they are taken off the heat and served with a generous helping of raw onions and lemon.
This special dish was curated exclusively for the toothless Nawab of Lucknow, Asaf-ud-Daula; since he couldn’t chew. This special version of the regular kebab was created for him in the 16th century, and comprised meat so finely ground and cooked, it would explode in a flavour of meaty deliciousness and spices in the first bite.