I decided to go to Lucknow one fine day because it is home to some of my really close friends and as a young traveller and foodie, I wanted to try all sorts of Lucknowi recipes.
I had been to Lucknow a couple of times before. In fact, I have even spent a brief period of my childhood there but those times did not have the sense of purpose this one did.
I took an early morning Shatabdi train from New Delhi and by noon reached Lucknow. My friend was there to pick me up from the railway station. After much honking and rash driving by her driver, we reached her home safely. I had made my purpose of the trip very clear. We were not sitting at home, but going to be driving or walking through the city and exploring everything.
We were later joined by another young friend of ours. I can also probably give him the title of a modern Lucknowi nawab because of all the refined knowledge he seems to have of all the right eateries and history of the town.
At 4 pm, we started with Shekhawat (near Lucknow Golf Course in a cramped lane). It's a small eatery serving the best kebabs in town. You have the choice of shammi and seekh kebabs only. This tiny eatery has survived for ages by serving only these two mouth-watering kebabs. Plus biryani of course.
We then headed to Idris-ki-biryani (Old Lucknow) set among old crumbling houses. This tiny eatery also comes with a history of its own. The recipes are generations old and the aroma and flavours hark back to another era of slow, leisurely cooking. As the name suggests, this eatery serves the best Lucknowi biryani. Let me also clarify at this stage, the biryani in lucknow is different from what we get in Delhi or Hyderabad. Lucknowi biryani comes with aroma filled white rice, each grain separated and then there are a few chunks of mutton with some magical masala. It is served with a curry. My friends tell me, the Lucknowi palate has always preferred mutton over chicken. So if you are in Lucknow, and you are a chicken lover, you might be disappointed.
We then did a short trek across the city. I noticed all the lights, roads, people, cramped dingy houses, cows, innumerable rickshaws, hospitals, schools, government buildings, historical places, tongas and not to forget the sprawling Ambedkar Park.
But even in this chaos, there was an air of calmness. It was a pleasure to see such a harmonious and beautiful mix of two religions everywhere.
The moment we got home, we were told that a family friend had dropped in with some mutton curry cooked in the most authentic way in a Muslim kitchen.
I was curious again. But I was already so stuffed. So my friend and I decided to have it as our midnight meal on the terrace with probably just a roti or a bread.
The next day was devoted to Aminabad and tunday kebab. Aminabad is a very busy market area in Old Lucknow and it will easily remind you of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. I also bought Kolhapuri chappals which are strong and sturdy till date. But we are digressing.
When you are in Lucknow and have been hungering for the world famous tunday kebabs, you might get lost because there are so many versions.
The historical, authentic and original Tunday Kebabi is located in Aminabad, Naaz Cinema Road. My historian Nawab friend told me the history of this eatery.
Tunday refers to ‘one who has a missing arm’. So this place was originally owned by a man who did not have one arm but used to make the best kebabs in Lucknow using his other hand. His kebabs have now become world famous and the eatery is now run by the third generation using the same old secret recipe. This generation has also acquired the trade mark for its logo.
The place is located in a narrow lane so you cannot take your car through it. The best way to explore is to walk or take a rickshaw. I finally reached the much talked about eatery and though small, it has ample place to sit. This is one of those places where you cannot sit and linger over bottomless fresh lime sodas. We ordered the kebabs which came with paper thin parathas. After almost four plates of these mouth-watering-finely-spiced kebabs, we left.
After all the heat and sweat, we thought of having a coffee or smoothie and went to Mint, a nice warm modern coffee shop with lounge like seating. It was in total contrast to the old world charm of Aminabad.
Needless to say, I had by now fallen for Lucknow’s many charms, culinary and otherwise, and will be back sooner than later for more.
Richa Gupta blogs at http://www.travelsandstories.com