Lanes of Lucknow

Lucknow Food, Streets and Bazaars

Mangoes, green and yellow ones, luscious red-topped golden ones, shapes as subtly varied as the many hues, would arrive in Lucknow piled onto horse-drawn carts as if on a flood-tide. Suddenly they would be all over the city, seductive splashes of colour in the scorching heat of early June. Mangoes made me long for summer when I was growing up in Lucknow. There was a divine quality to the anticipation of succulence in the rasping dryness of the pre-monsoon heat.

Each new summer now seems to come with a bit less “loo” and a lot more sweat-wrenching heaviness. The “Dussehri-Langda” green is becoming the only colour of the mountains of mangoes that pour into Lucknow every day. Yet a festival happens daily in Lucknow’s mango bazaars, people swarming over mango-sellers like bees over honey. Mangoes are still eaten heartily and with gusto, in and around Lucknow. “Go to Malihabad”, said Shamim Altaf ecstatically, “and you’ll find people sitting on ‘khaats’, gorging themselves on mangoes until the mounds of peel reach their chins.”

The Dussehri is certainly a lovely mango, “but there is more to mangoes than Dussehris and Langdas.” Dr. Mehra laughed and continued excitedly, “Just this morning I received a call informing me, ‘Doctor Sahib, the glass is ripe, heavy. Nawab sahib would like you over.’ A mango named ‘glass’! You can see the juice flowing inside its exquisitely fine skin.”

Awadhi mango names ignite fantasies: Gulabkhas, Lab-e-mashuk, Khas-ul-khas. “Let me tell you a story or two.” Dr. Mehra was unstoppable, “I used to go into the Qaisarbagh market to buy mangoes in my old green Austin 555. Next to my fruit-seller sat an old woman whom I’d want to buy from the she’d never have what I wanted. One afternoon my man was not there. I paused and drove on slowly. Behind me ran the old woman, flailing her arms, a mango in each hand, shouting, ‘Doctor Sahib, stop, husnara, husnara.’ For one funny, embarrassing moment I felt the entire bazaar stopped still. I don’t think most people knew that husnara ( beauty of beauties) referred to the mangoes in her hands.

“Two years ago, Kalimullah sahib invited me to his orchard in Malihabad. He wanted me to taste a special mango, his late father’s favourite, the Abdullah-pasand, and to christen a new delight. The flavour lingering in my mouth I named it ehwar-ul-asmar [star among fruits], there already being the shams-ul-asmar [moon among fruits], and of course, the hugely popular samara bahisht [fruit of paradise] or chausa.”

Each mango name in Awadh strikes a musical chord. String them together and you have a composition. When I skin the aslul-muqarrar or the muffarril-e-qulub and bite into the flesh I wonder what I’m enjoying more-the name or the fruit in my mouth!

Lucknow is home and I go there once every six or seven weeks. I make pilgrimages to places I’m particularly fond of, such as the Bara and the Chota Imambaras, or the Dargah of Syed Kasim Shah inside the Residency. I wander through old bazaars like Nakkhas, Chowk, and Aminabad eating galawat ke kabab here, a little balai there, watching kites duel in the sky, all among enjoying listening to people speak. I find the sound of Lakhnawi as pleasing to the ear as the touch of the early morning namash is to the tongue. There is always work to be done, friends and relatives to be met, and my uncle Ram Advani’s very special bookshop to be visited. When time is too short for all the things that I want to (or have to) do, I make do with imagined meanderings.

The last days of June ’99 were tormentingly humid in Lucknow. One evening the clouds came in, the rain came down and a breeze blew that seemed to take the summer away. Later that evening I sat with Dr. Mehra in his green rainwashed garden and listened to him talk about mangoes. It was late by the time I got up to leave, well past Dr. Mehra’s regular Tuesday chaat outing hour. A stickler for time and incredibly set in his habits, I thought it said a lot for his passion for mangoes that he didn’t seem to mind missing his gol gappas and aalu ki tikkiyan at Shukla’s chaat redhi outside the Post Master General’s Office in Hazratganj, especially on that singularly beautiful evening.

Lucknow–wallahs love their chaat sold on thelas like Shukla’s, or at kiosks such as the green King of Chaat stand on the road between the Stadium and the State Bank of India, or of course at modest restaurants like Sharma’s, a favourite middle-class hangout at Lalbagh, renowned across the city for tea as much as chaat. The best tikkis Dr. Mehra had ever had in Luckow were during his intermediate days, way back in the 1940s, at a street-corner joint near the present-day Anand Cinema roundabout. He couldn’t remember the chaatwala’s name but he reminisced about the man refusing to hurry his measured pace of work for the crowds milling around him at all times, almost as if he were saying, “something as good as the tikkis I make takes time; if you’re in a rush, please leave.”

Chowk is among the oldest continuously inhabited areas of Lucknow. Significant settlement and commercial activity date back to around the late 16th or early 17th century, when Jaunpur under its Sharqui rulers, rather than either Faizabad or Lucknow, was Awadh’s major urban center. But Chowk really came into its own as the hub of a very dense web of fine artisanal work and intense commercial dealings towards the end of the 18th century when Lucknow became the capital of Awadh. From Chowk and Nakkhas to Aminabad and Hazratganj, the eighty-odd years preceding 1857 saw the emergence of early modern Lucknow. Rulership, of course, was the monopoly of nawabs and taluqdars, neither entirely modern nor democratic; but economic activity in town and country was in the throes of a near revolution, throwing up new social groups and classes with new desires and aspirations. Most fascinatingly, every element that made up the complex of everyday life in Lucknow, from language and dress to music and cuisine, seemed in this period to have been touched by the Muse, “everything so exquisite, in every word such rhyme and elegance…..”

Akbari Gate is where Chowk and Nakkhas come together. From the Chowk end of the Gate come sounds of quick and regular hammer blows, of something being beaten into shape; and very fine, dispersing clouds of aromatic blue smoke. Little workshops line both sides of Chowk’s main street. Two or three men sit in each, pounding little pieces of silver into gossamer thin foil to be used in decorating murg-mussallam or zarda pulao, a chandi qalia or the malai paan, and a variety of other sweets and desserts.

On the same street, a stone’s throw away from the Akbari Gate, opposite a small halwai’s shop known for its early morning jalebis and samosas, is one of Chowk’s most popular eateries-the tunde ke kabab shop. It is an unpretentious place, with an open front and a fairy large, rather dark and austere interior. Two stoves up front, facing the main street, and open to the gaze of passers-by, constitute the heart of the eatery. Daily, a little after mid-day, and then again around 7.30 pm, work gets into full swing. Two young men, normally wearing lungis and vests, and sweating profusely, stand over a large pan, frying and flattening small, unevenly rounded, fairly ordinary looking kababs. A slightly older man sits over a convex pan on the other stove turning out fresh waraqui parathas. The entire operation, labour-intensive and unhurriedly performed, appears to be rather run-of-the-mill, but the aroma is arresting, and the number of people going in and coming out, just standing on the street, chatting and eating, lend this place a special feel. Tunde ke shahi galawat ke kabab come four on a metal plate with one paratha for ten rupees. Tunde kababi turns out, in a most unselfconscious manner, one of Lucknow’s most delectable kabab preparations for a primarily working and lower middle-class clientele, both Hindus and Muslims.

I met Haji Rais on a sultry morning in June. Well into his seventies he is the keeper of the secrets of the shahi galawat handed down to him by Haji Murad Ali Saheb. Haji Murad Ali, it is said, fell off the roof of a house and had to lose an arm as a result. He continued being a bawarchi (cook), perfecting the mixture for the shahi galawat and working expertly with only one hand. It was during his time that the kabab and the eatery became popular. Instead of being called the shahi galawat the kababs came to be known as “tunde ke kabab”, or kababs made by the one-handed man. One of the few people who clearly remembered Haji Murad Ali at work, apart, of course, from Haji Rais, was Hakim Safdar Nawab Saheb of Shifa Manzil, at Ghasiyari Mandi. Haji Murad Ali represented a generation of cooks who were negotiating a transition from being highly esteemed and privileged bawarchis and rakabdars employed by kings and the nobility, to becoming shopowners, forced to market their professional skills in the bazaars of the post-nawabi new colonial age. The story seems to have been similar in the case of Haji Abdur Rahim Saheb who set up the Rahim Hotel diagonally across the street from tunde kababi sometime during the second half of the 19th Century. His recipe for the gilafi kulche and the nehari khaas still used by Haji Zubair, eldest among Haji Rahim’s five male descendants, continues to be an unmatched popular favourite. Ali Husain Saheb, another turn-of-the-century figure is remembered as the father of the sheermal in Lucknow, at least in and around the Chawalwali Gali, more popularly known as the Sheermal Gali, where his shop still survives. In fact, Muhammadan, a master baker to the nawabi court, was the real creator of the sheermal in Lucknow, but in popular memory it is Ali Husain Saheb, perhaps because with the death of patronage, it was he who brought the sheermal on to the streets and made it into a popular food.

Haji Wahid Ali Saheb was cook to Justice J.N. Mulla. He would cook for the judge alone, on a monthly salary of 4-6 annas. In 1922, Justice Mulla helped get him a job as a cook at the Lucknow Gymkhana Club where he worked until 1960, all the while training his son Haji Sakhawat on the Job. In 1960, when his father died, Haji Sakhawat moved out of the Gymkhana Club and set up his own little eatery a couple of hundred yards away inside a garage in a lane behind the Club. Today, the Haji himself is no more, but his son, Mushtaq continues to practice the secret rituals and details of inimitable Awadhi cooking at Sakhawat’s.

Haji Rais looked tired already at 8.30 am when I met him, but I was struck by his effort to retain a gravity and dignity of bearing as also a charming old worldly Lakhnawi politeness while he spoke with me. He was modest to the core about the quality of his work, and almost matter-of-fact about the amount of labour that he still must have to put in, to keep afloat in today’s new world of high-power advertising creating new tastes in food. Haji Saheb’s son Osman looks after a new restaurant that the family has opened in Aminabad very close to Prakash’s Kulfi, and his son-in-law, Abu-Bakr, has taken over the reins at the Chowk eatery, but I could see that Haji Saheb refused to rest.

Early every morning, he goes to the Tarkari Mandi, the vegetable market. He personally controls and supervises the secrets of the galawat and spices for the kaccha keema. The rest of the day he spends flitting from one shop to the other, with visits to the doctor in between, battling the contradiction between keeping the money rolling in and preserving the sanctity of the original recipe of the shahi galawat.

Tunde ke kabab and Rahim’s Kulche nehari have exploded out of the confines of the narrow lanes of Chowk and Nakkhas into the world of five-star cuisine and the occasional food festival. Yet a regular market continues to be crucial to the survival of men like Haji Rais, Osman, Haji Zubair, and Mushtaq, and the wonderful mysteries of their cooking styles. Lucknow’s labouring poor, and sections of the middle and lower-middle classes are the ones that have saved the good old tunde, the nehari and gilafi kulche, and the sheermal from slipping into obscurity.

While most of India’s new middle classes move inexorably towards junk foods, junk ideas, junk values, and nuclear visions, and tend increasingly to talk about rigidly compartmentalized, not-to-be shared Muslim and Hindu foods, it is the plebians who have developed noble palates; and they couldn’t care less, at least for the moment, whether the meat they’re eating is beef or mutton, the kababs and the nehari Muslim or Hindu food. Should they be either, so be it. They’ll eat on regardless, happily.

Mushtaq, like Haji Rais, Haji Zubair, and the two Mobeen brothers who run a kulche nehari, kabab, and korma eatery next to Haji Zubair’s, is crucial to the special zaiqa of the different foods sold everyday from his outlet. He agreed that this meant a lot of work, personal attention, care, and very critically, control over labour. In fact, the Mobeen brothers recruited labour from the Gonda Bahraich region on a short-term daily-wage basis precisely because they felt this gave them, as proprietors, greater bargaining power. But all this, Mushtaq would take in his stride “if only the people who come to eat know and really enjoy what they are eating. The younger, prosperous crowd which is beginning to come to my place to eat, simply want ‘meat’. They cannot even discern whether they are eating lamb, mutton, or beef, forget the finer details of how best which portion of which meat is to be prepared and eaten. I feel like a musician who is putting in a lot of effort to be true to his art and play the best he can, as he always has done, but for some reason now, the audience simply doesn’t respond as before. To them one sound is as good as another, there’s nothing special to each piece of music. This is what saddens me, worries me the most about my work in the present.”

Sakhawat’s clientele continues to be predominantly non-Muslim “and the better-off people among the non-Muslims. In fact, I remain closed on Tuesdays and on festivals like Janamashtami when most of my clients simply don’t come.” Mushtaq, like most of the others I spoke with, refused to admit to the possibility of a communalization of food habits impacting negatively on his work in the near future; but while his sons were going to cope with the inability of more and more people to appreciate what they were eating, for people like Hajis Rais and Zubair, and the Mobeen brothers, catering to a poorer, mixed Hindu and Muslim clientele, the problem was that their clients didn’t have the money to pay for all the goodness that needed to go into the kababs and the neharis if they were to be true to the original recipes. The Mobeen brothers stated quite frankly, that their nehari would never taste as good as the one from Delhi or Lahori nehari because they had to compromise on the ingredient mix. They were open not just in the morning but through the day and selling portions worth sometimes only a rupee! Nearby, in Sheermal Gali, the sheermals come out orange in colour, but the orange comes from chemical colouring because saffron is unaffordable.

Yet, everyone eating at Haji Zubair’s swore that the nehari khaas and kulche were the best you could get anywhere in Lucknow, while on a quiet afternoon in the Sheermal Gali, a young man, his mouth reddened with paan waiting outside Syed Ali Akhtar’s little bakery for the sheermals he had ordered, declaimed, “I grew up in these very galis but now work in Bombay where it is possible to get the sheermal, but the sheermal in this Lucknow gali is something else. Generally, it’s eaten with kabab, but eat it with korma. It will melt so in the mouth you’ll simply love it.”

There is no doubt that the streets and galis of Lucknow still offer some wonderful old fare but it is clear that the going is tough for the practitioners of this art and the road ahead is likely to get rougher, not least because of communalist attempts to tear asunder composite traditions of the making and eating of some of the most divinely imaginative food in the world. If Urdu could come to be looked upon as the language only of muslims, to be therefore shunned by all non- muslims there is every reason to belive that the kabab, nehari and pulao may also come to be seen as foods exclusive to muslims.

One of the reasons why Urdu had survived against really heavy odds has been the sheer power of the beauty of the language. The same power, the secret art of transforming meat and bones or vegetables into a sensual culinary experience, may be the ultimate weapon in the armoury of people like Hajis Rais and Zubair, of cooks living in bawarchi tolas like the one near Agha Mir Ki Deorhi in Lucknow, and begums, such as the Begum of Kurki and Shamim Sahiba, sequestered in kothis and havelis in the city and outside.

Hakim Safdar Nawab Saheb is old and charming. I was captivated seeing him enter the room I’d been welcomed into by his son Hakim Khawar Nawab at their residence at Shifa Manzil. He spoke endearingly, in chaste Urdu about Allah-bande, an old cook, long dead, of his hands permanently reddened with saffron and the expert gaze and grunts with which he directed his cooking, never tasting knowing from the looks and the aromas alone, when what needed to be done, be it in the shab degh or the mutanjan, both very rare, now almost forgotten delicacies from Awadhi cusine.

Allah-bande was once informed by Raja Saheb Mahmudabad that one of the noble guests invited to a dinner to be hosted by the Raja wished to eat something that looked like and tasted of mutton without actually being meat at all. Allah-bande created a real kundan qalia and a simulated one. The royal guest simply couldn’t believe that what he was eating was in fact vegetarian!

Haji Mohammad Fakr-e-Alam Saheb used to be renowned among other things, for his moti (“pearl”) pulao, while the Begum of Kurki still makes the very unusual and incredibly delicate patili kababs. One rakabdar specialized only in making arvi ka salan. His major condition for working with anyone, even post-1857, was that he be allowed to serve a different kind of arvi ka salan twice every day the whole year round! Stories abound, of cooks, their eccentricities and their unsurpassable, often “veiled” creations. An old nawab recalled an occasion when on removing the lid form a dish that had been ceremoniously sent to him, he discovered a single puffed puri. Peeved and puzzled, he punctured the puri with his finger. To his immense surprise, a small bird flew out of it. This was the parind puri.

During the 100-odd years between the mid – 18th and mid – 19th centuries, Awadhi cooks vied with each other to please their patrons with the best, most unusual foods they could create while patrons duelled amongst themselves to host ever better, more exotic “daawats”. Sensuality ruled and food became a very powerful statement of class and social position. Cooking turned into an art, the site for a grand mingling of the material sciences with sensibilities and heritages both indigenous and European, especially French, with sensibilities and heritages both indigenous and European, especially French. It spawned bawarchis and rakabdars, degshos, masalchis, and aabdaars; specialized utensils came into being and hakims, vaids, and perfumers got drawn into preparing recipes. But precisely because cooking was a site, simultaneously for symbiosis and contestation, secrecy became equally necessary and came to constitute the other core of bawarchi gharanas. Hakim Saheb was convinced that “no-one today could make a pista-badam ki khichri a la allah-bande”, just as Haji Zubair felt that he has “never known a kababi like Asghar Mian who belonged to my locality, Nakkhas”, but almost everyone I spoke with including Altaf Saheb and his wife Shamim Sahiba, Shaama Saheb and my old friends Munnu Rizvi and Sunny Tikkoo, as also my own wanderings in the city, convinced me that good old Awadhi food lives on in Lucknow.

The making of colonial Lucknow went hand in hand with an all-out effort to destroy as much as possible of the old, to reinvent among other things, even the tastes of the city. Hazratganj saw the emergence of new kinds of eateries purveying new kinds of cuisine in a new kind of ambience.

Valerio’s, a pastry shop with a dance floor was unlike anything that Lucknow had ever seen. It was gone before the British, but only after it had lent Hazratganj, together with a number of other coffee and tea shops, “a cosmopolitan café-market resort of Egypt or Morocco kind of air…. The cosmopolitan character of Hazratganj underwent a change after the departure of the British. Many beautiful shops belonging to Muslim families suddenly had new bewildered Panjabi owners; but this was also a time of great discovery for youngsters. A great weight had been lifted off their shoulders and cinema, the dance floor, and the China Bar were theirs for the picking. Here, the swing and the jive could be improvised without the fear of the white daddy or the stern British college principal and a glass of beer could be gulped down just after having fun with the suave tongewala or tongewali.” [Amaresh Misra, Lucknow : Fire of Grace, New Delhi, 1998, pp. 257-58]

The casually elegant Benbows and the Royal Café served tea and cream-buns, while Kwality’s in the Mayfair building, with its Grill-room on the first floor, Swiss pastries, chicken patties, and liveried waiters, became for Lucknow’s new haute society, by the mid-1960s, the restaurant to meet, eat, and be seen at. The ‘60s also witnessed Jone Hing, the Chinese shoe-maker’s shop in Hazratganj, beginning to cook and sell chowmein and chopsuey. It was cheap, dark and romantic and beer could be smuggled in and drunk on the sly. It became such a great hit with the young that by the late ‘70s Jone Hing became more a restaurant than a shoe business. Today it feels much as it did many years ago, though, like all other restaurants in Hazratganj no longer the craze it used to be.

Lucknow’s fin de siecle young seem to want to remain out in the open. The street and the promenade, rather than the quiet seclusion of the restaurant, have become the site and time-pass of the rendezvous. People flock to Chhedilal, while through the day, crowds throng the Ranjan Café kiosk eating burgers and drinking coffee. Very few probably remember that Ranjan’s started in ‘60s as the quiet Roadside Rover’s where Altaf Saheb sold Lakhnawi biryani and shami kabab. Now, of course, with even Kwality’s gone, it would be difficult to find old Awadhi cuisine anywhere in Hazratganj.

Valerio’s went and the coffee house came in. Professor D.D. Sharma, like many teachers, writers and journalists, poets like Majaz, and women like Ila Chandra Joshi before him, is a coffee house “adde-baaz”. On his way to or from the coffee house, he slips into nearby Narahi with its halwais. Like many Lucknow-wallahs he too is a great one for the rabri and balai from Saligram’s 120-year-old shop.

I’ve been to Saligram’s as well as to the balaiwala who sits by Gate no. 2 Ghalla Bazaar, near the Chota Imambara, his balai a favourite with Hakim Saheb. But the best balai I’ve ever eaten was at Altaf Saheb’s house. Shamim Sahiba laid out shami kababs and seviyon ka muzaffar with balai. I ate like I’d never get to eat again. Altaf Saheb reminisced fondly about Mithaniya, the woman who’d come home daily when he was a boy with smooth, thick very mildly sweetened balai; and as for shops, the balai and Kashmiri tea at Samad’s on Chowk’s Victoria Street, were inimitable’ the Kahwa like the shabdeg and saffron, came into Lucknow with Kashmiri families and the Kabuliwallah during the 18th century, and remains popular with Lucknowites especially in winter when the old Samad shop suddenly comes alive.

The Gol Darwazza end of Chowk is a round-about of chaos. There is no meat here or the light aromatic smoke of Akbari Gate. Yet in the manner of the “maghrebi azaan”, soaring above the screech of brakes and the screams of horns, Radheylal’s lassi and Raja’s thandai, attract irresistibly. A little further away, less than tem minutes down the oasis-like quietness of the narrow Banwali Gali is Ram Asrey’s, making and selling sweets since 1805.

I went to Ram Asrey’s that same rainy breezy evening that I visited Dr. Mehra. The younger of the two brothers sat peaceably behind the counter greeting passers-by with a Ram-Ram or an aadaab, selling dalmoth for as little as a rupee, lal peda for ten.

I asked for “malai paan” and tasted it tentatively. It was divine, as finely crafted for the palate as Lucknow’s anonymously, nimbly-worked “chikankari” is on cloth. I wished I would come here more often instead of conveniently hopping across to Chowdhury’s or Ram Asrey’s in Hazratganj.

Chowdhury’s is a post-Partition business and the Hazratganj Ram Asrey’s was set up a few years ago by the older of the two brothers. Chowdhury’s became famous for “boondi laddoos” and “milk pudding” but today, the Ganj Ram Asrey’s and Chwodhury’s became famous for “boondi laddoos” and “milk pudding” but today, the Ganj Ram Asrey’s and Chowdhury’s, Chhappan Bhog and Mini Mahal have become Lucknow’s happening mithai places. For a taste of the old Lucknow, however, you need to bite into Prakash’s kulfi, the Raja Bazaar “dudhiya barfi”, the kabravali dukaan ki kachhori and the mithais from the old Ram Asrey’s. Craftsmen like Abdullah Halwai of Aminabad are of course no longer alive, but the secret recipes of earlier halwais live on in at least some of the sweets coming out from the heart of the old city.

I have tasted nothing anywhere in India that has been as good as the namash from old Lucknow. Unlike the shahi galawat form the Akbari Gate end of Chowk, which surprises by melting wondrously in the mouth, the namash, sold by vendors at the Gol Darwaza, early every winter morning, stuns by its lightness on the tongue. Its colour is the most delicate shade of lemon, and its taste as subtle as a blend of the clearest, the lightness, won from loads of milk by hours of night-time labour, left out in the open for the pre-dawn winter dew to play upon. It is “shabnam’s” child, Lucknow’s “o ski rani”!

June is hardly the time for namash; nor was it possible for me to get my teeth into the halwa sohan especially the dark variety, another winter-time Lakhnawi delicacy from the main Chowk bazaar. But after many years, thanks to Professor Sharma, I did eat paan in Lucknow. Lucknow-wallahs, like Banarsis, love their paan, and they all have their own favourite paan sellers. Some, at least amongst the middle-classes, go only to Badri, others to the man near the State Bank of India, and yet others to the Gol Darwaza. But Lakhnawis seem to be quieter, less flamboyant about their paan and how it is to be eaten, than Banarsis, I find this mystifying because the desi desavari and the Mahoba pattas, the two most commonly eaten betel leaves in Lucknow, are inimitable in their own ways. For some unfathomable reason, Lucknow fails to give to its paans the mystical melt that the Banarsi paan possesses. But then, the peacock would be sickeningly proud if its voice too had been beautiful!

Glossary of terms used

aalu ki tikkiyan: potato cutlets
adde-baaz: regular
arvi ka salan: colocasia curry
balai : thick layer of fresh cream
bawarchi : cook
bawarchi tola : cooks’ quarters (in a town)
biryani : highly seasoned rice cooked with meat, fish, egg, or vegetables.
chaat : spicy vegetarian snack
chaatwala : chaat seller
chandi qalia : mutton curry in gravy mixed / topped with crushed edible silver leaves
daawat : feast
dalmoth : savoury mixture
desi desavari : a particular betel leaf
dudhiya barfi : white, wet and firm milk sweet
galawat ke kabab : kababs made from very finely ground, tenderized meat
gilafi kulcha ; very soft leavened bread
gol gappa : puffed wafer, eaten with a spicy filling, in one mouthful
halwa sohan : special sweet made with cereals, ghee, sugar, garnished with dried fruit
halwai : sweet-maker, seller
imarti : deep-fried ring of urad dal with a little wheat flour added, dipped in sugar syrup; more regular and elaborately shaped than a jalebi
jalebi : syrup – filled deep-fried ring of flour
kabravali kacchori : deep-fried bread with filling make and sold at a shop by a grave in Aminabad
kaccha keema : uncooked mince
khaat : divan / stringed bed
korma : mildly spiced dish of meat marinated in yogurt
kulcha : leavened bread
kulfi : mild thickened, mixed with saffron, pistachios, etc and frozen into ice-cream
kundan qalia : mutton curry in gravy mixed / topped with crushed edible gold leaves
lakhnawi : language spoken in Lucknow / of Lucknow
lal peda : mild thickened into chewy, flat, round sweets
lassi : chilled frothed yoghurt drink
mahoba paan patta : tender / crisp betel leaves form the Mahoba district of Uttar Pradesh.
malai paan : triangular leaves of cream (paan-shaped) with a sweet filling
murg-mussallam: whole chicken carefully spiced and slowly cooked
mutanjan : sweetish mutton biryani
namash : soufflé-like mildly sweet and fluffy creamy delight
nehari : beef / lamb trotters braised and then stewed overnight, further prepared in the morning and eaten with kulchas for breakfast.
nehari khaas : special nehari
os ki rani : “queen of dews”
paan : betel leaf with areca nut / other fillings / spices, chewed as a delicacy
patili kabab : mincemeat kabab made in deep copper / brass vessel
puri : deep-fried puffy bread
parind puri : puri stuffed with a small live bird
pista-badam ki khichri : pistachio-almond rice preparation
rabri : semi-liquid thickened milk sweet preparation
redhi : hand-drawn cart
samosa : deep-fried potato / peas / meat-filled triangles of flour
seviyon ka muzaffar : sweet vermicelli, fried and soaked in sugar syrup, with milk added; scatters when thrown on a plate.
shab degh : a beautiful blend of whole turnips, mutton balls (koftas), and spices cooked in a deep pan overnight.
shabnam : morning dew
shahi galawat : “royal” papaya paste to tenderize meat
shami kabab : spherical mincemeat kabab
sheermal : invented in Lucknow, a rich flat bread made of flour, milk, fat, and saffron
thandai : cooling spiced milk beverage
thela : cart
tikki : cutlet
tunde ke kabab / tunde ke shahi galawat ke kabab : kababs, made from very finely ground, delicately marinated, tenderized meat.
waraqui paratha : “layered” unleavened fried bread
zaiqa : taste / flavour
zarda pulao : sweet yellow rice coloured and flavoured with saffron.


Credits : Mukul Manglik is a senior professor of History in Delhi University, He is from Lucknow and belongs to an illustrious family of Lucknow. His love for Lucknow can be seen oozing out in this article, in spite of the fact that he is now settled in Delhi and works there. His mother lives in Lucknow and can not even think of leaving this city, while his maternal uncle Ram Advani needs absolutely no introduction.