Lucknow, like any other small Indian town, is a slow city. A city which runs at its own pace, lazily. There are few things that'll get the city folks up and running. But mention Netram Ajay Kumar’s jalebi and you’ll find them dressed, out of the house, on their two wheelers in a flash, that too early in the morning. The more than 100 year old shop (it’s been there since 1854) in the middle of Aminabad has been a favourite of many generations. A huge
crowd waiting for golden jalebis and khasta in the morning boasts of its popularity. It’s one thing to eat the thick, crisp, sugar syrup loaded jalebis at Netram and another thing to watch them being made. The old halwai, sitting with a composure that’ll shame the trained chefs, drops batter from a brass tumbler into hot oil with quick flicks of his wrist. Ask him to pose for a pick and he’ll do it with an ease of a filmstar, while still doing his job at the same speed. To balance out the sweetness of jalebis there’s khasta - deep fried flaky pastry stuffed with urad dal paste, served with spicy chhole, chutneys and onions. The khasta-jalebi breakfast is what Lucknow wakes up to, almost every day.
While Netram holds the reigns where jalebi is concerned, there are multiple favourites for khasta. Some for quality and other for pure nostalgia. Durga Khasta Corner in Hussainganj is another popular khasta joint where you’ll find a huddle of guys getting their morning fix or getting khastas packed for the whole family. The USP here is the pasty chhole scooped over hot khastas.
At Netram, breakfast gets over by 10 and the shop gets ready for lunch. Puffed kachoris
stuffed with urad dal bobbing in hot oil, practiced hands making imartis and constant orders of kachori thali is what an afternoon looks like here. The thali has four crisp, double fried kachoris, potato curry, dry pumpkin sabzi, dry potato and cauliflower sabzi, bottle gourd raita and sweet chutney - the last one is so good it’ll make you take some home. Ask nicely and the waiter will happily pack some for you. Wrap up this meal with imarti or ras malai.
Want to make the Kachori Thali at Home? Check out recipe here.
As the Sun sets the city gets ready to take on the varity of chaat sold at every nook and corner. A hop, skip and jump away from Netram there's a small shop at the corner of the street, Shree Kalika Chaat House. They're making chaat since the days of my grandfather and great grandfather and the size of the shop and quality of food is still intact. Try the pani ke batashe here with spicy and tangy pani. The papdi chaat is a package of flavours - flat and crisp puris topped with potato, boiled white peas, red chutney, green chutney and a special masala sprinkled on top. The matar ki tikki, a Lucknow speciality is a simple preparation of pan fried boiled white peas garnished with chaat masala, green coriander and a spritz of lime. Don’t leave without eating their gulab jamuns - small, bite sized and full of sugar syrup. Walk exactly 10 steps to Prakash Kulfi for one of the best kulfis in Lucknow. The shop has been there since ages and serves just one flavour - kesar pista.
If you loved Kalika’s chaat, wait till you go to Pt. Ramnarayan Tiwari Chaat Wala in Ganeshganj. The old shop is divided between two brothers so make sure you go to the one on the right. The chaat at Tiwari needs your complete attention so be suffeciently hungry and not in a rush. Start from pani ke batashe right outside the shop. The crisp batashas are filled with boiled white pea and spicy-tangy water in four different flavours - hing (asafoetida), lime, sweet with tamarind and a spicy one. Try the hing one and you’ll go for the second plate. All the waters have right amount of tang and spice. Once you’ve laid the geoundwork for the evening with batashas, move on to matar ki tikki - the one served here is better, crispier and spicier than Kalika. Aloo ki tikki with whisked yogurt, sweet chutney garnished with thin potato wafers, green coriander and chaat masala is a burst of flavours. The dahi wadas are good too but the curd is tad too sweet sometimes. If you manage to save some stomach space after the tikki have a grand finish with tokri chaat - it's a basket of deep fried potatoes stuffed with aloo tikki, wada, papdi, dahi, chutney and garnished with pomegranate, chopped coriander and chaat masala. Lucknow takes immense pride in its tokri chaat so yes, go for it.
Another famous chaat place here is Royal Cafe in Hazratganj. It's said that in the good old
days ordering food from Royal Cafe was the sign of being wealthy. You can try the chaat if you’re in the area. However, I’d still suggest that you go to Tiwari. But while you are Ganjing (roaming around in Hazratganj is called that) go and eat the dahi wadas at Gupta - a small wagon which is parked right outside Vallabhbhai Park in the evening. His dahi wadas are chilled, soft with creamy dahi.
Want to take a break from the chaat? Go to Burma Bakery in Ganj and buy their butter biscuits, cake rusk and jeera biscuit.
One of the best things about eating in North India is the dhaba experience, and no I don’t mean a fancy restaurant dressed up as dhaba. I mean the real experience where you get in, eat and get out. Pappu Da Dhaba near Lucknow University is one such place; famous among students and working bachelors for its cheap and homely food. It's a small eatery on the road side with rickety wooden tables and benches where strangers share tables. The menu rotates and has dal, a dry sabzi, a paneer dish, egg curry, kadhi on some days and soft tandoori roti. The food is simple, not very spicy and unlike regular dhabas low on oil. You also get ande ki bhujiya with bread and parathas for breakfast.
Lucknow is definitely a city rich with non-vegetarian food - kebabs, biryani, curries and kormas. But for every non-vegetarian dish there's an equally good vegetarian dish which I am trying to explore. More when I visit my hometown next.