The Lucknow Food Trail – Part 1 (Dastarkhwan)

Imambara
Imambara

Being from Delhi, it’s hard not to take a bit of pride in the food culture of my city. However, if you think of it, Delhi food is actually derived from a lot of different cuisines and there is always an itch to explore the roots. I have always wanted to explore Awadhi cuisine and how it has evolved over the centuries and reached the capital.

So, last weekend, when I had the fortune of visiting my friends in Lucknow, I felt the itch come back.

Lucknow undoubtedly is a hub of heritage, culture and art. And when it comes to food, it’s the quintessential gourmet central for food lovers around the country.

On a cold misty morning, as Shubham and me got down from the train, we found Devang waiting at the platform, clad in his florescent yellow jacket. Shubham was returning home and I had decided to tag along. I had met both of them while they were doing their graduation in Delhi and was always fascinated by their Lucknawi swag.

The car ride from the station turned into an endless discussion, as my hosts spoke about every road, flyover and building that we crossed. I had a great feeling that this would be a trip, where I will be taking home loads of the fun stories.

After getting fresh, we went straight for the breakfast. Shubham’s mother had prepared a lavish spread of dishes, perfect for a cold winter morning. Fresh fried Pooris accompanied with Gobhi-Aloo, Daal, Garlic-Mango pickle, Methi Aloo and Suji Halwa. Everything tasted distinct and there’s no denying, that all of us unabashedly over ate! I have always believed that food tastes better when the table is filled with laughter. Shubham’s mother not only fed us with loads of love, but her jokes and chatters, kept us in splits.

We followed this hearty meal with an excursion to the historical monuments of Lucknow. We explored the ruins of Dilkhusha Garden, British Residency and La Martiniere College, which happened to be Devang’s Alma mater. Just like Delhi’s food, Lucknow’s architecture is a great mix of Indian and European aesthetics. The city of Nawabs, as Lucknow is fondly called, was once a British colony and still retains the essence of its historical lineage. So after spending some good time soaking in history, we headed to our next food stop, Dastarkhwan.

Located besides U.P. Press Club, the lane housing The Mughal’s Dastarkhwan, is teeming with heavenly aroma of kebabs. Dastarkhwan, a humble little restaurant, is split by the lane and has seating options on either side. However, owing to its location and the huge patronage it enjoys, the place is almost always full. The reason most certainly being the glorious kebabs of Lucknow-Galouti and Seekh Kebab, along with Chicken and Mutton curries. It was almost comical that the place serves just one vegetarian dish, Paneer Butter Masala. Without wasting time, we ordered for Mutton Seekh, Galouti Kebab, Shami Kebab, Chicken Masala, Roomali Roti, Mutton Biryani and Paneer butter Masala.

The aroma of Galouti and Seekh Kebabs was more than inviting. And once tabled, it superseded all my expectations. The galouti kebab melted in my mouth, while seekh kebab had a subtle hint of smokiness to it, which made it taste even more wonderful. The difference in the two kebabs comes from their preparation. Legend goes that Galouti was created for a Nawab who had lost his teeth, but not his appetite for meat. His chef prepared the kebab with the ground mix of spices and finely minced meat. As a result, this kebab melts in your mouth and the meaty taste remains intact. Although it was made to please the Nawab, but today we can eternally be thankful for this wonderful creation. The Seekh Kebab, on the other hand, is a mix of meat and spices, barbequed on a skewer. The taste of meat stays intact, while it is infused with a smoky flavor. A delight for non-vegetarians, the kebabs are a must try.

Galouti Kebab

Seekh Kebab
Seekh Kebab

Chicken Masala is a curry, prepared on a huge tawa. The procedure of preparing the curry was unique and something I had not witnessed earlier. Fried chicken, masala and oodles of ghee, is slowly cooked on a tawa, resulting in a thick gravy. The ghee poured on top of the curry enhances its flavor. Served with a roomali roti, the thick gravy tasted delectable.

Chicken Masala
Chicken Masala

Shami kebab is like a cutlet. Much like Galouti, this too is made with minced meat but the outer crust is crunchy and fried to perfection, along with caramelized spices and onions. After just one bite, I envied people who could make this at home on everyday basis.

Shami Kebab
Shami Kebab

Then came along the famous Awadhi biryani on our table. To be honest, I was not so excited about trying the Awadhi Biryani as I’ve always been more fond of its Hyderabadi version. But the mix of Saffron rice, aromatics, and meat was so tasty that I suddenly changed my mind and forced my stomach to magically make space for the yummy biryani. Although, it is served with a curry, one can relish the biryani just as it is.

Biryani
Biryani

The kebabs at Dartakhwan are nothing but heavenly, however one can’t discount the Paneer Butter Masala, which was equally flavorsome. The tomato curry, with a pinch of sugar and cream, was cooked beautifully.

Paneer Butter Masala

The service was lightening quick and there were hordes of people waiting to get a table. So we decided to pay the bill and leave immediately. Besides authenticity, another perk of savouring food in its original place is that’s almost always easy on pocket. Dartakhwan, no exceptional, was very economical as the feast cost us just Rs 594.

Every dish brimming with flavours, I could not have asked for a better introduction to the glorious Awadhi cuisine. And as it dawned on me that I had just relished unadulterated Awadhi delicacies in the lap of Gomati, my heart swelled with joy and satisfaction.

Although full to the brim, I couldn’t help but look forward to my next food conquest in the City of Nawabs.

For more read:

The Lucknow Food Trail- Part 2 (Chowk Ki Chaat)

The Lucknow Food Trail- Part 3 (Tunday Kebabi)

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