Let’s say you have only 24 hours to spend in Lucknow and you want to spend most of it eating. First of all, let’s just say: welcome, you’re among friends here. Second of all, you couldn’t have picked a better city to accommodate such a fine ambition. Everything that Lucknow loves, it perfects to an art. That goes double for food. From the first cup of tea to the last lick of kulfi (and all the kebabs you can eat in between), everything is made with painstaking effort and a great delicacy of flavour. And full-fat dairy, whose importance cannot be overstated in ensuring each course is fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-the-mouth fantastic. So let’s begin. Our day starts, as all good days do, with chai.
Watch mesmerised as steam rises from the huddle of kettles balanced over hot coals. As a sputtering kettle is then plucked and tipped over a sieve held high above a glass. As each glass is topped up with creamy, frothing milk. As your waiter then expertly carries four of these over to a table with a plate of bun-maska. Dunk the bun slathered with white butter into the tea, convey to mouth, repeat as necessary till your soul fills with contentment.
Another hole in the wall, another edible epiphany. It’s hard to put a finger on what makes the biryani here just so damn good. It’s delicate, but somehow still packs in both heat and flavour. It’s the most basic looking plate of biryani ever—no fried onions or gravy or boiled eggs or anything else to distract you from the dense aroma of the meat, which is cooked with bone to a melting tenderness. The long-grained rice soaks up all that fatty goodness—from the marrow, the meat and the milk in which it is cooked—and the sheer harmony of it all might inspire you to write a few lines of poetry. Or you know, take a nap.
You can always tell a good restaurant by the brevity of its menu. There’s only one kind of kulfi available here. Just plain malai kulfi that disappears upon contact with your tongue in the most confounding way. Where did that big slab of kulfi go, you may ask yourself. And why is everyone staring at me in that accusing way? Never mind, just call for another and ask for the falooda topping this time. All those slippery, palate-cleansing noodles may just make the treat last a little longer. But we can’t promise anything.
Once again, Lucknow works its sorcery and turns solid substances, like red meat, into a puff of perfumed air in your mouth. Take the special galouti kebab here. It’s a small, uneven circle of buffalo meat that has been chopped and pulverised and spiced and fried and worked upon to such an insane degree that it seems to hold together only by some spell that lifts instantly when you take a bite. Suddenly, it goes from non-descript cutlet to the finest pâté you’ll ever eat off a plastic plate. They serve it with paratha but you’ll regret filling up on carbs with this divine source of protein around. It’s blasphemy, if you ask us.