Lucknow’s vibrant food scene includes the rich beef stew nihari at Rahim’s Hotel, Prakash’s kulfi, and Sharma’s morning cream buns and chai. See our Lucknow travel guide for ideas on what to do and where to eat when you’re there.
Hakim Khawar Nawab, descendant of a long line of doctors and the physician to Raja Sulaiman Khan, practices Unani, the Greek system of medicine that flourished in the Muslim world. It favors the use of herbs, spices, and other foods in balancing the equilibrium of the body’s four humors. In India, Lucknow is one of the places where its practice thrives. Green mango is good for the liver, and yogurt, fennel, coriander, and mint help digestion in the heat, says the Hakim. Many of these ingredients are mixed into cooling drinks called sherbets by the Hakim’s staff. Ariana Lindquist The Hakim’s staff fills prescriptions at his office in the old city of Lucknow. The powders are composed of herbs, spices, minerals, and even, metals. Ariana Lindquist At a music shop in Lucknow, a craftsman creates a sitar. The instrument is composed of 18 to 20 strings that run down a long wooden neck attached to a resonating chamber made from a gourd. Central to the raga and other forms of classical Indian music, the sitar came to popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the Muslim courts of Lucknow and Mahmudabad the nobility were great patrons of sitar musicians. Ariana Lindquist Chowk is the oldest area of Lucknow, renowned for street shopping and eating. Here, at the popular Lucknow kebab stand, Tundey—named after the one-armed, or tundey, man who devised the recipe—small flat patties of peppery beef are fried crispy on the outside but remain pâté-soft on the inside. The specialty is a version of a galawati kebab, in which ground meat (usually goat) of a high fat content is tenderized with raw papaya, making for a very soft mixture. It is said that the Nawabs, the Muslim noblemen who ruled Lucknow, favored soft foods because they had bad teeth. Ariana Lindquist Tundey Kebab offers their specialty wrapped in a paratha, a flatbread cooked in oil on a cast-iron tawa, to make what is called a kati roll. Ariana Lindquist At Izharson’s, a few shops down from Tundey, perfumes known as itr fill rows of cut-glass containers. Here you can find the scents that make Lucknow’s cuisine fragrant, such as keora or screw-pine flower, as well as rose, cardamom, and saffron. Ariana Lindquist Near the high scalloped gate of Gol Darwaza in Old Lucknow, a vendor sells the dense, chewy ice cream called kulfi. It is traditionally made by slowly cooking down milk until it is a rich cream, then freezing it in sealed molds submerged in a salt and ice mixture placed in an insulating earthenware pot. Ariana Lindquist While most stores are shuttered between seven o’clock and ten o’clock in the morning in Lucknow, a street breakfast scene thrives. Rahim’s Hotel at the old city’s Akbari Gate dishes up the velvety beef trotter soup, nihari, cooked overnight and eaten with kulcha, a flaky bread baked in a tandoor oven. Ariana Lindquist In the morning, beside Lucknow’s Chowk Kotwali, vendors sell dense, fried lentil-stuffed bread called kachori with red-chile-coated buttery potatoes, or khasta out of iron trunks. They wrap portions of the savory breakfast in newspaper to give to customers. Ariana Lindquist Another popular Lucknow breakfast, fresh jalebis are fried in spirals, soaked in sugar syrup, and eaten with cooling yogurt. An exemplary version is found at Radhey Lal, a sweets shop that also offers malai galawari paan, a mixture of sugar, nuts, cardamom, and saffron wrapped in a layer of firm cream. It is a play on the digestive chew, paan, betel leaf filled with a variety of ingredients. Ariana Lindquist Just off the grand boulevard of Hazrat Ganj, built in the early 19th century by the Nawab Amjad Ali Shah, is Sharma’s tea stall. The milky sweet tea, or chai, is served in clay cups, with fried meat-stuffed pastries called samosas and buns spread with makkhan, a buttery cream. Ariana Lindquist