The food checklist - in Lucknow

I'm a list person. When there's too much to do and time's short, it serves to have a checklist. This being such a crucial issue, my first Lucknow checklist has to be FOOD.

Disclaimer: It would be grossly unfair to consider this post a master list of Lucknow food. More so, since I turned vegetarian. Leaving out Tunde and the lesser known (but my dad's first favourite) Sakhawat, is a shame. You'll find no kebabs, kormas, biryanis here. This is simply a personal list of my favourites. Lucknow really has much much more to offer a foodie.

I'll begin with doodh-jalebi for breakfast - that's jalebis dunked in milk. The Punekar might like it as dessert but for a true Lakhnawi jalebi is breakfast. It's in the morning that the mithaiwalla will bring out this piping hot treat. Come evening and you'll have a tough time finding fresh jalebis. All you'll get is their cousin -- the imarti. Slide slim crisp jalebis in your bowl of hot milk and crunch them up quickly before they get soggy, the milk tempers their sweetness perfectly. Or else you might try them with curd.

Then there's khasta, or kachori to the Punekar. Deep fried (I so need to remember to forget the diet), filled with urad dal, it's the perfect spicy foil to the sweet jalebi at breakfast time. Khasta-jalebi - absolute soulmates. The right way to eat it is to make a hole in it and stuff the spicy potatoes that come along. Then bite into it with your nose running and eyes watering. It's wise to keep a few jalebis handy to cool the heat on your palate. And forget about lunch.

Next on the list is thandhai at Raja's in old Lucknow. That used to be, and still is, the star attraction for us in Chowk. I've never had thandhai that tastes the same - without the overly strong flavour of saunf or black pepper. When we were kids we'd be given the option of a glass of thandhai or a film and we'd unfailingly choose the former. That was a pretty smart ploy by our canny parents to watch a film unencumbered by a brood of noisy kids.

Then there's Sharma's for the most delicious chaat ever. I'm not sure that shop would still be there. Once there used to be a string of chaat shops in Chowk but each time I come home I find fewer and fewer of them. The paani ka batashas never do taste the same anywhere else. However, what's really special is the matar which I've yet to find out of Lucknow. Dried peas.. soaked, boiled and then fried over a slow fire in loads of ghee on a huge tawa. Served with a sprinkling of fresh coriander leaves, chillies and ginger juliennes, it's a treat. For a person on a diet the sight of the ghee-filled lota kept on the tawa can be pretty daunting .. but for once I'll let the tastebuds rule.

Next baati chokha off the roadside. That's baati (roasted balls of dough) with the spiciest baingan bharta you would have ever had. Nothing special about this one except that I've yet to find it in Pune and it's low on fat... so if the dust germs don't kill you, you're safe.

Finally.. the sweets. Malai Gilauri at Ram Asrey's, Malai chamcham at Classic. Fresh and glistening boondi laddoos with the tiniest boondis and kaju katli made the right way, more kaju than khoa.
I almost forgot the kulfi. I'll have some at Ram Asrey topped with falooda and I'll also have some from the kulfiwallah who comes calling at our doorstep each evening with his potful of wares covered with that red cloth.

Umm... I think that about covers it. I need to ask my sister to draw up a list of new places that have sprung up. Lucknow is no longer just about chaat and kulfi. I spotted some swanky new places along the way that need to be explored.

God bless my stomach please.

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