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Culinary heaven: How food in Lucknow is the great leveller

Lucknow is considered as one of the gastronomical capitals of India. Its nawabi heritage is evident even today in its exquisite Awadhi cuisine—a unique refinement of Mughlai culinary traditions that is characterised by complex techniques and an amazing depth of tastes. Indeed, the food culture of Lucknow is the product of both science and art, passion and centuries-old kitchen secrets. It plays with your palate, tricks your gastronomic senses, and leaves you hungry for more.

From the melt-in-your-mouth tunday kebabs to the lip-smacking Awadhi—biryani locally called pulao—the food in Lucknow truly leaves you spellbound. On a recent trip to the city, the first thing we noticed is how much time the locals devote to food. From morning to late at night, Lucknowallahs are either eating or discussing what to eat next. And given the range of options available who can blame them.

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Everyone in Lucknow has an opinion about the best korma, the best chaat, or the best kulfi. They seriously know their food and could easily be described as some of the most knowledgeable food connoisseurs in the world. And these food connoisseurs strongly recommended that we try the food at Idriss in the Chowk area of the city.

So off we went hunting for Idriss and its legendary biryani. And after reaching our destination we were assaulted by a range of emotions. For we found ourselves at a grimy hole-in-the-wall that barely had space for two wooden tables. Yet, the aroma of food being cooked in pots over coal fire prevented us from making a hasty retreat.

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As soon as our hosts got to know that we had come all the way from Delhi to sample their food, they took it as a matter of honour to overwhelm us with their culinary delights. Out came the most flavourful, succulent mutton korma that I had ever tasted—only comparison could be made to my mother’s korma and that’s saying something. Then came a delectable mutton stew. But what really bowled us over was the Idriss special daal. I never knew that ordinary moong daal could taste so extraordinary.

But we had missed out on the biryani because it was still being prepared. We were told to come back in the evening—an invitation we simply couldn’t resist. So as we returned to Idriss in the evening, we saw the place full of people from all walks of life. Some were sitting and eating, some were waiting their turn, some were ordering takeaway. And as we dug into our mutton biryani/pulao our palates began dancing with joy.

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But the real revelation came to me when I looked around at all the happy people enjoying their food. And I realised that in Lucknow food is a great leveller. You could be a rickshaw puller or a wealthy businessman, but all come to Idriss to satisfy their gastronomic senses. And that is the true greatness of Lucknow’s food culture that transcends class, caste and religious barriers. Here’s to Lucknow and the love of food.

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