Instagram can be a tough place to be at if you love food, what with all the delicious foodstagrams from all over the world! But it was especially hard this past week when Chef Thomas Zacharias (executive chef at The Bombay Canteen) went on a food vacay to Lucknow and bombarded our feeds with his delicious food adventure. Since the restaurant was closed for Ganesh Chathurathi, he took this opportunity to set out on a research trip, to discover new flavours (as you do!). “Sameer (one of the founders of The Bombay Canteen) is from Lucknow and I felt a connection straight away. It made sense,” said the chef on his decision to settle on the city for his flavour exploration tour. Preparing for a trip like this is not easy, there are recommendations to sort, reviews to look up, but Chef Thomas was prepared. After crowdsourcing recommendations on social media, looking up online (chefs, they’re just like us!), he sorted out these pretty efficiently. “I love Excel sheets,” he admits sheepishly, “So I put them on an excel sheet, sorted it out based on how many times each place has been recommended, whether the sources are reliable etc.”
Staying up the night before to plan the food itinerary in Lucknow for the next 4 days. It’s going to be a mammoth task given how big this list is (all thanks to your generous recommendations!), but someone’s got to do it, right? #fooditinerary #geekychef #lucknowdiaries #foodtrip #chefontheroad #cheflife
With all the recommendations and suggestions in place, he set out on this big foodie dream holiday (which is basically all in a day’s work for him *sigh*). What he wasn’t prepared for was the vegetarian food. Like most of us, he associated Awadhi cuisine with rich, Mughlai food like kebabs, biryanis and more. But the chaat and the sweets of Lucknow stood out more than the non-vegetarian food he encountered. “There is this place called Netram, which has been run for some 160 years, over four generations. They make this sweet called Imarti, which is an urad dal version of jalebi, they make it only in the evening. They serve it with rabdi and it’s unbelievable.” This, he feels, is something most people are unaware of when it comes to Awadhi cuisine.
This my friends isn’t jalebi but a Lucknowi specialty called Imartis made with urad dal. I’m usually not a fan of jalebis but this freshly fried Imartis with chilled rabdi at the 175 year old Netram has textures ranging from sugary crisp to addictively chewy making it worth making a special trip to this city for. #Imartis #indiansweets #indianstreetfood #chefontheroad #netram #lucknowdiairies
Aside from all the food, the food making process fascinated him to no end. One of the chaatwalas he had stopped at had a pretty unique way of preparing his now favourite Matar Papdi chaat.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of Lucknow’s Chowk area, there’s this chaatwala near Shree Lassiwala (open only till 3 pm) making a very unique style of Matar Papdi Chaat. Never seen so much care and effort going into one patta of chaat. #matarchaat #rarefinds #specialchaat #indianstreetfood #chaatwala #foodtrip #lucknowicuisine #chefontheroad #lucknowdiaries #UP
Where there’s good, there also will be some bad. While there were multiple hits amongst the variety of things he tried there, there was one little let-down too. “I am a die-hard fan of the Bombay paani puri. The Lucknow version of paani puri is called paani batashe and the contrast of textures and flavours is not as diverse as you’d find in the Bombay paani puri.”
With the ‘India inspired’ food philosophy, The Bombay Canteen has always presented a medley of flavours from the diverse regions of the country. This trip has given the chef a lot of inspiration to work with some previously unexplored flavours. “I had this keema dish at Alamgir, and I want to do some version of that. Definitely some form of chaat,” he says, on the possible new additions to the menu.
In case you were planning to head off to Lucknow in the near future, or possibly after reading this, then here are some of the things he tried and should definitely be on your ‘must-have’ list. Although, make sure you’re not on an empty stomach. You were warned:
The fantastic Safed Matar ki Tikki at King of Chaat is rich and intense from hours of cooking on the tawa with ghee, smartly offset by its toppings of crushed golgappas, cilantro, ginger julienne and a generous squeeze of lime. Simple stuff but near perfect. #Kingofchaat #indianstreetfood #chaat #matarkitikki #lucknowicuisine #foodtrip #chefontheroad #lucknowdiaries #UP
The Chicken Kali Mirch at Maharaja Hotel is rich in kasuri methi and cilantro and devoid of cream, allowing the flavor of the desi chicken and black pepper to shine through. Coupled with these outstanding laccha parathas, this was a pretty damn good first meal in Lucknow. #chickenkalimirch #lucknowdiaries #foodtrip #lucknowicuisine #chefontheroad #UP
Lucknow may be known for its kebabs but it also has some amazing vegetarian fare. The Puri Kachori Thali at Netram in Aminabad is the best proof of that (the photo clearly doesn’t do justice!) Freshly fried dal puris, quintessentially Lucknowi sukka aloo, a comforting aloo ki sabzi, an amazing tamatar & baingan bharta, superb lauki raitha, and the star of the thali, that raw mango & jaggery chutney called galka! Mind blowingly good food! #vegetarianfood #Lucknowicuisine #Netram #purikachori #chefontheroad #lucknowdiaries #UP
A great biriyani is as much about the quality of the rice and the way it’s cooked as it is about the meat. The exemplary Mutton Biriyani at Lulla is the perfect example of that. Also, don’t miss the pool of ghee at the bottom of the handi. #muttonbiriyani #mughlaicuisine #lucknowibiriyani #lucknowicuisine #chefontheroad #lucknowdiairies
With that, my three days of non-stop eating in Lucknow comes to an end. From the Imartis at Netram and the amazing chaatwala we stumbled upon in Chowk to Lulla’s mutton biriyani and the incredible Mughlai food at Alamgir, we covered a total of 25 mostly incredible eating spots! This trip has been yet another eye-opener into the depth of culinary wealth in India that remains largely unexplored in mainstream restaurants. And as a chef, I’m even more inspired and motivated to travel and explore more of it! After all, the learning never stops. I hope you enjoyed this culinary journey as much as I did. Back at @thebombaycanteen, we’re already thinking of ways to adapt some of what we tasted into our menu here. Stay tuned. #foodtrip #cheflife #willtravelforfood #lucknowicuisine #chefontheroad #lucknowdiaries #indiainspired #thebombaycanteen #mumbai