Of course, you have probably read my first instalment of good food in Lucknow, where I talked of nothing but meat. The reason why I am publishing this post again is because when I moved my blog, this somehow did not get posted. I tried, but well, it did not happen. So, I am posting this once again, because clearly I am a sadist.

Royal Cafe in Lucknow, India

I completely forgot, in my happiness, to write about the Vegetarian food of Lucknow, till the point where M pointed out that I had actually gone back to a place twice to eat basket chat in our short trip. The truth is, the last few months have been crazy, and I haven’t been able to make one sensible post. But, it would be unfair of me to not write about the very famous Royal Cafe in Lucknow. I was first told about the place by my uncle, and then, when I was interviewing her, artist Vandeep Kalra told me she was from Lucknow, and to not miss it.

Royal Cafe, Hazratgung

The first place which I was recommended by all and sundry for vegetarian food in Lucknow was Royal Cafe. Many unanimously agreed that it was one of the best places to eat Chaat in the city. I was slightly sceptical, but decided to give it a try.

royal cafe aloo chat lucknow

It is difficult to miss Royal, especially if you are at Hazratganj. We saw it the very first day of travel, but, at that point, we were both full from eating a truckload of meat, so decided to give it a skip. The next day, we went out to find Bajpayee Kachori Bhandaar, and after walking for what seemed to be endless moments, gave up, and called an auto to take us to Royal Cafe, Hazratganj. M ordered the Tokri or Basket Chaat, which she called the Kakisa, and it is the costliest item in the chaat menu. Initially, we did not know how big it would be, so M was all for an aloo chat on the side. The man looked at our faces, smiled, and said, “Madam, finish this, then I will give you something else.”

royal cafe basket chat

I have to say, he was right. The huge basket chat is essentially comprised of a number of different elements. At the base is a basket made of thinly grated potatoes, shaped into a basket form, and deep fried in ghee. It is then covered with pieces of fried potato, dahi bhalla, paapri, boiled potatoes, and then smothered with curd, chutney, then topped with bhujiya, boondi, pomegranate seeds, and coriander leaves, and then served with a dab of sour minty chutney and a thick paste which contained tamarind I think. It was, in one word, divine, and exactly what we needed in the heat.
We waddled back afterwards, buffeting ourselves with lashings of ice cold coke zero, and returned the next day, to avail ourselves of a farewell plate of the kakisa again, and this time, I was brave enough to try the aloo chat. Here, I was once again in love, the cold curd concoction covering thick, crisp medallions of potatoes which were soft inside… and the fried shreds of potato on top echoed the crunch perfectly, and I almost did not poach on M’s big plate of kakisa, which she was slightly obsessed about anyway.

Ah, Aloo Chat, how I miss you in this heat.

We had decided to go to the Bada Imambara the first day, and as we had entered, the person at the entrance asked for camera fees. M’s tiny camera got a 5-rupee charge, while my marginally larger one was charged five times more. I looked straight at the man and said, “You are taking all that money for my camera? Why? I am not beautiful enough?” The poor man blushed sixty shades of tomato, and mumbled, and I paid the same as M did.

“You’re EVIL!”, M whispered, a scandalised expression on her face. I serenely proceeded to take photographs.

And lo and behold! I found Campa Cola! Its my childhood revisited. I loved Lucknow at that moment, for bringing back the memories of past, the days in late 1980s when my father would buy me bars of Campco chocolate, while drinking his Campa Cola or Goldspot, and I would demand a sip from his straw because I liked the way it tasted, even though a bottle was too much for me.

The memories make me happy. I  miss Citra and Canada Dry too.

Shri Lassi, Chowk

Shri Lassi was another place which I wanted to go to, and I actually stopped the auto we had hired, and got down in the middle, because I spotted it. M came down, grumbling slightly, and we sat down on the rather nondescript street side place, and ordered two glasses of lassi, a bottle of water and another bottle of cold drink. The guy at the cash put down our glasses of lassi within a minute of placing the order, and we looked at the glasses topped with a thick slice of cream.

These are, hands down, one of the creamiest and most decadent lassi I have consumed in my life. The spoons there stood straight up, and no, that was because of the lassi, that’s how thick that is. They are mini-meals all by themselves, and we struggled to finish the glasses.

radhey lal

We later moved to the Chowk Region to try the Kulfi at Ram Ashray, but sadly, I could not have another bite!

Radhey Lal Sweets, Chowk

I am sort of glad that when I entered Radhey Lal Sweets, I had insisted on packing around 2 kilos of sweets. We were also going to return for the creamy rabdi again but it was not to happen. Oh well, I am glad about the sweets – one box of them became my meal in the journey back. They sell it by the gram, and not by the piece, as I am accustomed to in Kolkata. Ask them for the price per kilo and calculate accordingly.

M and I went slightly crazy after seeing the sweets, and bought a bit of all. There were excellent besan laddoos which is one of my weaknesses, and I packed more of it because I realized half of it will be eaten by me anyway.

besan ke laddoo

Here are some photos of the rather excellent sweets. We also packed some besan gajak which reminded me of a soan papdi but it is slightly different too, with a more melt-in-the-mouth texture. Everything smelled wonderfully of ghee. The thing I have  noticed about most places in Lucknow is the fact that they do not spare the ghee, which is rather excellent.

Dodha Barfi radhey lal

What I also liked about Radhey Lal is the huge sales they have – in the five minutes we were there, the men there sold around 15 kilos of sweets, serving each customer attentively, and at a brisk pace.

besan gajak lucknow

Sigh. Just look at them in their splendour. I would be glad if someone could parcel a few packs of this to my doorstep. Right about now.

Prakash Kulfi, Aminabad

So, the real reason why I am probably writing this post after months of my trip is probably the fact that I am missing Prakash ki Kulfi. I discovered it on the very first day of my Lucknow trip, and right after consuming an excellent meal at Tunday Kababi, we decided to sit inside and asked for two kulfis, large, full. The man looked at us dubiously, and said, “Two?”

We said yes. Also, we told him “No Falooda”. Strictly.

Prakash kulfi Lucknow

And there it was. The Kulfi from Prakash was halved for ease of consumption, and we had a tough time cutting it down to its size. It was also thick, rich, laced with saffron and pista (they did not scrimp, by any means), and, in one word, a fitting reminded for me why I had come to Lucknow in the first place – to eat as decadently as I could. The place is there from 1958 I think (or as much as I remember) and is one of the places I would love to go back to, again and again.

For those who are interested, here is a brief shopping guide for those who don’t have much time and want to pick up clothes, ittar, or spices.

Shopping in Lucknow

In case you want to buy products from Lucknow – here is a handy dandy short document about where we shopped from.

1. Jain Cloth Center, Churiwali Gali, Chowk. This is for those who want to buy Lucknow Chikan stuff. This place is pretty reasonable. They will mark a price and then give discount. If you bargain, they will give you more discount. They are nice like that. We got the recommendation from a local person, and we can’t thank her enough.

2. Do NOT get up on one of the horse-pulled carriages from Bada Imambada, or tanga as it is called, who would claim to take you to an authentic chikan factory. Lucknow Chikan is beautiful but sadly overpriced here.

3. For spices, go to Aminabad or Chowk, and find out a good Kirana shop. We found Sikandar Kirana Shop in Aminabad to be pretty useful, and they kept Zarraqoosh, Nagkesar, Biryani masala, Biryani ittar, Lazzat-e-Ta’aam, and other spices which are hard to find in Kolkata.

4. I also picked up boxes of biscuits from Burma Biscuits, Hazratganj, for the family. They combine Indian flavours into their biscuits, and the results are really lovely.

Plaque at Residency Lucknow

Plaque at Residency Lucknow

Written by Poorna Banerjee

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