Festival times are happy times. The spirit and gaiety manifests itself in all activities and touch every facet of people’s lives. To see and experience this first hand, you have to visit the downtown areas of Lucknow- Chowk, Aminabad and a few more. The vibrancy is so intense, that it is almost tangible.
During Ramadan, even at midnight and odd hours, people are out in full festival regalia to partake in the many delights on offer in the aforementioned areas.
Even as vendors of all hues make merry and fill their coffers, revelers and the devout indulge themselves in merry feasting and buying.
A Nawabi Entry
Upon your entry into the daunting yet magnificent Rumi Darwaza, you immediately realize that it was truly built for royalty. Exuding a majestic charm of its own, a glance towards the monument makes you wonder at the sheer grandeur of it.
The life surrounding the complex is alive and kicking- even though it is midnight. In fact, you may even spot a few people playing cricket, lounging around the monument itself and a few just strolling around, enjoying the weather.
They say that Lucknow blends chaos with calm and a visit to Chowk and Aminabad tells you exactly why. On one hand, you have the magnificent glass buildings of Gomti Nagar while on the other hand, you have the time travelling, snake like lanes of Aminabad. So quiet, peaceful and hidden in the heart of the city, the old city of Lucknow is an entire universe in itself, teeming with life and something exciting at every corner.
The winding lanes of Aminabad
Aminabad is not just one of the oldest markets in Lucknow, it is probably the oldest place in Lucknow itself. Walking through the lanes here is something of a sensory overload. The second you step in, you’ll see life bustling around you, an explosion of colours and aromatic flavours wafting towards you.
Once you’ve embraced Aminabad in all its glory, step aside for a moment to take in the intricate architecture and the echoes of the past that resonate through here.
One of the main reasons that you should visit the old city is mainly because of the food. Here, pretty much everything will make you salivate no matter what kind of a cuisine you prefer. At Aminabad, most of the food shoppes are open till the sun rise. If you do plan to visit, be sure that you’ve caught up on enough sleep.
Housing big names such as Tunday Kababi, Wahid Biryani and Raheem’s, it is easy to lose track of some of the smaller and more local stores in the area.
It’s all about the flavour and thelas
In Aminabad itself, there are a bunch of small thelas splattered here and there and though they might not look like much, they have food better than your wildest imagination. Not only is the food a treat for the taste buds, but is also an explosion of colours, making it a treat for the eyes as well.
In a really easy to miss lane called Alamgir gali, there’s a small nameless shoppe, which has probably the best tandoori chicken in town. They are freshly prepared on an open flame, which gives it a grilled, smokey texture to it that adds to the juicy meat.
Moving on from the lane, as you exit it, you’ll be greeted with Wahid Biryani and enough about this place has already been written and said. Stealing the spot for the most crowded place of the night from Tunday Kebabi, Wahid Biryani was one joint that seemed to have a life of its own. People bustling around with giant handis, meat cutters out back, the place is truly a sight to behold.
Since we visited on a Thursday, we were lucky enough to witness Wahid Biryani giving out free meals for the poor and those living in abject poverty. A heart warming sight indeed, the long queue makes you wonder about those that don’t have it as good as others.
Colours and Cuisines
Just across the road from Wahid, there’s a small, easy to miss shop that specializes in sheermals and kebab and nihari with kulchas. Right off the bat, let’s get one thing straight- they’re not just throwing around the word ‘specialize’.
The sheermal has a muted and mild taste to it. The thick texture also fuses well with the melt in your mouth kebabs. As for the gilafi nihari kulchas, they’re soft and stretchy and do well to complement the special roza nihari, which is nothing short of an explosion of flavors. The shop doesn’t have a name, but be on the lookout for someone called Shamsher Ali, who runs the 12 year old establishment.
Move up a bit, a little further away from the sheermal place, and you’ll see another nameless thela, with a rather old man selling a variety of special Awadhi sweets. He’s been putting the thela up for over 10 years and during the Ramadan period, he keeps his shop open till 3am, which is a commendable feat.
The special shahi tukda- which was made in rabdi- was a treat indeed, just like everything else here. The zafrani halwa was another surprising dish as it passed our wildest imaginations and we quickly hogged it down, and asked for more.
The Chandni at Chowk, Lucknow
Though there’s actually a whole lot more to see in Aminabad, we decided to visit Chowk, a place in Lucknow even older than Aminabad, in search of another lively market.
At Chowk, pay a visit to the Akbari Gate area because this is a hub of the true explorers! A few of you would know this as the birth place of the OG Tunday Kebabi, while the others would know it for the massive amounts of clothes, footwear and chikankari you can get here. Blending in the essence of historical arts with cuisines that are fit for kings, Chowk really is the complete package.
Walking down this gali, you’ll spot a small thela, with a massive crowd around it. Well, here, the shop keeper sells kaleji and dil both of which are considered to be delicacies of an acquired taste.
The only place in the lane that is more crowded than this thela has got to be the biryani stand at the end of the road, where the route takes a right turn. We had a chat with Mohd. Ashfaq, who has been coming here everyday for the past 25 years! Though the thela is really hard to miss, the queue the lines up next to it is pretty prominent and since it is almost always there, it becomes something of a landmark itself.
Mohd Ashfaq makes probably the best bade ki biryani in all of Lucknow and we can vouch for that. The meat is soft, tender and flavourful, while the rice adds a new dimension to the whole thing. If you do plan on visiting him, he stays there from 6pm to 3am (during Ramadan) and from 2pm to 9pm on regular days. The stock is limited and the lines are long- be sure you’re there before it opens!
The food and life of the area is the perfect encapsulation of what life in Lucknow is like. The life is the heart of Lucknow- teeming with activity, something at every corner- a city that never sleeps, while the food is Lucknow’s history, their past and their royal heritage, all preserved together.