On our first walk down Lucknow’s main road, Mahatma Gandhi Road, one man stopped dead in the street to stare at us and another girl burst into giggles at seeing Hugh’s white face.
It would be fair to to say that Lucknow doesn’t attract many tourists, even though Agra’s Taj Mahal is just down the road. However, Lucknow has been responsible for the some of the finest dishes India has on it’s menu. How and why is a story of ego, obsession and status.
Back in the day, Lucknow was the domain of the Nawabs. An illustrious and fancy-filled ruling class, appointed by Mughal Emperors. They had a penchant for the finer things in life and invested a lot of money in their chefs. I met with Nawab Jafar Mir Abdullah, a descendant of the Nawabs to hear all about what his ancestors used to cook up in their kitchens.
He tells me that the Nawabs used to take it in turns to host wildly elaborate dinner parties, which lead to an enormous boom in innovation. They became obsessed with being the best and started a sort of antiquated form of ‘Masterchef’ to show off their chef’s skills.
There’s a story about one Nawab serving up meat disguised as fruit to a prince and in return, the prince concocted a whole feast of dishes; rice, bread and meat for the Nawab, out of sugar.
My favourite story is the one about tunde kebabs. One Nawab, fond of kebabs, had lost all of his teeth – he set a contest to seek the softest kebabs. Haji Murad Ali, a chef with one arm ‘tunde’ came forth with the best and most succulent kebabs.
While many of the elaborate dishes of the past have become part of history, ‘Tunday Kebabs’ live on. Haji Murad Ali set up a small corner shop over 100 years ago on Chowk, where you can still get the kebabs today – far away from the royal kitchen and in the local market – where queues of people from all walks of life, form everyday.
I can report first hand that these kebabs are so soft, you can’t pick them up, you can only eat them with the saffron flavoured chapatti (sheemal) or roomali roti (handkerchief roti) offered up on Tunde Kebab’s pared down menu. They are charcoal crisp on the outside and like the lightest, finest pate on the inside. We went back three times in our five days in Lucknow.
400g lamb mince, triple ground
3tbs plain yoghurt
3 tsp garam masala powder
1tsp ginger, crushed
1tsp garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon black cardamom
1/4 teaspoon green cardamom
A pinch of clove powder
1/2 tsp black pepper powder
1tsp dried mint leaves
Oil for shallow frying
In a food processor, combine all the kebab ingredients except the oil and blend to make a smooth, sticky paste. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes. Put oil in a frying pan over medium to low heat. Wet your palms and scoop up a handful of the mince paste. Shape it into a flat pattie and add to the frying pan. Shallow fry until golden on both sides and cooked through. Remove and drain on absorbent paper. Serve hot with finely shredded onions and a squeeze of lime.