Chef Ranveer Brar talks about the confluence of culture and food in Lucknow, the pride of Awadh, and shares his favourite places to experience the best of Lucknow's gastronomic delights.
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Born and brought up in the culturally rich and illustrious town of Lucknow, Chef Ranveer Brar’s mind, soul and heart bears an indelible stamp of the illustrious city and its deep-rooted culture. Seeped in royal history, Lucknow’s heart beats with a rich legacy of art, culture, cuisine and all things fine. With a cuisine tradition dating back to 1800s, there’s little doubt that if you happen to be working in the food industry, that impact is manifold, and Chef Ranveer Brar is a living proof of this. From making meethe chawal at a langar, mastering kebabs under his mentor Chef Munir Ahmed to opening a restaurant in Boston and coming to India, Brar’s journey is driven by the learnings from the capital of UP.

When we ask Chef Ranveer Brar to share his personal list of recommendations and must-visit places to get a taste of Lucknow, Brar highlights the cultural milieu of Lucknow. “The people who make up Lucknow are essentially Shia Muslims, a lot of migrants from the Benaras, Baniya and Kayastha community, and some post-partition settlers from Sindh and Punjab.” This was the basic composition of Lucknow right after independence; so, to appreciate the city’s food culture, it is important to appreciate the fact that Lucknow is a melting pot of various cultures and influences.

Also Read: Atal Bihari Vajpayee's love for Lucknow's puri bhaji

“The famous chaat that is synonymous to Lucknow comes from Benaras, while chole bhature has come from the post-partition Punjabi settlers,” Decoding the cultural influences and how it has shaped the city’s gastronomic landscape, Chef Brar adds that it is the distinct Shia Muslim influence, which is responsible for the korma, kalia and other sophisticated Muslim foods. The Kayastha community holds a very integral position in Uttar Pradesh and Lucknow is not devoid of their presence. The Kayastha community food, however, never hits the limelight because it is mostly made within private homes and havelis. “The whole fake meat or mock meat phenomenon is driven by the Kayastha kitchens that mock the texture of non-vegetarian dishes with vegetarian ingredients,” Brar elucidates.

 “For me, Shukla ki Chaat is as important, as a meal at a Kayastha home. The kali mirch ka murgh done by the Sardarji in Charbagh is equally important as a meal at Hotel Maharaja. Lalla Biryani is as important as is Idrees ki biryani because of the difference in perspective the two biryanis offer,” adds chef Brar.

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Also Read: PM Atal Behari Vajpayee’s love for Lucknowi food

If you are a true-blue foodie, you know that a trip to Lucknow would be incomplete without a gastronomic tour of the city. Here’s an exclusive list of the must-visit places recommended by Chef Ranveer Brar:

Shukla Chaat House, Hazratganj
One of the oldest chaat sellers in Lucknow, Shukla Chaat House is a literal hole in the wall on Shahnajaf Road. The eponymous Shukla ji dishes out freshly made scrumptious aloo ki tikiya, matar chaat and dahi batashe from a gigantic cast iron tawa.

Hotel Maharaja, Charbagh
Located very close to Lucknow Railway Station, Hotel Maharaja’s claim to fame is the Chicken Kali Mirch. The gourmand locals often recommend the dish here. But we hear that the quality and service has depreciated over the years.

Lalla Biryani, Chowk
Be prepared to be greeted by mustached Lallaji, as he doles out saffron-hued mutton biryani with a side of raita from a huge aluminum cauldron, locally known as a deg. Lalla Biryani is a must-visit pit stop for a biryani lover just to relish the melt-in-mouth mutton delicately flavoured with whole spices.

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Also Read: Chef Ranveer Brar's Journey of India via Indian Railways

Idrees Biryani, Chowk 
Degs on open flames is a sight that greets you at Idrees. The highlight of the biryani is the fact that the meat is cooked in milk and herbs, which then assimilates within the rice, as the biryani cooks on dum.

Pandit Raja Thandai, Chowk
Touted as the oldest thandai shop in Lucknow, the sparse shop sells just one thing—thandai—a cooling drink made of milk flavoured with cooling spices and crushed nuts. For some added fun, you can also try out the bhang-laced thandai during Holi.

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Makhan Malai, Chowk
What is Daulat ki Chaat in Delhi and Malaiyo in Benaras is Makhan Malai in Lucknow. A street side winter specialty, a large pile of frothy and foamy mix of milk and cream, is left out on a cold night to gather dew drops. The mix is then churned to achieve the cloud-like consistency. It is served with a helping of crushed nuts and a hint of cardamom.

Image: Najeeb Aziz

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