"I see some of the guests eyeing the galouti kebab and let me tell you, it is not my intention to stand between you and the kebab," said the always jovial Indian Ambassador Manjeev Singh Puri as he inaugurated the Lucknowi Food Festival at Hotel Radisson last week. Indeed, many of the invited guests followed his advice and made a beeline for the mutton.
The festival of Lucknow cuisine brings Kathmandu closer to the dishes of northern India, centred in the seat of the Mughlai nawabs. Lucknow specialities are as easy to eat as they are difficult to make. The galouti kebab is one of them.
"The lamb is finely minced, mixed with aromatic spices, and pan roasted," said Master Chef Shabir Ali as he demonstrated the technique at a live kebab stall. Ali, who came in specially for the festival from Radisson Lucknow, has prepared a kebab so fine that it melts in the mouth, going well with the ulte tawa ki roti (flatbread cooked on an upside down pan).
Vegetarians need not miss out on this famous dish, as there is a veg lookalike, soy ki tikki, made in the exact same manner but using soybeans. Sheermal, a plump, rounded bread with generous doses of saffron, is just the right accompaniment to these spicy starters.
You can also begin your meal with flavourful paya ka shorba – a clear soup made from lamb – or the dense and filling vegetarian option, makai dhania ka shorba (maize and coriander soup). For appetisers you can have the spicy chana maslewala, made of chickpeas, or the mutton-based gosht ke sev.
No Lucknowi cuisine is complete without the biryani, and that is where the longest lines formed on opening day. Whether you go for the vegetable version or the chicken one, it contains a delightful mix of rice, spices, and vegetables or meat. The biryani goes well with pungent and sour raita (flavoured yoghurt), and other accompaniments, like nawabi kofta (potatoes stuffed with dry fruits and simmered in tomato gravy) and mahi korma shaan-e-gomti (rich chicken gravy). The dal khushk Lucknowi is something new to the Kathmandu palette: uncooked mung dal soaked and mixed with raw tomatoes and onions.
Then there are the varieties of Lucknowi desserts – from cold kulfi to piping hot badam ka halwa. One has a choice of hard revdi (ball of jaggery and sesame seeds) or the soft ravdi (sweetened condensed milk with spices and nuts). There seemed to be a lot of sweet teeth around last week at the Radisson, because everyone was trying everything.
Lucknowi Food Festival
Until 15 September
The Fun Café, Radisson Hotel Kathmandu