Awadhi Cuisine

Awadhi cuisine belongs to the Awadh region, which is situated in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in India. This region, known for its traditions and culture, is popular for its cuisine as well. The cuisine of the region is a mixture of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes and has been influenced by the cuisines of Central Asia, the Middle East and the Northern part of India. It has heavy influences of the Mughlai cuisine and so, it is somewhat similar to the cuisines of Persia, Kashmir, and the Punjab and of course, Hyderabad. The style of food can be described as nawabi style.

The specialty of this cuisine lies as much in the method of cooking as in the ingredients used to cook the dishes. The bawarchis or chefs of Awadh are the people who gave birth to the dum style of cooking. In this style the dishes are cooked over a slow flame, and this particular style has become the trademark of the cuisine now. Elaborate dishes prepared with time consuming processes have always been the special attraction of this cuisine. Dishes like kebabs, kormas, biryani, kaliya, nahari-kulchas, sheermal, roomali roti, zarda, warqi parathas, etc. are a few of the popular items presented by this cuisine. The rich taste attained in the dishes of this cuisine is due to the use of carefully chosen variety of ingredients. Some of the most common ingredients used in this cuisine are mutton, paneer, exotic spices like cardamom, saffron, etc.

Traditional Awadhi dastarkhwan

Awadh is a region that still carries its traditions. Dastarkhwab is a Persian term used to indicate a thoroughly presented ceremonial dining spread. The tradition of Awadh calls for sitting around the Dastarkhwan and sharing the meal. The spread usually comprises of the best and amazingly varied items prepared by the chefs to be served at the Dastarkhwan of the rich and mighty.

The richness of the cuisine is complimented by the variety of the dishes. Together, these two aspects of rich taste and diverse variety provide the Awadhi cuisine a distinct identity of its own. The chefs of the cuisine experimented with rich and delicious ingredients in order to enhance the flavor of the dishes and make them more appealing to the patrons of this cuisine.

A few dishes of the Awadhi cuisine that are considered to be the must-items to be served at any Dastarkhwan are:

• Korma (a dish comprising of braised meat in thick gravy),

• salan (a gravy dish consisting of meat or vegetable),

• keema (minced meat cooked in a traditional style),

• kababs (an item made with pounded meat fried or roasted over a charcoal fire),

• pasinda (a dish comprising of the fried slivers of very tender meat in a delectable gravy)

• fresh cake mix

• various forms of rice preparation, where rice is combined with meat and cooked in different styles. The common among such styles are pulao, chulao (fried rice), etc.

• diverse forms of roti prepared in traditional methods.

• delectable dessert items like kheer (which is a sweet dish prepared from milk, sugar and rice cooked to a perfect consistency), sheer brunj (which is a dessert item made from rice bolied in milk), firni, etc.

The Awadhi cuisine being rich in variety the menu often varies in accordance to the seasons and the festivities of the region. The cold and harsh winter months are dealt with rich food such as Paya (which is a dish cooked overnight over a slow fire) and shorba (a dish consisting of thick gravy) and such items are relished with delicious hot naans. Mutton koftas are a favorite dish and it is combined with turnips and cooked overnight and savored at lunch. This dish is very popular in Lucknow and is known as Shah Degh. It was a very popular dish even in the times of the Nawabs and they relished it during the winter months.

The winter menu is made more special by using meat of birds in the dishes. Heat giving birds, like quail and partridge is preferred in the dishes during the winter season. Fish is also relished during the cold winter months but when the rainy season arrives, fish preparations are generally avoided. Awadh is a region where the fresh fishes from the rivers are preferred. Various dishes are prepared from fish. One of the delicious and well-known fish preparations of Awadh is the fish kabab. Generally, a variety of Indian carp fish is used to prepare this dish and cooked in mustard oil. One of the popular vegetable in Awadh is the green pea. This vegetable is used in a lot of dishes including salan, keema, pulao or in fried vegetable dishes.

Spring is a season that is celebrated with a variety of food items cooked in various forms. Fried delicacies are commonly made during this season. Crispy snacks like phulkis (besan pakoras in salan), puri-kabab, birahis (paratha with a stuffing of mashed dal), khandoi (dal balls steamed and cooked in salan), laute paute (pancakes made from gram flour and served in salan), cutlet made from colocasia leaves and served with salan, etc. are a few of the mouth-watering items offered by the Awadhi cuisine to mark a spirited and lively season of the year. Summer months again witness a whole lot of summer specific recipes. For instance, raw mangoes are cooked in semolina and sweetened with sugar or jiggery and served as a dessert dish called curamba. Such dishes are traditional items of the Hindu population of the Awadh region.

As with the rest of India, Awadh also witnesses fervor of activities in the kitchen during festivals. People enthusiastically prepare a lot of special delicacies and serve friends and family. The women of the households generally take it upon themselves to make sure that the dishes turn out to be perfect in taste. During the month of Ramzan, when the Muslims observe fast throughout the month, the cooks and women of the house take care to prepare a lavish spread of delectable items to be served at iftari or the meal eaten at the end of the day’s fast. Iftari is shared not only with friends and family members but also with the poor section of the society. The festival of Id is grandly celebrated in Awadh with a lot of delicious and special items specially cooked to mark the occasion. Various kinds of sewaiyan (vermicelli) are cooked during Id. Another festival that is celebrated with a lot of tasty delicacies is the Shab-e-barat. During this festival special halwas are cooked and enjoyed. Semolina, gram flour and various other items are used to cook the halwas. It is not only the happy occasions that are marked by special dishes under the Awadh cuisine. An occasion like Muharram, which signifies a gloomy state of mind and heart is marked by the preparation of particular dishes like Khichra or haleem, which is basically a combination of various dals, wheat and meat, cooked together and eaten during Muharram.

Apart from the seasonal delicacies, the dastarkhwan of Awadh has various permanent dishes too that feature in the dastarkhwan throughout the year and are very popular. Korma, chapatti, roomali roti, etc. form part of such items. There are specific parameters regarding the taste and feel of the food. For instance, a chapatti is considered to have been made perfectly if one can see the sky through it. The dough made for the purpose must be very loose and the process practiced is to leave the dough in a lagan or deep broad vessel, filled with water for about thirty minutes before the chapattis are finally cooked.

Another popular item that requires effort and skill to be made is the Sheermal. They are basically parathas covered in saffron and made from dough comprising of flour combined with milk and ghee and cooked through the process of baking in iron tandoors. This particular item, Sheermal was invented by a well-known bawarchi more thanb one and a half century ago. The Sheermals found in this region is easily the best available in the country and there is no doubt about it. The traditional dastarkhwan is not considered complete during the festive season without the presence of this item in the spread. The rich flavor in these parathas is due to the presence of saffron. Saffron is used to flavor various kinds of sweets also.

This cuisine also requires certain utensils and vessels in particular metals to cook the various dishes. Usually the utensils are made of iron and copper. Meat kababs are cooked in a mahi tawa, which is normally a large, round shallow pan and using a kafgir—a flat, long handled ladle—to turn kababs and parathas. Dishes and plates of Bone Copper or silver katoras and not glasses were used to drink water. The seating arrangement, while eating was always on the floor where beautifully embroidered dastarkhwans were spread on dares and chandnis (white sheets). Sometimes a takht or low, wide wooden table would be used for the arrangement.

Kebabs of Awadh

An integral part of the cuisine of Awadh is the food item Kebab. The city of Lucknow takes pride in its kebabs. Various types of kebabs are found under the Awadhi cuisine. The most popular forms of kebab are Kakori Kebabs, Galawat ke Kebabs, Shami Kebabs, Boti Kebabs, Patili-ke-Kebabs, Ghutwa Kebabs and Seekh Kebabs. These kebabs are different from those found in Punjab. The basic distinction of the kebabs of Awadh and that of the Punjab lies in the method of preparation of the kebabs. While Awadhi kebabs are grilled on the traditional Chula or in a skillet, the kebabs of the Punjab are grilled in a tandoor. That is why Awadhi kebabs are known as ‘Chula’ while the Punjabi counterpart is known as ‘tandoori’ kebab.

The Seekh kebab is a prominent item of the Awadhi dastarkhwan. It was originally introduced by the Mughals and beef mince on skewers were used to prepare it in the original form over a fire of charcoal. But now lamb meat has replaced beef due to its soft texture.

Kakori kebab is a variety of kebab that has the consideration to have been blessed. It is said to have been originally made in the dargah of Hazrzt Shah Abi Ahder Sahib situated in Kakori with divine blessing. The mince for the kabab is taken from the raan ki machhli (tendon of the leg of mutton). Several other ingredients like khoya, white peppercorn and a blend of powdered spices are used to make this kebab. Often the blend of powdered spices used in a dish is kept a secret.

Shammi Kebab is a popular variety of kebab enjoyed by the people immensely. It is prepared from minced meat, chopped onion, coriander and green chillies. The kebabs are made in the shape of round patties filled with a spicy mix and raw green mango with a tangy taste. Generally the month of May is the best time to have this kebab as at that time the mangoes are young and give a great tangy taste. When this form of the mango is not available, kamrakh or karonda is used instead of kairi, since both of them carry the tart flavor that remind of the taste of raw mango.

The Galawat Kebab is another diverse variety of kebab specialty found in Awadh. This kebab is made without the use of any binding agent and is made from the use of just minced meat and the spices. The taste is mout-watering in one word.

Another unusual variety of kebab is the Pasanda kebab. In this kind, the piccata of lamb is marinated and then sautéed on a griddle.

A very tasty and very well-known variety of the kebab family is the Boti kebab. In this preparation the meat of lamb is marinated in yoghurt before being skewered and cooked well. The traditional method is to cook the boti kebab in a clay oven called a tandoor.

Vegetarian kebabs are also made in various styles and with various ingredients. Among the vegetarian kebabs are Dalcha Kebab, Kathal ke Kebab, Arbi ke Kebab, Rajma Galoti Kebab (kidney bean kebab cooked with aromatic herbs), Zamikand ke Kebab (Lucknowi yam kebabs), etc.

Curry items

Korma is a famous item of the Awadhi cuisine. Korma is actually the Indian name given to the method of braising meat. It has its origination in the rich Mughlai cuisine wherein lamb and chicken were braised in various spiced sauces and enriched with plenty of ground nuts, cream and butter. While the kormas are rich in flavor, they are mild in taste as they use almost no chilly in the preparation of the dish. The kormas are made in both vegetarian style, known as navratan korma, and non-vegetarian style, using chicken, lamb, beef and fish korma. A very traditional and very popular korma dish from Lucknow is the Murgh Awadhi Korma. Another curry item that is equally famous in the cuisine is Kaliya. Kaliya is basically prepared with mutton and the gravy is flavored with turmeric or saffron.

Rice items

Biryani is a famous dish of this cuisine. Biryani derives its name from the Persian term called Birian, which means “roasted before cooking”. Biryani is a delightful blend of basmati rice, meat, vegetables, yoghurt and spices. The Lucknow biryani or the Awadh biryani is a kind of the pakki biryani. Pakki means cooked. Both meat and rice are cooked separately before being placed in layers and baked. This process also maintains the meaning of the name biryani in Persian, which actually means “fry before cooking.”

The process is followed in three steps. In the first step the meat is seared in ghee and cooked in water with warm aromatic spices till tender. The meat broth is drained. In the second step, the rice is lightly fried in ghee, and the meat broth from the first step is used to cook it. In the third step, cooked meat and cooked rice are place in a handi in a layered manner. The whole preparation is given a sweet flavor. After that, the handi is sealed and cooked over low heat. The outcome is a perfect combination of cooked meat, rice, and a homogenous flavor of flavored meat broth, aromatic spices and sweet flavors.

Among the various styles of cooking Biryani the styles prevalent in Lucknow and Hyderabad are dominant.

Not only non-vegetarian style, even the vegetarian version of Awadhi biryani is quite popular and has a delectable taste.

The difference between biryani and pullao lies in the process of their preparation. While pullao is prepared by cooking the meat in ghee with warm flavored spices until the meat is tender, before adding rice and cooking further in the sealed pot over low heat till done—biryani is prepared with cooking rice or parboiled separately in spiced water and then layering with meat curry or marinade (depending on the type of biryani), then finally sealing and cooking over low heat until done completely.

The vegetarian version is called Tehri and is popular in Indian homes.

Bread items

Wheat is the staple food of Uttar Pradesh and due to that, breads are very significant in the state. Generally, breads found here are flat breads; only a few kinds are raised breads. Tawa roti is bread made on crude iron pans and is common in this part of the country. Modification of the roti (or bread) is of different kinds and they are prepared in several ways. These include the roomali roti, tandoori roti, naan (made in tandoor), kulcha, lachha paratha, sheermaal and baqarkhani.

Breads made of other grains have descriptive names only, for instance Makai ki roti, Jowar ki roti (barley flour roti), Bajre ki roti (bajra is a grain only grown in India), chawal-ki-Roti (roti of rice flour).

• Chapati happens to be the most popular roti in India, eaten at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

• Puri are small and round in shape and deep fried in order to make them puff up.

• Paratha is another kind of roti stuffed with tasty fillings of vegetables, pulses, cottage cheese, and even mince meat and fried in ghee or clarified butter. This heavy and delectable round bread has a high popularity among the people.

• Roomali roti is ultra thin bread made on a large, convex metal pan from finely ground wheat flour. The Urdu word rumaali literally means a kerchief. This roti requires skill to be made perfectly.

• Tandoori roti is a variety of thick bread that is baked in a cylindrical clay oven called tandoor. Tandoor is an urdu term which means an oven.

• Naan is another variety of thick bread having a softer and richer texture and consistency than the tandoori roti. It is prepared from finely ground wheat flour kneaded into a very elastic mass. This bread is made from a rich combination of cream, sugar, wheat flour, butter, and essence.

• Sheermaal is a sweetened Naan made out of refined flour which is leavened with yeast and baked in a Tandoor or oven. It is usually served with flavored korma (gravied chicken or mutton). Initially, it was prepared just like general roti. Then with improvisation, the warm water in the recipe for Roti was replaced with warm milk sweetened with sugar and flavored with saffron. Today, restaurants make it like a Naan and the final product resembles Danish pastry.

• Baqarkhani is an elaborate variation of the sheer-maal that is fried on a griddle rather than baked in a tandoor.

Dessert items

Desserts are elaborate items prepared in this cuisne. They range from simple to complex recipes. In winter various kinds of halwas are savored. Halwa originally came to India from Arabia and Persia. A variety of halwas are made from various ingredients like gram flour, semolina, wheat, nuts and eggs. The special halwa or halwa sohan, which has four varieties, namely, Papadi, Jauzi, Habshi and Dudhiya is a specialty of the city of Lucknow.

The Jauzi Halwa Sohan is a very special item and it is relished even today, but only a few households know the art of preparing it as it requires lots of patience to prepare it meticulously and with perfection. It is mainly prepared from germinated wheat, milk, sugar, saffron, nuts etc. Love and patience can be described as the vital ingredients required to cook this sweet dish.

Chaat

Uttar Pradesh is the place where tasty snacks variety like Chaat and Samosa were originated and have now made their popularity on a national level and even on the international scene. These have turned out to be the integral part of street foods across India. The chaat variants have almost common ingredients in all varieties and are all based on fried dough, with various other ingredients. The original chaat is a combination of potato pieces, crispy fried bread, dahi vada, gram or chickpeas and tangy-salty spices, with sour home-made Indian chilli and tamarind sauce. Fresh green coriander leaves and yogurt are used for garnishing. Other popular variants included Aloo tikki (garnished with onion, coriander, hot spices and curd), dahi puri, gol gappa (which again is made in various ways), dahi vada and the ever popular papri chaat.

A few common ingredients are found across all these items. For instance yoghurt, onions, coriander leaves and certain spices are found in any such kind of snack item. Among the spices dried mango powder or amchoor, cumin or jeera, rock salt or kala namak, coriander or dhaniya, black pepper or kali mirchi and red pepper or laal mirchi are commonly used in most of the items.

Differences between the Awadhi cuisine and Mughlai cuisine

The cuisine of Awadh is heavily influenced by the Mughlai cuisine. It is also similar to the styles followed in the Hyderabadi and Kashmiri cuisine. The cuisine is a mix of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes that are cooked in the dum style over a low heat. This style of cooking is one of the main features of this cuisine.

Mughlai cuisine is rich in taste and is prepared by using exotic spices, abundant dried fruits and nuts. The Mughlai cuisine is a statement of style and rich taste. The rich nature of the food made the Mughals reduce the number of meals during the day. Cream and milk are permanent items of the Mughlai cuisine. Spices are used liberally to make the dishes spicy and hot. Mughlai cuisine is rich in terms of fat, carbohydrates and proteins also.

Awadhi cuisine on the other hand uses a limited number of spices to enrich the food with taste and flavor. The trick lies in using a handful of uncommon spices and in exact quantities. The method of cooking in the dum style or slow-fire cooking allows the juices to be absorbed into the solid parts. Apart from the main style of cooking food in Awadhi style, other important processes, such as marinating meat, contribute to the taste. This is especially true in case of barbecued food that might be cooked in a clay oven over an open fire. Generally items like fish, red meat, vegetables and cottage cheese are marinated in a rich combination of curd and spices. This helps to soften the taste and texture of them as well as remove any undesired odors from the fleshy materials. While the Awadhi cuisine is often cooked on tawa, the flat iron griddle, the Mughlai cuisine does not require the use of the tawa for its rich dishes.

Difference between Awadhi and Mughlai kebabs is that, while the Awadhi variety is usually cooked on the tawa, the Mughlai version is grilled in a tandoor. This difference in the process of cooking gives the items their distinct taste and flavor.

Cooks

The Awadhi cuisine does not only feature a variety of dishes, it also features the use of three categories of cooks to prepare a complete meal. The three categories of cooks are classified according to their work responsibilities. The bawarchis are the category of cooks who prepare food in large quantities. The rakabdars are referred to those cooks who cook in small gourmet quantities. Rakabdars also bear the responsibility of garnishing and presentation of the cooked dishes. The nanfus are that category of cooks who make a variety of roti, chapattis, naans, sheermals, kulchas and taftans.

Generally a single cook does not prepare the complete meal. There are specialized cooks for various items and there are also helpers of various categories who carry out specific actions like the degbos who clean the utensils, the masalchis who grind the spices to prepare the powdered masala, the mehris whose duty is to carry the khwan or tray to spread on the dastarkhwan. The rich people of the region had a supervisor appointed in the kitchen to look over the kitchen affairs. This officer is known as daroga-e-bawarchi khana or mohtamin. The officer was responsible for ensuring the quality of the food.