The two culinary influences on Uttar Pradesh food are the vegetarian cuisine from the holy city of Varanasi and Lucknow’s mutton dishes and biryanis.
Since a large part of Uttar Pradesh falls within the fertile Gangetic Plain, this area is rich in agricultural produce. Stretching across the land are endless fields of rice and wheat as well as vast dark green mango and litchi orchards. Rice and wheat are both eaten in the state, although the food differs from community to community. The two main culinary influences on Uttar Pradesh food are the sophisticated vegetarian cuisine from the holy city of Varanasi and Lucknow’s refined mutton dishes and biryanis that evolved in the royal kitchens.
Roughly, Uttar Pradesh cuisine consists of two varieties: vegetarian and Muslim or Mughlai. The vegetarian food of the plains is very refined, cooked in pure ghee (clarified butter) and tempered with asafoetida, garam masala (curry powder), cumin and chilli powder. Uttar Pradesh’s street food, such as savoury chaat, is famous and the best can be found in the lanes of Varanasi. Apart from chaat, Varanasi is also famous for other Hindu vegetarian dishes including tikki and kachori.
Mughlai cuisine – rich, meaty and impossibly tasty – is the order of the day across much of Uttar Pradesh, with the best restaurants often attached to the top hotels in the big cities. Lucknow is the undisputed king of Uttar Pradesh cuisine. The capital city of Uttar Pradesh, it is a heaven for food lovers because of the sheer range of variety available here. Traditional Dum pukht, where food is sealed with dough in large pots and cooked on a slow fire, is the essence of Lucknow cuisine, as is the subtle use of spices. You’ll find some excellent Mughlai kitchens here as well as great chaat (snacks) and some simply sumptuous kebabs. From this region come two exquisite lamb kebabs: galauti and kakori, while the delicately flavoured pulaos (rice dishes) are legendary. In Old Lucknow, it’s normal to have eateries which are 150 to 200 years old serving the famous Lucknowi Biryani (preparation of mutton and basmati rice with exotic herbs), nehari, kulcha and sheermal.