Allahabad or Prayagraj, may be known for the rivers and the Sangam, temples and the Kumbh, but this historic city is also a treasure trove of flavours. With an extensive spread of sweets, chaats, namkeens, snacks, and possibly the State’s first fine dining restaurant, Allahabad should be on your list for some of the finest flavours that Uttar Pradesh has to offer.
“The food in Allahabad is as cosmopolitan as it gets,” says Naresh Roy, owner of El Chico, Allahabad’s oldest and most popular restaurant. “Khatris, Muslims, Bengalis, English, Parsis, people from all communities came to live in the city and brought with them their food, and that legacy still lives on.” The use of pure ingredients, says Naresh, is another aspect that makes the food here so special. Desi ghee, pure milk, fresh produce from the riversides and age-old cooking mediums like angithis with charcoal ensure that the food here is as authentic as it is flavourful.
Food is everywhere in Allahabad — in the shacks that dot the tiny lanes, push carts that appear magically at dusk with lip-smacking chaat, at the hole-in-the-wall shops that have no name but hundreds of people queuing up for their jalebis and samosas.
While these carts, shops, and stalls dot every part of the city, it is in Loknath Gali — a cramped, narrow lane — where you find the most authentic flavours. “This street in Allahabad is famous everywhere for its food,” says Saurabh Srivastava, a High Court advocate who visits the place often. “Before Independence, it used to be the favourite haunt of the most brilliant minds in the country. Famous men would get together every evening to discuss matters of national importance over food.”
The evenings, he says, would begin with chaat at Nirala, and end at the Loknath Temple with kulfi–faluda. In between there was rabri, malai, lassi, khurchan, gulab jamun, imarti, and samosas. Rows of tiny sweet shops manned by elderly men line Loknath Gali today. The shops, set in the verandas of crumbling old mansions and havelis, are lit with bright lamps hanging from naked wires. The light illuminates their respective specialities, from khurchan and fruit cream to gajar ka halwa. Rabri, the thick, mildly-sweet preparation of milk, is one of the oldest products of this lane.
The khurchan, another speciality, comes in large rectangles. Thick sheets of condensed milk set with layers of castor sugar and nuts are served in long rectangular pieces.
What people like the most, however, is the fruit cream. It is sweeter than the rabri and khurchan and also carries the beautiful earthy scent of the clay bowl it is served in.
To each her own
“The flavours of Allahabad are as authentic as they get,” says Sangeeta Khanna, a food writer and consultant who writes extensively about the food of Uttar Pradesh.
“My favourite is the gulab jamun that you find on the highway between Allahabad and Benaras. It is made with the purest khoya on coal, and has the same old taste,” she adds.
“You have eaten nothing if you have not eaten Nirala ki chaat,” the man at the counter of Nirala, one of Allahabad’s most famous chaat shops, tells us. Tamatar (tomato) ki chaat, aloo (potato) tikki, matar (peas) ki chaat, and pani ke batashey top the list. Everything is made in pure ghee. The tikkis, unlike those in Lucknow, Agra, or Mathura, are small and crunchy. Tamatar ki chaat is a mash of umpteen ingredients, while the matar is soaked in ghee and topped with rustic spices.
A hint of salt
No conversation about Allahabad’s food can be complete without the namkeens and samosas of the city. Made fresh every day, the namkeens are often sold-out by evening.
The mind-boggling variety (dalmoth, mathri, sem ke beej, sev, gur ke sev, aloo ke lacche, and the legendary dal ki samose), flavours, textures, and aromas of these fresh snacks display the city’s mastery over its food and the importance it holds in the daily lives of its people.
“Allahabadis are real connoisseurs of food,” declares Naresh. “They not only know their food — both at home and outside — but also discuss it with great passion. It is impossible for you to serve average food to an Allahabadi.” After having a sample, we cannot help but agree.