ASHEESH MAMGAIN | 27 AUGUST, 2019
Street Food and Legends of Loknath Gali
Travels through this famous street and beyond in Allahabad
ALLAHABAD: Every evening as the sun prepares to set over the confluence of the rivers Ganga, Jamuna and the invisible Saraswati, a different kind of confluence starts to take place in this city’s famous Loknath Gali. It is a confluence of food lovers from across the city and beyond.
Loknath Gali is a narrow lane located in the Chowk area which is in the old part of Allahabad, now known as Prayagraj.
The lure of Loknath Gali is in the form of crisp mini samosas, makhan ka samosa (a delectable sweet dish), dal moth, chaat, creamy lassi and much more. Food lovers from the city, and visitors drawn here by its fame, have spent many an evening strolling this narrow lane and sampling the rich variety of food available in its various shops and stalls.
It is the old part of the city and looks very much like one. Crumbling havelis, a mesh of overhanging wires and congestion - but still the area has managed to hang on to some remnants of old world charm.
Over the last century and more, people of great eminence and common citizens alike have jostled for space here in the evenings, to enjoy the food on offer.
The list of eminent food lovers is headed by the first prime minster of India, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, followed by the next prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri who was partial to the mini samosas, a speciality of the place.
Shastriji’s wife Lalita Shastri lived in a Loknath Gali house until her marriage to Shastriji. Later prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee kept up the tradition of visiting the lane for food, though he was more into the moti choor ladoos available here.
Then comes the long list of celebrated poets and literary giants such as Suryakant Tripathi Nirala, Harivansh Rai Bachchan and Sumitranandan Pant among others who were regulars here.
Renowned flute player Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia was born in a Loknath Gali house and spent his childhood here. He grew up on a regular diet of the street food and practised wrestling in a neighbourhood akhara.
Once when Pandit Nehru came to visit the poet Nirala in his home, sweets were fetched from the Nirala sweet shop to be offered to the guest, knowing well his preference for them.
Loknath Gali has another claim to fame. It is the birth place of the famous politician and educationist Madan Mohan Malaviya, who grew up in a house in the lane.
Today there are still some legendary food establishments operating here which have witnessed untold thousands of visits by food lovers over long years.
Hari Ram and Sons
The most famous eating place in Loknath Gali has to be the Hari Ram and Sons namkeen shop, which started here way back in 1890.
It is around four in the afternoon when I visit. Things seem to be moving a bit slow in the shop. Only a couple of clients are seen buying stuff. I enquire about their famous samosas and am told that they just finished with the last lot.
Thankfully I am also told that a fresh supply of samosas is on the fry and will soon reach the shop. Within minutes, as if on cue, people start trickling in, all enquiring about the samosas and then staying back to wait. Soon a good crowd develops.
By the time a huge basket arrives of piping hot samosas just out of the cauldron, the scene gets electric. There is jostling and pushing, people are shouting their orders over each other. The staff calmly gets to work, making packets of samosas by the kilogram. Soon this fresh lot of samosas too is confined to history.
Most of the clients have got their share of samosas and are leaving with smiling faces and light banter. Those who failed to land their order disappear back into the streets, sure to return in a few minutes, when the next lot of samosas arrive.
The samosas served here are crisp and spicy and quite small. The filling, of potato mixed with spices, is deep fried and roasted for a long time. This gives them long lasting quality, to the extent that they can be kept and consumed over a period of three to four weeks.
Besides these mini samosas the place is famous for traditional snacks such as dal moth, mathi and pakoras.
Raja Ram Lassi Wala
There are a quite few stalls here selling lassi. They all serve up a great drink, but the most famous is Raja Ram, serving delightful cups of lassi here since 1890. Lassi here means fresh yoghurt, mixed with rabri and then hand churned. Before being served in an earthen tumbler it is topped with a thick layer of malai, to give you that rich authentic taste.
Nirala Chaat and Mishthan Bhandar
Right before you enter Loknath Gali is the famous Nirala chaat and sweet shop. The place is famous for the chaats it serves. Besides dahi soonth ke batashe (gol gappe) and papri chaat, Nirala’s is famous for its milk preparations such as rabri, kulfi and khurchan.
Khurchan is an artfully done sweet where layers of cream are lifted off unbroken from a wide utensil simmering with milk, then sprinkled over with castor sugar and nuts before being served.
In the winter months many sweet shops in the lane serve special and rare sweet preparations such as makhan ka samosa and kali gajar ka halwa. Makhan ka samosa is a layer of butter folded like a small patty, with a filling of castor sugar and nuts. It is a most delicate sweet to create and eat.
Famous Street Food in the Rest of Prayagraj
The street food action elsewhere in Allahbad is also strong, and needs to be explored.
Netram’s Kachori and Sabzi, Katra Pure desi ghee kachoris fried in desi ghee, filled with a layer of spiced-up urad dal food paste, accompanied by aloo ki sabzi and a sweet-sour preparation of pumpkin. The food here is served in a traditional way using plates called pattal, which are fashioned out of tree leaves.
Guruji’s Chaat, Colonelganj is another famous Prayagraj outlet that has been drawing in lovers of chaats for decades.
Masala churmura is available at many roadside spots all over the city. It is a light snack similar to Kolkata’s famous jhal muri. Puffed rice and roasted peanuts are the two essential ingredients. It is mixed with diced boiled potatoes to which a mango sauce is added.
Dahi jalebi is another must have combination, characteristic of the city. Allahabadis traditionally have this unusual combination of jalebi and dahi for breakfast. Though available at several spots across town, one of the best places to try it is Hira Halwai in Civil Lines.
Finally, biryani. Eat On is an extremely popular biryani place, on MG Road in Civil Lines near the Palace Cinema. A relatively new entrant on the street food scene, these biryani makers have raced up the popularity chart with their chicken biryani.
Its philosophy is simple and it hits the spot. It is to sell only one thing throughout the day, that is chicken biryani with unlimited portion of raita.
The place is good and relatively inexpensive. The proof and popularity of the place is that no matter what time of the day you go there, you will come across a good crowd standing in front of the outlet and enjoying their plate full of biryani.