The UK’s love affair with Indian food has been well documented over the years, but it’s only in the past decade that we’ve really started to pay attention to the regional differences in the country’s cuisine. India is, after all, a huge country, so it seems silly to lump all its food under one generic umbrella of ‘Indian’ cooking. We now know the southern states are where ingredients like coconut, jaggery and tamarind are used with aplomb, while northern India is home to many of the breads and curries we love. But that’s just scratching the surface of one of the world’s great cuisines – to truly understand the flavours of India, we need to dig a little deeper and look at specific states.
Awadhi cuisine is a bit of an unknown in Britain, despite being the basis for many of our favourite Indian takeaway staples. Seekh kebabs, biryanis and kormas are all legendary Awadhi dishes, which are regarded as some of the best in India. The cuisine comes from Lucknow, a city in the north of India, but has spread across the country thanks to its aromatic flavours and unique cooking techniques.
To find out more I sat down with Shoeb Haider, the head chef of Awadhi restaurant Zaika, in Kensington. Shoeb grew up in Lucknow and had never cooked using gas or electric until he went to Mumbai when he was twenty-two. Now he works in London, recreating the dishes of Lucknow and sticking close to tradition. It’s the kebabs and biryanis that the restaurant has become famous for, proving that the dishes we often take for granted in the UK have some serious history, technique and skill behind them.