The restaurant was in Gomti Nagar about 8 kms away and across the Gomti river that cut through the city. But the ride felt like it went on and on for a long time – probably took us about 35 minutes to reach what Google claimed as the destination at 9:50pm – the road was deserted and it didn’t appear like there was any restaurant here. We still got down to take a look around and discovered the restaurant ‘Baati Chokha’ which was on the main road but still hidden because the entrance door was a few yards inside – we were glad to see the small OPEN sign hanging on the door. The restaurant was full and we were asked to wait outside where there were a couple of bamboo cots for sitting – something that we typically see in the villages. The whole restaurant had this traditional village type feel.
To our left there were a couple of men with hair caps, in full sleeve shirts and jeans who were tossing around a bunch of balls that looked like potatoes on a charcoal stove; their hands were covered in soot and the potatoes were soiled black.
Arpit explained, “That is the baati.”
He was referring to the balls – they weren’t potato but that was the bread that we’d be served for eating! Baati can be made using wheat and then baked; what they were doing here is the traditional way of creating the baati.
The men carefully picked the balls from the stove using tongs and transferred them to a plate and then into a gunny bag. When they had 15 or so baatis in the bag they began to shake the bag vigorously till all the dust and soot fell off. Heating on the stove had made the balls fairly hard and they arranged the dusted balls on a tray and carried it off to the kitchen – for a couple of minutes the door to the kitchen was open and we could see them pour ghee on to the baatis. And that reminded me of the smell of ghee in our previous eatery Chappan Bhog and the delicious curd that they topped on snacks.
Beware of friends!
We waited 15 minutes outside and then waited 10 minutes or so inside the restaurant.
We took a few photos inside the restaurant before we were led to two large tables one beside the other. Our host, the bridegroom, had recommended us to have the full meal but 6 in the gang didn’t want to take the plunge – they opted for al-la-carte. 5 of us decided to do the full meal which was called the ‘Special Baathi Chowkha’. And we split ourselves that way – the ones eating the full meal on one table and the rest on the other. The Delhiite was on the fence – he initially went to the other table but after a bit of prodding (and lot of teasing) he joined our table – a choice he was likely to regret later!
The food is served on a plate which consisted of a bunch of large leaves. The special meal started with paneer baati – this is the same ball that we saw outside except that in the center they have a stuffing of paneer. One of the folks on the table broke the baati in two and thought that it is only the inner part that is edible! The thing with baatis is that the outer surface tends to be a bit hard. Baati tastes very different compared to the usual indian breads; it wasn’t a taste i relished but this is something that is worth trying out – some may like it while others may not. I loved the dal and chokha that came with the baati (a potato dish that is not too dry but not a gravy either) and the sweet kheer.
The special meal is quite a lot because you get 4 baatis and they are really heavy – the amount of wheat in one ball is sufficient to make 3 chapattis and they are glazed with copious amounts of ghee; and inside the ball you also have a couple of spoons of compressed paneer. Our Delhiite did well to finish the baatis but resigned without having the rice – the rest of us had to help finish that; and that also meant we had the opportunity to tease him again. “You shouldn’t fall for peer pressure”, “You should make your own choices” and more pieces of advice followed!
It’s very rare that I test the limits of my stomach; but right now it was full to the max. We were the last group in the restaurant for the night; it was 11:15pm when we finished. We took a look at the interiors of the restaurant and found a balcony seating available for smaller groups – you had a thick bamboo stairway leading you to a couple of small tables on a raised platform where you could sit on the floor and eat from a low raised table. Traditional paintings on the walls added to the ambience. Whenever we had good spots Aaron and Arpit made the best use of it for photography; they posed in different angles and this time the Delhiite also joined them. The staff started clearing the chairs and tables and were probably hoping that it would pressure us into leaving soon!
Being stuffed to the limit a few of us decided to walk to the hotel since it was nearby. As we walked my stomach felt a little uneasy – the effects of overloading! I hoped that I wouldn’t have a stomach upset to ruin the rest of the trip; more so considering the fact that I hadn’t yet tasted the food items that Lucknow is famous for.
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