“The beauty of a matar tikki lies in its simplicity,” says lifestyle blogger Manas Mukul. As he has lived in Lucknow for the better part of his life, I take him on his word and dig into the unobtrusive mishmash on my plate. A burst of delicious flavours explode in my mouth – tangy, crunchy, smoky, mildly spiced and spectacularly earthy – validating his claim. I immediately dive in for a second bite, even as traces of the first linger.
On my recent visit to the capital city of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, I was on a mission to discover its lesser-known culinary delights. As a fellow foodie local to the area, Mukul made the perfect guide. We ventured to Royal Café in Hazratganj, the tony market in the heart of the city that houses both heritage buildings like the iconic Capoor’s Hotel and glittering new ones like the local PVR. As a product of the 90s, Royal Café falls somewhere between these, posing itself as modern yet certainly not part of the bright and shiny category of post-liberalism national chains.
By all accounts, the dish to try at Royal Café was the basket chaat. True to its name, this is a chaat mixture consisting of aloo tikki, papdi, yoghurt, chickpeas, tomatoes, sweet and tangy chutneys and sev sprinkles, served inside a large fried potato basket. Yet, we gave this formidable dish a miss in favour of the another being served alongside it – a small fried patty called the matar tikki.
“I remember having the matar tikki for the first time at Royal Cafe. I was about to place an order for a basket chaat when I noticed a patty made completely out of matar (white chickpeas) being roasted on the tawa. I decided to try it, and I haven’t looked back since. It is now one of my favourite chaat items available anywhere,” smiles Mukul.
India has a longstanding love affair with the plebian ingredient known as white chickpea / kabuli matar / safed chana. It is a prominent item on lunch tables of North Indian homes, served either as a filling curry with rice or, on special occasions, fried and spiced with lightly roasted doughy kulchas or fluffy bhaturas. Popular chef Tarla Dalal’s cooking glossary describes it as one of the earliest cultivated legumes. “It is a small, hard, knobby, beige-coloured bean with a diameter of less than a centimetre. It looks kind of like a wrinkled hazelnut. Its nutty and creamy flavour, firm texture and minimal fat make it a versatile ingredient,” she wrote.
Its versatility as an ingredient is what struck me most as I devoured the matar tikki in Lucknow. Boiled and mashed white chickpeas, which have been pre-seasoned with spices, are roasted on a gigantic tawa for two-three hours – a lengthy process that lends it the authentic flavour of ghee-soaked smokiness and a dry and crunchy texture. The snack is then served hot, topped with a generous slathering of lemon juice, a pinch of chaat masala consisting of roasted jeera and rock salt, a sprinkling of onion slivers and coriander and a few papdi discs.
At Royal Café, in particular, these matar tikkis are heart-shaped, and the makers of the chaat proudly show off the mould used to achieve the desired shape. One can also try other famous versions of this dish at Shukla Chaat House on Shahnajaf Road and Raj n Raj in Ashiyana.
Research shows that the dish was created as a filling and more affordably priced counterpart to the regular green pea matar chaat, decades ago. Due to its relative obscurity outside of Lucknow, matar tiki has not reached the cult status that other street foods have around the country. Yet it offers an amazing confluence of flavours, one that I am waiting to experience again.
Soak white peas in water overnight. Boil the white peas in a pressure cooker for one whistle. Keep it on a medium flame for 10 to 12 minutes after one whistle.
Take the boiled peas in a bowl and add salt, black salt, red chilli powder, black pepper powder, and roasted cumin powder into the bowl and mix all the ingredients well. Heat an iron griddle/ tawa and grease it with ghee. Put the required amount of mixture on the pan and mash it with a flat spatula or a ladle on a high flame. Crush papdis and add them into the mixture on the tawa.
Meanwhile, heat another iron tawa and grease it with ghee. Once the water from the mixture has been soaked, transfer it to the other tawa. Shape the mixture into patties and cook on a low-medium flame until it looks golden brown or crispy. Once it is cooked, transfer it to a paper bowl and press it to give it a shape.
Sprinkle salt, red chilli powder, roasted cumin powder and lime juice as per taste on it. Add a crushed papdi to it and press it once again.