Balai .. The Lucknowi wonder

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The streets of old Lucknow have many a story to tell.….Everytime I visit these narrow streets and get lost in them I discover something new. Balai is one such discovery made some time ago in the “gullies” of Chowk. It has the nuttiness of our clotted cream (malai ) along with a rich creaminess that comes from the reduction of milk.

Milk is slowly heated (never boiled) in thick- bottomed, flat and shallow kadhais on cowdung “uplas” and a layer of balai forms, the milk is allowed to reduce to a very thick consistency and the balai is removed and stacked on top of each other. These gateaux-like stacks are sold in the streets especially Victoria street in the mornings. In this street they have a specialty called Kashmiri chai being sold in the winters; its not the kehwa but a light pink colored very sweet milky tea, the nawabs called it Kashmiri because they felt the color and the sweetness was just like the people of Kashmir, royal comprehension does affect cuisine you see !!

Here’s the interesting part though, this tea is ”eaten“ with a spoon and not sipped. Kagazi samosa, a light flaky puff is crumbled into a cup and this pink tea is poured into it and then its topped with a huge dollop of Balai.This rich and royal winter concoction  warms you up instantly.

On my last visit I went to Banwali gali in Chowk, to the 200 year old Ram Asrey Mishtaan Bhandar and discovered this wonder all over again, this time in the form of a Gilori or a paan. “Nanhe”, their balai specialist guided me through the complete process of making the Balai and then filled it up with a inique mixture of nuts and “Kesari Misri” – a saffron flavored rock sugar. We rolled up the Giloris when the balai was still warm and I stole a moment to make one for myself!! The taste, the mouth-feel ,the contrast between the creaminess of Balai and the crunch of the rock sugar… created a perfect moment and gave me a food memory forever…

Here’s an inspired recipe, dedicated to Nanhe, the Balai maker….

Bruleed Balai éclairs


Choux buns or éclair shells          3


Balai or half cream half malai       1 cup

Rock sugar                                   1 tbsp

Gulkand                                        ½ tsp

Chopped nuts                               1tbsp

Method :

  1. Roll the gulkand and the nuts in the balai.
  2. Cut and retain the tops of the éclairs
  3. Fill the éclairs with balai mix and top with rock sugar and brulee with a torch.
  4. Put the tops of the éclair back and serve immediately.