From November to March, mist comes to North India. The scorching heat of summer and sticky humidity of monsoon season give way to mild, golden days and cool nights so thick with fog you sometimes can’t see three feet in front of you. In the twisted alleyways of Lucknow’s bazaars, which have served as bastions of high culinary and poetic culture for centuries, winter mist means one thing: nimish. Light, frothy, and impossibly rich, this melt-in-the-mouth boiled milk foam pudding, delicately scented with rose water and nuts, is a quintessential winter food. Come summer, the delicate foam flops, the milk growing quickly rancid in the punishing sun.
Called daulat ki chaat in Old Delhi and malayo in Varanasi, nimish’s mythology fits perfectly into the Urdu literary culture endemic to this refined city. And like a traditional poetic gathering, preparing nimish is an all-night affair. Around 5:00 p.m., nimish makers boil milk and cream. They then set the boiled, cooled milk in a clay pot outside to absorb droplets of nighttime dew. Some cooks say the dewdrops help aerate the boiled milk, leading to the pudding’s fluffy texture. Others—echoing the city’s literary romanticism—say nimish can be prepared only on a cool, full-moon night. By morning, the dew-infused mixture is whipped for hours until it achieves perfect foamy peaks, then flavored with rose water and cardamom and topped with slivered almonds and silver warq.
The dish’s diversity of names only adds to the romance of its preparation. In particular, nobody quite knows how the Old Delhi variant, daulat ki chaat, received its title. For North Indians, chaat normally designates street snacks such as aloo tikki with tamarind sauce. Daulat normally designates wealth of the material kind. One explanation suggests that chaat comes from the Hindi word “to lick,” while daulat refers to the sweet’s ephemerality. So if you’re lucky enough to be in Lucknow or Old Delhi in the winter, take advantage of the cool weather and enjoy a dish that can be as fleeting and sweet as good fortune.
Need to Know
The best nimish isn't sold in year-round brick-and-mortar shops, but seasonally, on the street from November to January or February. In food, as in romance, sometimes the most delicate things melt away when you try to grasp them.
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Where to Try It
Gol Darwaza, Chowk WebsiteGol Darwaza, Chaupatiyan, Chowk, Lucknow, 226003, India
Chowk is one of Lucknow's oldest outdoor markets. Visitors can find food vendors of all kinds, including Lucknow's famous kababs. In the winter, popular vendors sell airy clouds of nimish near the Gol Darwaza monument.