Food Capital Of India – Amritsar
As a child I always cherished memories of travelling to Amritsar either during my summer vacations or winter vacations. Winters for me were more enjoyable than summers, I would be eating great food at my granny’s house and would always love the Sarson ka Saag, Makai ki roti, jaggery, dollops of butter, gajrela, and the list is endless. By the time I would realize the vacation time was over and we would travel back to our home town Kharagpur with loads of Peaches, walnuts and apples.
As I grew up I did not get the time to visit Amritsar very often but off late due to my work and activities, I have been once again blessed to visit the City. Now that I am a grown lad and more so a Chef, I stop at every nook and corner to relish the taste of the vast variety of food that Amritsar has to offer.
There is a common saying in Amritsar “half the population of Amritsar is eating and the rest half are cooking”…have hearty laughs to this one.
I was recently in Amritsar and took a complete food journey from morning to evening ate so much that it is not a regular man’s cup of tea.
My day began with a cup of tea in the famous Giani Tea Stall and here people come after their regular walks, gym and ask for tea and Kachori. Now I asked a few elderly people on why they would have Kachori after a great workout, the answer led a loud burst of laughter. It was more a balancing weight act than anything else.
Followed with breakfast at the Famous Kulcha house and no kidding, this man sells probably more breads than any five star hotels in India. Each kulcha is nice and crisp, topped with loads of butter and no “Kanjusi” on the application of butter. It comes with chana masala and hot and sour chutney with onions. The best part is that the chana masala is unlimited; keep asking for more and more and the man will serve you a large bowl and leave it for you to help yourself. It is owned by Sonu a simple man who you will see working either on the Tandoor or standing behind his desk.
After having two of those I preferred to walk down to the famous Lawrence road “Kanha sweets”. A famous sweet shop known for its Sunday breakfast rather than an all-day set up. People often come here for sweets and breakfast only on Sundays. The aloo kilaunji along with Puri is amazing. He also serves a family Puri which is huge and the owner did secretly share with me that the weight of the dough to make the family Puri is close to about 600 gms. Now go figure, the size of it. The Puri comes crisp and bloated like a football, would stay bloated for more than half an hour. The Puri was not so much of a delight as the aloo kilaunji. I first thought that it was made from onions, tomato and masalas but the owner shared that it was purely made from Tamarind pulp. It’s taste was something which I can still remember.
The variety of sweets specially Pinnis you can try but what caught my attention was Chenna Murki Mithai made from Paneer, it’s a must try! Crisp from outside and juicy from inside. Now that I have had a heavy breakfast some digestives are required.
Just opposite to Kanha Sweets you will find Lubhaiya Ram Aam Papad Wala, who has travelled abroad more than what I have done in my entire life. He has been moving around the world with just his Aam Papad for weddings and events.
Aam Papad served here had two varieties the wet one and the dry one. Now for most people who did not know aam papad colour changes with the variety of mango used. It is a laborious job but who can forget an aam papad. Here, dry one is sold as per weight. The owner after weighing about 250 gms for me, tore the aam papad into small edible pieces and placed them on a butter paper, sprinkled his home special masala, lemon juice, folded the butter paper and rubbed on his palm and served. The taste got enhanced and with one bite, you will see an eruption of juices in your mouth.
Another place I visited for Lunch was selling only Mutton curry in the afternoon. Opens at about 11 am and closes at 4 pm, the famous Prakash meat wala. This man only sells mutton curry and tandoori roti. As you enter his small shop, just outside you will see a huge kadai of mutton curry being cooked. Approximately, he would be selling around 50-60 kgs of mutton every day and by 4 pm everything is finished. The best part is the unlimited gravy, a taste which reminds me of my father’s cooking at home.
Anybody’s visit to Amritsar is not complete if he does not visit Kesar ka Dhaba sitting in the by-lanes behind Golden temple run by the third generation now. It is one of the, to do lists in Amritsar, ask any rickshawala he will take you there. Kesar ka Dhaba serves thali, a few things which I can guarantee you for is Dal which I personally saw in their kitchens cooked on slow flame for hours together, the paratha the best I have eaten so far in the world, crisp from outside and soft from inside.
Moving ahead, I decided to give my stomach a much needed rest before the night life began. The most surprising element is that the city is almost vegetarian until the evening. However, as the Sun goes down the non-vegetarian shops spring up from nowhere and suddenly some of the famous ones are all crowded.
My evening began with Makhan’s fish. Simple fried fish with minimal coating and a generous sprinkle of masala makes it awesome. The coating of the fish was besan, ajwain, turmeric, homemade garam masala and that’s it. The Fish was half fried and kept on display. You order your required portion, ½ kg or 1 kg. Apart from all the great taste, the fresh water fish from the rivers of Punjab had its own sweet taste.
Moving further, around the same corner you had Beera’s Chicken and Seekh Kabab. I did taste seekh kabab and the tandoori chicken. What I found was that a tandoori chicken and seekh kabab cooked in an open spit grill was juicier than cooked in a tandoor. However, the sprinkle of all the home made masala was always the secret of each and every one, which actually adds to the taste.
Lassi is something synonymous with every Punjabi and a glass full is something will actually fill up your stomach and you will not ask for anything more. I had the Pedhey ki lassi which was out of the world.
The best part was that the man rubbed the Peedha with his mathni until the oil was extracted out of the peedha and then the procress began with addition of yoghurt and milk. Out of curiosity I just had one peedha and I tell you I have not eaten anything like that anywhere in the world. The lassi was great but the Peedha was better.
Visit to Amritsar is not complete if you have not eaten the Satpura, hot Jalebis around the golden temple area.I have also not seen one thing anywhere in the country which is only available in Amritsar called Milk Rose. It is a unique aerated rose flavoured milk drink. An old shop just outside the Golden temple would serve two flavours Rose Milk and Pineapple flavoured drink. The shop is now no more there neither will you find the aerated milk drink anymore in Amritsar
A few things which I definitely vouch for although I have no scientific reason to it but I know for sure that whatever you eat in Amritsar, gets digested – is it the water, the atmosphere or is it just a belief but there is something that really works for the City.
With loads of memories I now want to keep going back again and again to relish the great flavors and food of Amritsar. And of course not to forget that visit to Amritsar is not complete without spending some quiet moments inside the Golden temple and what better that having Langar flavours which I have cherished throughout my life and so will you.
Most hospitality professionals should definitely take a cue from Amritsar, people strongly believe that each shop should only specialize and not do everything like what the Indian hospitality entrepreneurs do. The owners also have the audacity to do business at their terms and do not do it all day long; they have specific timings for opening and closing. Even if the queue is long, they believe that their business is meant only for a specific meal period and beyond that it won’t work. Everybody is happy doing business the same way across in Amritsar.
My journey with you has just begun and in the next blog will take you through another interesting food city of India, till then plan your trip to visit Amritsar.