Julia Child once said, “People who love to eat are always the best people”.
We, Indians, love our food. We protect our recipes. We take (somewhat) pride in our methods of preparation. No two dishes taste the same here. In fact, the same dish would taste different as you move locations & landscapes. This is where it gets adventurous. The strong interest in rediscovering the lost taste of a delicacy or obsession with tracking a unique food preparation takes you to numerous culinary expeditions. Back in 2017, I undertook an expedition of my own when I visited the city of flavours, Amritsar.
It was an overnight train journey from Ghaziabad to Amritsar (the last train ride I took). We were to arrive by 6 am. The constant calls of ‘Chaiwallahs’ & the ongoing conversations in our compartment worked as an alarm clock & got me up an hour earlier than I would have. There was a middle-aged couple seated on the lower berths. Opposite to them sat a girl in her early 20s, on the side berth of the compartment. The chirpiness in her tone suggested that she had her home in Ambarsar*. That also explained why she was (so enthusiastically) doling out free tips on ‘where to eat’ in the city to everyone around her. The more she talked, the hungrier I got. By the time, we arrived in Ambarsar, my insides were craving for the divine dish of the city – the famous, Tandoor-cooked, stuffed Kulcha.
*Ambarsar is the colloquial name of Amritsar (Like a nickname)
We reached our hotel in time for breakfast. I could smell the faint aromas of freshly cooked food in the reception area. Before I knew, I had a heavy ceramic plate in my hands, filled with generous servings of chole & rice. They served tea & fresh out-of-Tandoor Kulchas on the table. The first bite was heavenly. So was the second, and the third, fourth, fifth…I stopped only after eating four Kulchas that morning. With this flavoursome start, I spent my short stay in Ambarsar filling my soul with spiritualism & practising gastronomy.
The out-of-this-world Amritsari Kulcha
They say that no matter where you go, you don’t find a Kulcha as delicious & flaky as they make in Amritsar.
If I have to pick one place that serves out-of-this-world Kulchas, that has to be – Kulcha Land, Ranjit Avenue. With a casual sitting arrangement & a menu with only five items, they know they are acing it. The Kulchas are served with chole, chutney & pickled onions & form a full meal. When you take the first bite of that creamy, soft kulcha, you congratulate yourself for choosing to visit Kulcha Land. In the second bite, a smile appears on your face. With the third bite, you forget the whole world around you. It’s just you and your kulchas, and nothing else!
Maa ki Daal & Tandoori Paranthas
After you have had Kulchas for one/ two or three meals, mix it up a little. Visit the celebrated, more than 100 year old, Kesar Da Dhaba, Chowk Passion, Near Town Hall. Order yourself a thali that will be served with crispy Tandoori Paranthas laden with White Butter, a bowl of Maa ki Daal & another bowl of pindi chole. One person can’t finish the whole thali no matter how hungry they are. Nobody wants to share their thali either because it looks so delicious that you get greedy, and you want to finish it all by yourself.
You see they don’t just serve food, they serve emotions too.
In Punjab, do as Punjabis do. Make merry, stay happy, eat freely & drink tall glasses of Lassi. Along with Kulchas, Tandoori Paranthas, Chole & Daal, Ambarsar also serves the best Lassi in the world. Served in Tall Glasses, topped with Cream & grated dry fruits, Lassi is a shot of immortality nectar. The more you drink it, the more you crave.
For Lassi, check out Gian di Lassi, Opposite Regent Cinema, near Hathi Gate or Ahuja Milk Bhandar, near Hindu College, Hathi Gate or order a glass in Kesar da dhaba.
Jalebi & Chai
How can we miss the desserts? There are many options available to satiate your sweet tooth’s cravings in the city, and the most popular is Jalebi. The twisted, fried and dipped in sugar syrup Jalebi fills me with happiness no matter when, where or how I eat it.
Most of us have our personal favourite food combinations with Jalebi such as Samosa and Jalebi, Poha and Jalebi, Dhokla and Jalebi, White Bread & Jalebi or Bhujiya and Jalebi.
My favourite is of course Chai & Jalebi.
Where to find it? Check: Gurdas Ram Jalebi Wale for Jalebi & Giani Tea Stall for tea.
When you visit Swarn Mandir (Sri Harmandir Sahib), practise silence. Look around, breathe in the holy air & absorb the energy of the place. After the darshan, remember to extend your hands & accept a generous serving of Kada Prasad.