Saturday, September 27, 2014

Amritsar food trail

Clockwise from top left: Emblematically Amritsar... milkman with valtohi or brass milk-can; jalebi at Katra Ahluwalia;the authentic Amritsari kulcha; gulab jamun at Sharma Sweet Shop off Lawrence Road;Rana's fruit cream stall at Lohgarh Road; just-can't-be-missed kesar lassi at Ahuja Milk Bhandar in Dhab Khatikan; batter-coated Amritsari fried fish; peethi-poori at Kanha Sweets on Lawrence Road; and aloo tikki

There’s a popular Punjabi idiom: Tthid naa payayieen rotian te sabay gallan khotiyaan… If there’s no food in the stomach, everything looks fake. Somehow in Amritsar nothing ever looks fake; there’s always something in the stomach here! 

Amritsar is a city where food is passion. Who would know it better than local boy chef Vikas Khanna. ”If you ask anyone in Amritsar, ‘Kithon aa rahe ho… where are you coming from?’ chances are the person will say, ‘Main roti kha ke aa rehan haan…I’ve just had lunch and come’. For us Ambarsaris food reigns supreme,” he says in a matter of fact way as we begin the food trail organised as part of the launch of his new book, Amritsar: Flavours of a Golden City. Later, amiable Balraj Kang, District Tourist Officer, gives us his take on his city. “Adha Amritsar khaan vich mast rehnda hai, adha pakaan vich… half the city is busy in eating the other half in cooking.” 

In a city like that how could we stay away from food for too long. Let’s get on to the tastes we savoured at spots that were the chef’s personal picks. Most were established names, some dating back almost 90 years. Recipes from some of these eateries feature in his book too. 

Our first stop was for an appetizing breakfast consisting of peethi-poori, chhole, aloo launji, gur kara and lassi. The pooris were the piece de resistance. Mini footballs these, their size made most of us feel we wouldn’t go beyond one. But one bite and we couldn’t stop at one. Crisp and flavourful these looked deceptively oil-free! Of the accompaniments, the aloo launji was the tangy surprise. The sweetness of sugar had been blended delightfully with the sourness of tamarind to create this wonderful potato curry worthy of repeats.       
Here’s where:
Kanha Sweets, Lawrence Road
Taste-o-meter: 9/10

The chef had warned us to keep space for his favourite flat gulab jamun available next door. The lot of us arrived at the hole in the wall to be met by Sharmaji, who was busy stirring milk in his gigantic kadhai. The chef presented him with his new book, showering praises on his fare. Cameras buzzed and questions flew but Sharmaji remained unmoved by all the attention; his focus was purely on the milk. To which chef Khanna said, “This is passion! At this moment the man does not care who we are. His only concern is the milk which needs his top priority. A newbie chef would have rushed for a photo-op with me, but not him. He is totally involved. And that’s the first lesson for success in any profession.” 
Here’s where: 
Sharma Sweet House, Off Lawrence Road
Taste-o-meter: 7.5/10

Post the morning food session we proceeded for a heritage walk. Having burnt a few calories and sweated suitably under a blazing noon sun we were ready for another tryst with taste. It was time for lassi at one of the most popular places in town. Looking at the size of the glass, like most others in the group, I asked for the quantity to be reduced to one-third. No sooner than had we gulped it down that we were asking for refills. It was the best I had ever had. The kesar lassi gets my top vote. I tasted the masala paneer too, and relished its melt-in the-mouth texture. I got some packed for home and blissfully it survived the heat and dust.  
Here’s where:
Ahuja Milk Bhandar, Dhab Khatikan
Taste-o-meter: 9/10

This is one place our group missed visiting. But it should definitely be on the list of anyone coming into Amritsar. Maqbool Road’s kulcha-wala Sardarji is a legend and his stuffed kulcha is truly “all-India fames”, as his board once said before it was corrected to “Famous”!  Now there is no board, I hear. He ain’t in need of any. The Sardarji consistently gets his kulcha right and is known to shut shop, a true-blue roadside eatery, as soon as his kneaded flour gets over, which could be as soon as 3 pm. So…
Right click on image to see
published version
The test of a perfect kulcha lies in its crackle: once it’s out of the tandoor and on to your plate (glazed with a tempting dollop of butter) all you need to do is hold it in your hand and lightly crush it. If it gives a crackling sound you’ve got an ace, if not, another address needs to be tried. In flavour it should be flaky, crisp and moist. Besides the dough mix and the low-fire  tandoor that gives it its distinct flavour, it’s also the gheou (ghee) that does the trick. Nothing succeeds like ghee and it’s not for nothing they say in these parts of the country: Sau daaroo tey ek gheou... Despite a hundred medicines, nothing can match the value of desi ghee. 
Here’s where:
Kulchawala, Maqbool Road
Taste-o-meter: 9.5/10
* I will also recommend the stuffed kulcha served at Holiday Inn, Amritsar (, where I stayed. It was a winner in all respects. Once I had tasted it, everything else on the buffet ceased to exist.   

Our evening raid began on a snacky note with papdi-chat, aloo-tikki, bhel etc. The place was the popular Brijwasi Chat on Cooper Road. I found the stuff here below par, the aloo tikki being the only redeeming item. This joint gets my thumbs down.

Soon it was time for some kukad-shukad, meat te machhi. Though locals have a lot of personal favourites for tandoori chicken, keema naan and Amritsari fish, these neighbours are popular spots.   
Here’s where (on Majitha Road):  
Beera Chicken House
Taste-o-meter: 8/10
Makhan Fish
Taste-o-meter: 7.5/10

Prepared in a wooden balti 
We had eaten, actually seen, enough fare for a day. By the time we reached the fruit  cream stalls it was around 10 pm and we were quite satiated. The genial Balraj Singh insisted on us trying out this “different stuff”. How different  could good ol’ fruit cream be? Oh! It surely was. Another one-of-its-kind of Amritsar. It was not the fruit cream I had grown up eating at the Army messes. Nor was it the kind Grandpa liked Granny to make when he had his buddies over. It was, as Balraj ji said, “different”. And delicious. A nutty fruit cream, stuffed as it was with nuts, cashews most, and no banana (as most glow-signs in the vicinity mentioned), it was delicately sweet, lightly creamy and had a crunch in every bite. It was prepared the way the old-style balti-ice cream was, and magically, despite it being whisked pure cream, one never felt that unsavoury hint of milk-fat sticking to the palate. 
Here’s where:
Rana (fruit cream), Lohgarh Road
Taste-o-meter: 9.5/10

The trip was on an invitation by Roli Books and Punjab Heritage & Tourism Promotion Board 


Tushar said...

I was to write about delicious food in Amritsar that I had during visit but after reading your blog I am thinking how to write. :) And also thinking so many places yet to visit

bs said...

Thanks for your comment, Tushar. I saw your website. Very interesting. You write from the heart and with passion. Be yourself and continue to write. I will definitely read more at :)

sneha sri said...
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