Thursday, May 16, 2013

Amritsar - The Food Capital of Punjab


Started in the morning at 9.30 am from Jalandhar to Amritsar with a slightly disturbed digestive system. The highway to Amritsar is a typical Punjabi set up with lush green fertile land with fields extending till horizon. Small hamlets popping up every 10 odd kilometer with the impeccable white glistening Gurudwaras and the houses of flamboyant Sikhs with the water tank essentially shaped as a football or a falcon. Falcon is an important bird associated with Sikhism. Remember the lines? “Chidiya naal je Baaz ladawaan taan Gobind Singh naam dharavaan” You are not an Indian if the Punjabi culture doesn’t impress you!

Mustard Fileds - The Essential Yash Chopra Movie Ingredients
Thanks to the Bollywood and Doordarshan, I have been hearing about these names since childhood – Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Phagwara and how I was there! The verdant green fields, the fertile land, fresh air and the lively attitude of people immortalized by these lines ‘Khao, piyo te aish karo mitro’ makes your trip worth. Punjab as such doesn’t appear on Indian map as a tourist destination. But almost everybody in India knows that life flows in full fervor here. Find a Punjabi friend who has a house in the countryside of the rustic Punjab and you will know why Yash Chopra was so obsessed with painting his films yellow with the fields of sarason (mustard)

I had been to Amritsar three years ago but it was a very breezy encounter. I had approached the city from the endearingly beautiful Dalhousie in HP. Didn’t get time to pay respect to Harmandar Sahib and horror of horrors…didn’t get good food to eat. I left that day with a sunken heart and had decided to return with full vigour. And after 3 years, there I was with 3 days at disposal and a big list of eateries to sink my teeth and my heart too.

I spent the whole afternoon resting and essentially giving rest to my guts who had revolted earlier night. They had faced the onslaught continuously for 3 days and needed a break. The revolt was so bad that I had become slightly doubtful about my plan in Amritsar. But still I had faith in myself and was expecting a quick recovery.

In the evening, I finally decided to go ahead with the planned itinerary. I was still not feeling any pang in my stomach even though I had skipped my breakfast and lunch on that day. I said to myself – a milk should not worsen the condition and besides, what are you doing if you are in Amritsar and haven’t had the lassi at Ahuja Milk Centre!!! It was a no brainer. I hired an auto and asked him to drive all the way to the Hindu Mahasabha College near Beri Gate. Ahuja Lassi is famous since the auto guy dropped me exactly in front of this shop.

Lassi is thick creamy drink made from yogurt and sugar especially popular in the northern region of India. Lassi in Punjab is legend and that too in Amritsar..then it has to be Ahuja Lassi! I love lassi and have tasted it at few places. I have to say that by far this is the best lassi I ever got to drink. Since 1955 if somebody hasn’t gone wrong with his main product then it is least likely that he’ll go wrong today. The graceful and lanky Mr. Ahuja oversees all the preparations and is sure about maintaining the quality. The lassi is served since morning 7 am to 12 noon (because it is finished J) and the second phase starts at 5 pm. You gotta be there on time!

The original form of lassi remains the best in my view. It has simple ingredients of yogurt and sugar. Now it is being modified by adding fruit pulps and dubbing as mango lassi, strawberry lassi etc etc. I have also tried the famous ‘makhaniya’ lassi  at Janata Sweet Home in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. But honestly, Ahuja scores ahead of all the lassis. Every glass of lassi here comes with a dollop of cream. What a start to my food exploration in Amritsar! I managed to strike a conversation with Mr. Ahuja telling him that I had been travelling through Punjab for tasting food and heard a lot about his lassi especially from Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma. He was mighty pleased to hear that and lo and behold…I got an extra dollop of cream on my lassi. My stomach never regretted from this point onwards!

P.S. Some people especially from Mumbai or Pune region may come up with suggestion for the best lassi they have had in their own areas. Thanks in advance for your valuable inputs!

Ahuja Lassi, Near Hindu Mahasabha College, Beri Gate, Amritsar
Taste – 10/10  Ambiance – 5/10 Service – 8/10 Value for Money – 10/10 (INR 25 for this fab lassi!)

My next destination was the Harmandir Sahib or popularly known as the Golden Temple. Since I had stomach full of lassi for the evening, I decided to pay my respect to this wonderful temple late in the night. To build up the appetite, I decided to walk to the Golden Temple through the almost deserted roads at 10.30 pm in the night. As I started nearing the temple, the commotion started increasing. Even at that point of time there was sizeable number of devotees visiting the temple but I guess most of them were done with paying their respect.

The Harmandir Sahib
As I entered the complex, I was enthralled by the beautiful view of the temple at night. The Harmandir Sahib was glistening in the golden hue and it was reflecting in the calm waters of the surrounding lake. The place was peaceful with minimal amount of visitors. After paying respect to Harmadir Sahib, I sat on the banks of the lake trying to grasp the tranquility of the surreal atmosphere.

After spending some time sitting quietly, I made my way to the famous Langar of the Harmandir Sahib. Langar is the term used in the Sikh religion or in Punjab in general for common kitchen/canteen where food is served in a Gurudwara to all the visitors (without distinction of background) for free. This particular langar feeds almost 70 k to 1 lac people in a day. There is no discrimination - no poor, no rich, no Sikh, no non-Sikh, no Indian, no foreigner. All are equal and they sit together to be served by the volunteers of the Harmandir Sahib, right from the distribution of utensils, serving the food and washing of the utensils. That is the ‘kar sevaa’ offered by the devotees here.

Langar at The Harmandir Sahib
I went and sat in the row with my utensils. Soon the sabzi and daal were served and then came the roti. I first extended my right hand to accept the roti. I was promptly told that I should be accepting the roti with both my hands as what I am getting is the holy offering. Honestly, it was such a simple meal yet so delicious. I enjoyed every morsel. However, I didn’t like the attitude of many people enjoying free food. They take everything for granted and leave so much of food in the plate. That’s disgraceful. If you respect God then have respect for food in your plate also. Many a times God must be meeting you when you are hungry and you eat the first morsel. Don’t dishonor that meeting!

The sabzi was a simple potato preparation with minimum spices and daal was the legendary kaali daal with ample amount of garlic giving it a sharp taste. The rice kheer (rice pudding) was delicious. I also found the mechanical water dispenser very interesting as it didn’t have any human intervention maintaining hygiene. In fact, the whole premise of the Harmandir Sahib is impeccably clean and you indeed feel like visiting a holy place.

Rocky Singh put his verdict for the food at Golden Temple in a very apt manner – “God bless you, who are we to pass verdict on this one”

My food journey in Amritsar had started on a fabulous note!
J

3 comments:

  1. Langar da parshad te ahuja di lassi....simply divine and love mayur's ode to this divinity! The maanh di daal at the langar is true bliss....aisa swad toh sirf maa ke haath mein milta hai! On your next trip do try the jalebis at Gurdas Ram....I have had jalebis at some of the best places,including chandni chowk,but this is unbeatable! Just back from Amritsar and my mouth is watering again.....many more delicacies await!

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