The lassi cooler

The Delhi Metro makes me feel peckish. What quick snack could I get? Outside the metro station was a very crowded paratha place. It smelt good, but a paratha is not a small snack. Around the corner I found matkas full of lassi, cooling in cold cabinets bearing logos of giants of retail who are locked in a perpetual battle like the Arisians and Eddorians or the Kree and the Skrull. I don’t mind the pop culture of The Empire, but I would rather have a lassi than sugared water for a snack. One matka was enough for two of us.

Some dhabas and restaurants in Amritsar

Amritsar is a food lover’s destination, as I wrote in an earlier post, when I took you on a tour of its street food. I’ve also written about the langar ka khana at the Golden Temple. Let me whisk you through lunch and dinner today. Our stay was too short for us to try out a larger number of places. I had short listed a few eateries before starting, based on reading other travelers’ stories, but it was too long. Coincidentally, a couple we know were traveling at the same time, and, by exchanging notes with them, we eliminated a couple of places where their experience was not so good, or very close to what we had already tried. We didn’t only go by what other travelers recommended though. There’s nothing like the advise of locals, and we incorporated them.

Paratha

There are several places which people recommend for parathas, but I’d read about Kesar da Dhaba in old memoirs of Amritsar. It dates from well before Gandhi’s Salt March, and its location in the very atmospheric lanes east of Darshani Deori added to its charm. We wandered through those lanes, and picked up some local achar, before reaching the dhaba. We were not at all disappointed by the butter-soaked parathas and the dal (featured photo). It was not easy to have that plate and finish our superbly creamy lassi. The dal is cooked for twelve hours, we were told, but the paratha is absolutely fresh from the tandoor.

Amritsari Fish

The locals agreed with travelers about Makhan’s Fish. The Amritsari style of fish is either baked in the tandoor or lightly fried. Two kinds of fish are commonly used, Sangara (red snapper) and Sohal, which, I was told, is a local fresh water fish. Our server advised a fried Sangara and a tandoori Sohal. The preparation was typical of genuine Punjabi cooking, light on masala, and emphasizing the freshness of the ingredients. I overdid things a little by adding on a plate of the mutton tikka. This was an amazing dish, the pieces of mutton cooked in ghee until they were soft and melting. The Family went light on the mutton because she wanted to end the dinner with a kulfi. We hadn’t had kulfi in Amritsar before, but I could only have a little taste of their delicate saffron infused version.

Kulchas and Puris

Amritsar Kitchen is not on any traveler’s list, because it opened in early 2020, just before the lockdown. But their food is amazing. The Family had kulchas for breakfast, but I tried out their puris. They came with a choice of one of four accompaniments, but the servers were happy to let me taste all four: the usual potato sabji, another of pumpkin (sweet from the pumpkin and a slight sourness of amchur), one of chana, and one of sprouted moong. Anirudh gave me a taste of something they were trying out: a masala gur. A nice accompaniment.

Paya and mutton paratha

We almost didn’t get to what I consider the high point of this trip, as far as food was concerned: Pal Dhaba. We arrived for dinner on a Tuesday, when it is closed. So we went back for lunch the next day. I’m glad we did. They have a superb paya (goat’s feet, it’s called kharora here). Its rich taste told us that it had been slow cooked for a long time. Another delight was the keema paratha. The old man who served us sat down at the next table and told us about the keema. The minced mutton had been slow cooked till it yielded up its fat, then cooked until it had been absorbed again. I fell in love with it, and ordered a second one. I did not need a dinner that night.

Khaugarh

A vendor in Amritsar told me to forget about my diet, now that I was in Khaugarh, the city of food. This is good advise, and you probably know it already. Before my trip I did the usual bit of due diligence: did a search for what to eat in Amritsar. The result was a set of web pages which had clearly copied from each other. Take the suggestions as guides, they are quite good. But be prepared to improvise. If street food is your thing then you’ll find amrit, ambrosia, in the maze of lanes around the Golden Temple. This was a walk I’d been looking forward to, and I can do worse than to present it by time of the day.

Breakfast

The featured photo shows a kulcha maker sizing me up as a potential customer. The kulcha is the default breakfast in town. There are whole lanes devoted entirely to kulcha and chhole, teeming with people in the mornings. But the shops run all day, turning out kulchas by the minute, as a big handi of chhole slow cooks constantly. I loved the variety, the doodhi kulchas and the stuffed ones. If you don’t fancy chhole, try it out with a bowl of the wonderful yoghurt that these places have.

A mid-morning snack

Why not a kulcha again? I loved the aggressive lean of the chhole-kulcha guy in the little stall he’d set up in an alley. There’s also lovely stuff like samosas and fried bread. We chickened, and had a chai. This wasn’t for the faint-hearted; it was thick with milk and cream, the tea leaves boiled to extract the last bit of tannin from it, and intensely sweet. A local told us disdainfully that this guy mixes water in the tea. A different stall nearby would have boiled the tea leaves in milk. If you want to eat healthy there are carts which will press juice out of the fruits of your choice. I always long to mix carrot with sugarcane and lime, but I passed it up.

We passed up kulfas (large servings of kulfi) and had the fantastic lassi only once. These would have been very filling, and we did want to try out lunch and dinner in some of the dhabas and restaurants around the city.

Early evenings

A while before sunset on a winter’s day you could begin to feel the need for a little sustenance. There are multiple options. A group of farmers who’d just returned from Delhi were having gol gappa. I have not doubt that the Amritsari version is special, but I gave it a pass. Pakoras were being fried, yams were being roasted, and two carts promised a special bhel puri from Bombay. But we headed to the jalebiwala. I chickened when I saw people buying them by quarter kilos for a roadside snack. But The Family went ahead and asked for one to taste. Noticing the bliss on her face another customer told her “I’m forbidden from having them, but I come here once a week.” Every vendor has their adherent. These fans are not wrong. The cooks who last are very good.

Pre-dinner snack

When you walk through the lanes here, looking for good angles for shots of the famous and less well-known Gurudwaras, it will be time for dinner before you know it. But to keep you going from the time you realize it is time, to when you actually get to your dinner, there are options. One guy was making what he called veg burgers. In Mumbai we would call it vada pav. But the star of the evening was clearly milk with saffron: kesari dodh. People had it in large glasses by itself, and with kulfi, jalebi, gulab jamun, or pinni.

For us it was time to look for an interesting dinner. There are so many options!