Amir Khusro’s great words “Gar firdous bar-rooh-e-zameen-ast, hameen-asto, hameen-asto, hameen-asto” If there was paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.
These words are famously used to describe the beauty of Kashmir, but if you are a foodie, and you are in Amritsar, you know that you have reached Food Heaven, a Paradise of Sorts, that has wonderful options, from the Lovely Langar at The Golden Temple, to the Orgasmic Flavours this town holds. Some claim this is due to the amount of Desi Ghee that is used in the food, while some claim it is the love of the people, and the art of making great food, some even go on to say it is the 5 Aab [ Five Waters ] of Punjab that make the flavor, well to me and Harpreet it does not matter what gives it that special taste, we are foodies, and here to spend the next few days eating.
As quite a few of you would know from my previous blog post, Harpreet is turned 40 this weekend, and to celebrate her 40th Birthday, what better than to be in the city of bliss, visiting the Golden Temple, and eating some wonderful prayers.
We started driving from Delhi on Friday early in the morning, 6:30 AM we were off, and it was an 8 hour drive, that included stopping for about 30 minutes to catch a break, go to the washroom and for me to fill myself with caffine, the great part of travelling with Harpreet is that there is always great food in the car, we had burgers with wasabi and chili eggs, chips, juices for our on the way snack only to avoid a stop over, and when we did stop at the Jallandhar Mc’Donalds it was only to have a cup of coffee, take a break and drive on.
Approximately 1:40 PM we make it to Amritsar, we are still outside the city and the city is getting cleaned up, we hear that the Home Minister Raj Nath Singh ji is visiting this Sunday and The Prime Minister of India, Sh. Narender Modi ji is arriving on Monday. The local public works department, police and every other allied government body is full at work, lamp posts are being painted, made sure each light is working, streets getting cleaned and there is so much police everywhere that the town looks like as if it’s getting ready for the chief guest’s arrival anytime.
We land up directly at our first stop in Amritsar, for the past few times, in Green Avenue with Pappi Uncle to eat his Dubki. A dubki is made when a kulcha is submerged in chick peas and kept there, this way the juices from the chick peas curry imbibe in the kulcha and it becomes soft and tasty. Pappi uncle uses an old barrel in which he ferments chickpeas early in the morning, he then dips a hard kulcha in these chickpeas and it’s curry, covers it with slivers of onions and green chillies. Depending on the season you are in, you either get raw mango slices on top or an amla pickle to add the sourness to this mix, and since it’s march it was our time to have alma’s. Greeted by the Staff and Pappi uncle himself, that we had come in after quite a few days, we sat down for our portion of Kulcha Each, and promised ourselves not to over eat at Pappi Uncle, as we had this huge list of places that needed to be eaten at. I cheated and ordered a Matthi with Channe Also, and a few minutes later it was time to go. At Rs. 30 a piece, the bill came to just Rs. 90 and we were ready to head out and check into our hotel, but before that, we had another thing to do, to head down to Ahuja at Lohgarh Gate to get the best Kesar Lassi in town
For the last few trips we have stayed at the Radisson, right next to the Airport, but since this was a holiday where we were going to spend most of our time in and around the city center finding places to eat, we thought we will stay in the city. Our booking was done using Make My Trip for the Country Inn and Resorts, only to find out that there is another Country Inn, where we had actually booked… anyway checking into the hotel we found out that the rooms were decent, and since we had not booked for breakfast to be included, it was a clean enough place to sleep, the rooms were of a decent size, and the linen clean, and the washrooms ample in size – just the way we like it.
By about 5:15 in the evening we had to meet some in Amritsar, an introduction from another friend, to know more people locally, a pleasant meeting and a few conversations later, leaving with a thought if a person can actually name their child with just numbers, say call your son or daughter 123456 and if the government will issue them a passport, and if this passport will be recognized internationally, we had enough material for our geek minds to stay energized while we roamed around the streets of Amritsar and got some great food in us.
We had on this trip decided not to revisit any of our old places, yes there were a few exceptions, but we wanted to try some places that were recommended by friends, but we never got to them or some places that we just found out by asking the local people around, and one such place for our dinner this evening was Kesar Ka Dhaba at Passiyaran Chowk. They say when you are going to Kesar ka Dhaba and in the alley that leads up to it, if you stop and ask for directions, chances are people will respond – oh you are heading to Kesar, It’s this way. Some how in all our trips we had heard so much about Kesar ka dhaba, that we wanted to give it a skip, considering it will be yet another Brahavan the Dhaba or Brothers Dhaba as they have split up now, but only to be surprised we were walking in this narrow lane only to come and discover a small little place with a huge queue and waiting outside.
A few minutes later we grabbed a table, and asked the server to bring us two thalis, one Aloo Thali and one Paneer thali, and he reminded us, that a Thali is usually good for two people and we were over ordering, Harpreet Smirked and said – he does not know how much we can eat.. Anyway we went with his consideration and got a Thali on our plate, one Aloo Parantha and one Paneer Parantha (remember this is not the Amritsari Kulcha). It came with a Side of Chick Peas, Kaali Daal, Raita, Onions and Lemon Pickle. They were kind enough to give us two plates. The Parantha’s were crisp when they arrived and tasty. Kesar had the best chick peas we have ever tasted. The Dal though had a whole lot of Desi Ghee in it, and the Desi Ghee overwhelmed the subtle flavours of the daal and it’s spcies. We were told that the Daal is cooked at 4AM in the morning, and is ready by 11 AM when they start serving.
What was interesting about these Parantha’s was the Sesame seeds on them, which not only tasted great but added a wonderful texture to each bite..
4 Parantha’s down, a Bottle of Thumbs up was needed to push down all this, and it was time for desert, we ordered a Phirni, which we were told is very different from the Phirni that we have been used to having, and were reminded by our server, that the Matka Kulfi was special so we got a portion of that.
When you eat like this, and it is a man and woman who end up finishing not only 4 Parantha’s, but also ask for more onions and pickles, followed up by two deserts, there is a glow that your server has, the one that you see in a man v/s food battle where man wins.
The Phirni was very nice, in addition to rice, sugar and milk it also had khoya, that made it thicker and taste somewhere between a regular phirni and barfi. The kulfi had a beautiful texture, and reminded me of an taste of a bygone era, those of us as a child eating tuti-fruti from those local ice cream vendors, it some how tasted just like that.
A bill of Rs. 455 was a steal for this meal. Then we were ushered in if we wanted to take a look at the kitchen, where they made everything. This is a true sign of a restaurant that really loves what they are doing. Their kitchen in no manner was a world class kitchen, people were sitting and making kulchas, a man specialised in setting up plates of onions with pickles, while a man was busy putting the ghee wala tadka to daal.. Systematic, clean, precise and doing what they do best.. Making the best food in Amritsar.
Our tummies were full and we knew that we had over eaten, the only way out of all this was to go down to the Golden Temple offer our prayers, and tell the lord, oh how we had sinned.. Though we were still not promising that we will not do this again – as a matter of fact we were here to do just that, sin and pray.
Wrapping up the night with prayers, listening to beautiful keertan, and staying back for the samapti, our first day was done… now it was time to go back to our hotel and get some sleep, make sure we are fresh for the next day.
Our Day 1 Consisted of the Following Places
- Pappi Di Dubki, Green Avenue
- Ahuja Lassi, Lohgarh Gate
- Kesar Da Dhaba, Passiyaran Chowk
For those of you who are going to do this food circuit, remember, that you can drive up to Green Avenue and eat at Pappi uncle’s, but for Ahuja park your car outside the Lohgarh gate, and walk inside, similarly for Kesar Da Dhaba, it is adviceable to park your car outside Lohgarh Gate and walk to the Dhaba or take a rickshaw – do not attempt to take your car in the by lanes of the old city of Amritsar, as you will end up being stuck there for a long long time.
As some of you would know, I lost my iPhone a few days back. All the pictures in this journey were taken with the Blackberry Passport in 1:1 Format, and are posted here straight out of the camera.