Mallika Bajaj sets out on a sumptuous trail of the holy city’s street food
The heart of the city of Amritsar beats with the spiritual ethereality of the Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh shrines. Most come here seeking peace in the serene shrine and the sparkling waters of the surrounding sarovar (lake). The indomitable spirit of the city of Amritsar shines at Jallianwala Bagh’s bullet-ridden walls. One has but to step into the city to see the sparks of passion that inspired hundreds to lay down their lives for their country. But there is another reason why many come here – for the wonderfully varied street food that the city lanes offer. It is a place, which inspires food pilgrimages as much as religious and historical sojourns.
The aromatic and scrumptious memories of Amritsari food are made with fresh and locally-sourced ingredients along with the choicest of spices turned into delicacies. Local residents are very proud of their culinary heritage, which spells magic for gastronomic travellers! I start my food journey with the famous Amritsari lassi from Gian Di Lassi. It is a rich concoction, filling enough to be a meal in itself. As soon as you enter this tiny treasure trove, in the old neighbourhood of the city, you get a glimpse of Amritsar’s rich street food experience. There is barely any sitting space but that does not deter loyal customers from lining up for the legendary drink. The menu packs a punch despite having only four flavour options. A friendly suggestion comes: “try the pede wali lassi” and I agree. It’s creamy, loaded with dry fruits, flavoured with rose water and saffron, and in one word, heavenly. On an ordinary day, I would have given up my lunch after such a heavy starter but not today. The glutton in me has been awakened and a small walk is my way of getting ready for the next pit-stop, BrijWasi Chat Bhandar for some aloo tikki and dahi bhalla (deep-fried savouries).
For most North Indians, aloo tikki and dahi bhalla are staple street food delicacies but every region has its own version and the Amritsari avatar should not be missed! The bhallas, made with a paste of split black grams, soaked overnight and churned in the morning, are deep-fried in ghee (clarified butter). The fried balls are then soaked in water, after which they literally melt in your mouth. These are served with yoghurt, garnished with red chilli powder, cumin powder and heaps of fresh coriander and mint leaves. I order a plate of aloo tikki (mashed potato cutlets deep-fried and served with garnishes) packed for the way, while I join the queue for the famous Ram Karan Cool Point. Refresh your palate here with colourful chuskis (flavoured snow cones). The most popular flavour is kaala khatta, a sour and sweet combination.
After all this food, I feel full and decide to take a digestive break. I start exploring the pedestrian-friendly city. You can visit the colourful markets, or take a tour of Jallianwala Bagh or better yet, enjoy a soulful time at Golden Temple, listing to the hymns. The glory of the Sikh shrine will leave you feeling calm and ready to embark on the next phase of the food spree. You can also visit Durgiana Mandir and rejuvenate not just your spirit but also your appetite. If it is lunch time in Amritsar, pause a moment and see the flow of happy pilgrims. Most of them will flow either towards Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) for the famous langar (a community meal that’s on 24X7) or Bharawan da Dhaba. At the latter, get ready for the pièce de résistance of Amritsari food! Bharawan da Dhaba is famous for its kulchas, an Indian sour bread. The Amritsari variety is stuffed with fillings like potato, onion or cottage cheese. The kulcha is fluffy and crispy and exceptionally delicate. It is accompanied by chole, a wonderfully-balanced spicy curry made of chickpeas and a variety of pickles. The restaurant is big, but not enough for the number of people queuing up to eat at this culinary heaven.
For a sweet finish to the perfect Amritsari feast, head over to Gurudass Ram Jalebi Wala. It is a little hole-in-the-wall shop but don’t be fooled by its quaintness. The aroma of fresh jalebi and gulab jamun (sweetmeats) wafts through the winding street and pulls you in even before you can quite locate the shop. The jalebis, thin, crisp and crackling, are perfect in any weather. The friendly chef serves jovial conversation along with every plate of the decadent perfection.
The author is an avid traveller and the views expressed in this article are her own