All those things you've heard about Amritsar's warm hospitality are all true. This is a city that feeds 100,000 pilgrims in the world's largest community kitchen. It's the langar at Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple that's at the very heart of this city's largesse. It's the same generosity you will find in the rich ingredients that go into some of the city's popular dishes. Oodles of butter in the kulchas and dollops of hand-churned butter floating in lassis (at establishments like Gian Chand and Ahuja) that are a meal in itself. Amritsar is certainly not for those who count their calories.
(Also Read: 7 Unusual Punjabi Dishes I Tried in Amritsar)
Aside from the sheer magical vibe of the Golden Temple, it's Amritsar's wholesome food that keeps bringing me back almost every other winter. The routine is almost the same each time - a visit to some of the iconic eateries feature in every Amritsar city guide and a local discovery that's still not quite on the radar of Instagrammers and tourists. Just a few weeks ago, I was in the city to check out the Courtyard by Marriott that is close to some of the city's popular food establishments on Mall road. The hotel's Amritsar Kitchen brings some of the city's popular dishes including the Kulcha aside from international cuisine. The hotel's Executive Chef Anirudh Deshpande has spent the last few years in Amritsar and he joined me as we explored some of the city's popular culinary hotspots. While our culinary trail began at the popular Kesar da Dhaba with a century old legacy, it ended at a spot that is more popular with locals.
We take you through four food spots that don't always figure on the city's usual food guides:
Kulchas at Maqbool road
There's no city that does the Kulcha better. Kulcha Land on Ranjit Road is particularly popular with tourists and also patronised by locals. But my favourite spot is a nondescript eatery. It was Celebrity Chef and restaurateur Vikas Khanna who uncovered this eatery at Maqbool road that doesn't even have a signage, during a visit a few years ago. Maqbool Road Kulchawala hasn't dropped the ball since then. This kulcha with its flaky almost crispy crust and the soft inside with a potato filling is scrumptious.
(Also Read: Kulcha Recipe)
The colours and flavours of Rambagh Market
In October 2018, the Rambagh gate, one of Amritsar's iconic landmarks was restored to its former glory. The vibrant Rambagh market, a multi-sensory experience is next to this restored structure. I'd recommend walking through this market just after breakfast when you can check out fresh produce. The vibrant colours at the pickle shops - you'll find dozens of varieties here, and the spice shops will guarantee Instagram love. Try out some of these piquant pickles or Amritsar's famous masala gud - desi gud (jaggery) spiked with spices like saunf.
(Also Read: 11 Best Pickle Recipes | Easy Pickle Recipes)
You can find a large variety of pickles in Rambagh Market, Amritsar
The charms of Charming Chicken
There's an infectious appeal about restaurants that are driven by proud owners who refuse to take a step back or yield to temptation and slip into franchise mode. Amarjeet Singh Basher is one such business owner. Charming Chicken is probably the 'go-to' spot for butter chicken among local foodies and is just across the road for Makhan (well-known its signature fish tikka) and Beera Chicken, two iconic establishments. The butter chicken here is a welcome departure from the mildly sweet versions that are more commonplace, while the unique layered (lachha style) garlic naan is the other must-try dish. There's a good chance you'll run into the owner as he multi-tasks between taking orders, spending time in the kitchen and also snapping images of guests with his DSLR for the restaurant's Facebook page.
Jalebis at Gurdas Ram Jalebiyan Wale
I still remember an interesting debate that started at this hole in a wall establishment. I was with popular Mumbai-based food blogger Kalyan Karmakar and we both concurred that these were the best jalebis we'd ever sampled, anywhere in India. There were a couple of others in the group who disagreed - their vote went to the equally famous jalebis in Varanasi, a city with a formidable reputation for this sinful hot dessert. I still swear by the piping hot jalebis here that have become a cult favourite - no food colours or flavours. The only thing I still haven't learnt after multiple visits here is how not to burn my tongue.
(Also Read: 11 Popular Indian Dessert Recipes)
You can find mouth-watering, hot and fresh jalebi at Gurdas Ram Jalebiyan Wale, Amritsar
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