I spent this winter break more than 7,000 miles away from frosty New York, experiencing India after a gap of nearly 8 months. I got back to the city 2 days ago, and as I lie in bed, awake and hungry at 7:30 AM (absurdly early for me, thank you 10.5-hour time difference!), I find my mind wandering to the food I ate while in Amritsar, a city in the North Indian state of Punjab.
For those who don’t know, Amritsar is most famous for the Golden Temple, formally known as Harminder Sahib, which means ‘the abode of God’. With more than 100,000 people visiting the temple everyday, it’s the holiest place of worship for those belonging to the Sikh religion. The gurdwara, or place of worship, is resplendent in its gold-plated and jewel-embedded beauty.
The food in Amritsar is a reflection of its most famous monument; everything is truly golden. The Amritsaris don’t believe in moderation- everything is ladled with desi ghee, making even the most ordinary looking roti a treat for the palette. We only had 36 hours to spend in the city, so prior to our arrival, based on recommendations from friends living there, we carefully curated a list of 5 places to visit in order to satiate our appetites.
As soon as we landed in Amritsar, we headed to Kulcha Land. As the name suggests, it is the place to go if you’re craving kulchas, which are types of bread made of wheat flour, sometimes stuffed with cottage cheese, meats, and vegetables.
This plate contains kulchas stuffed with aloo-gobi (a mixture of cauliflower and potatoes marinated with spices), a paneer (or cottage cheese) kulcha, and my personal favorite, a masala kulcha (a plain kulcha sprinkled with herbs and spices).
Next on our list was Makhan Fish & Chicken Corner. Amritsari fish has been one of my favorite dishes since I first tasted it as a child, and I can’t stress how delectable each bite is. The fish at Makhan is as authentic as it gets. While there is a sit-down restaurant, the roadside stall next to it— from where the dish originally gained popularity— is what I would recommend.
The adept chefs marinate river-fish in an aromatic blend of mustard, herbs, and spices. Then they fry finger-shaped pieces of it in a large pot of oil, until it’s a perfect golden color. Season it with chaat- masala and some lemon, dip it in some green chili chutney, and the best Amritsari fish you will ever eat awaits!
The next day, my first stop was Gian Chand Milk Bhandar early in the morning for their famous Gian di Lassi. For the uninitiated, lassi is a heavy milk preparation; essentially, it’s breakfast in a drink. One sip into my chilled glass of sweet lassi and I could tell why it was famous across the city: a succulent blend of chilled yogurt, water, sugar, and butter, it kept me going till lunchtime.
For lunch, we went to the even more famous Kesar da Dhaba. A pure vegetarian establishment that can trace its origins back a hundred years, we were told we simply couldn’t leave Amritsar without a meal at Kesar. We ordered the thali, a large platter which included two stuffed paranthas (another type of Indian bread), dal makhani (lentils), chana masala (a preparation of chickpeas with hints of garlic, tomatoes, ginger, and other spices), and a serving of curd.
Every bite of the potato-stuffed parantha, dipped in the aromatic dal and chana, tickled my taste buds the way only food cooked in ghee can.
After polishing off our thalis, we managed to scrape up some appetite for dessert- a glorious serving of phirni, a type of rice pudding flavored with saffron, cardamom, and nuts, traditionally served in dishes made of clay. Despite allocating a fraction of our appetites for dessert, we ended up ordering two rounds of it; I can safely say that the phirni at Kesar was possibly the best I’ve ever eaten.
With Kesar ended our food tourism of Amritsar, but not before we revisited Makhan to take some half-cooked fish back to Delhi, where we cooked it in a curry a night after returning.
It took two days of detoxing to recover from the Amritsar food coma we were all in, but it was totally worth it. The trip was not only fulfilling on a spiritual level, but also gastronomically delightful.
P.S.- Shout out to Kanhaiya Sweets, where two members of my party had breakfast. They said it was the best Indian breakfast they’d ever eaten!