Amritsar is best known for the Golden Temple, a spiritual site for the Sikh community as well as for love of food. This makes it one of India’s best known cities for great food and food lovers. So for one, who is a foodie Amritsar is the place to go.
Amritsar is definitely the place for the best ‘kulcha’, even better than kulchas made in other parts of Punjab. One such famous Kulcha place in Amritsar is Kulwant situated near the Golden Temple and Kulacha Land both of which are a part of a chain.
Tastier are the Kulchas of Kulwant, very small, but very famous, crowded with people eager to have a bite from this strange looking food joint. Having less space in hand, they have a small floor above for preparing the kulcha and placing the freshly made kulchas in a bucket and lowering it down for the eagerly waiting customers. The success of a good kulcha lies in its layers. The dough needs to be rolled in thin layers and laden with ghee and put in shape to form a proper kulcha. Stuffing of potatoes and cauliflower are very common but it is the desire of the maker to stuff it with the stuffing of his choice.
Baking the kulcha in a tandoor is yet another technique in which the temperature of the tandoor needs to be moderate, lest the layers will not fluff up, the laden ghee will melt down and leaving the kulcha in a sad state. Also it is essential that a wood fired tandoor be used as it is much better than the modern gas ovens.
The person operating the tandoor too needs to be experienced enough to judge the temperature of the tandoor and to judge when the kulcha is ready to be pulled out from the walls of the tandoor. There may be several kulchas stuck to the wall of the tandoor and put at different times, so the person making it also needs to keep a track of sequence of kulchas placed inside the tandoor.
As per the opinion of Chef Manjit Gill most Indian restaurants have one tandoor for cooking everything. But the temperatures required for preparing each dish is different. Like one cannot bake a kulcha in a tandoor used for making kebabs and similarly even a tandoor used for making tandoori roti and naan cannot be used, as the heat is too harsh for a perfectly made kulcha. A good kulcha is to layer with ghee and allow the ghee to slowly melt down to give a flaky texture to the kulcha and this can only be achieved, when the temperature of the tandoor is neither too high nor too low. So a good kulcha can be made at places where a separate tandoor, just for the kulcha is assigned. But unfortunately not many places in Punjab have a separate tandoor just for making the kulcha.
Hansraj Choleyanwalla’s bheega kulcha is truly outstanding. A big utensil full of channa or chick-pea made with their own secret spice-mix. Thin yeast leavened kulchas are drenched in the chickpea preparation to absorb all the subtle flavours and served along with a ladleful of channa on the top of the soaked kulcha.
The fact about the black Daal which is available all throughout Punjab is not very authentically Punjabi but a replication of Daal made by the famous restaurant Moti Mahal in Delhi in the 1950’s. The same restaurant made the much famed butter chicken which is a thick tomato based sauce, made in oodles of butter and cream. Following the same principle, Maa ki Daal or the black Daal was prepared by addition of tomatoes, butter and cream to the Daal and simmering it on a very slow heat till the Daal is soft and tender. After the famous restaurant, Bukhara in Delhi made its signature dish – ‘Daal Bukhara’ others started replicating the same in their kitchens and the the famous Maa ki Daal became a generic name given to the Daal preparation.
Maa ki Daal gets its name from maanah, the Punjabi name for the Urad Daal or the whole black lentils quintessential in preparing the Maa ki Daal. The original Maanh ki Daal never had any addition of any other lentil in it, except for the Urad Daal and was devoid of tomatoes and cream.
The all vegetarian Kesar Da Dhabha, started in Lahore in early 1900’s and then migrated to Amritsar after partition in 1947. The Daal prepared by them is most authentic as it contains neither tomatoes nor dollops of cream. The Daal is slow cooked in a large pot for some 7-8 hours, mildly spiced, but has lots of ghee. Before serving the Daal each individual bowl gets another ‘tadka’ of onions fried in ghee, making the Daal’s flavour quite unique and very intense.
Kanha in Amritasar is a great name for Sabzi and Poori. The potato and chick-pea preparation is truly a delight. The pooris are kneaded with whole wheat, refined flour and semolina and stuffed with a little urad Daal and finally the pooris, are immersed in hot oil to be fried till perfectly puffed, crispy but yet soft and a perfect match with the subzi that accompanies it.
Apart from the vegetarian food, Amritsar is also famous for the non-vegetarian food too. Of all the most classics, is the Amritsari fried fish. A variety of fresh water fish, Singhada, marinated and lightly battered, and deep fried. To attain the crispiness after lightly frying once it is fried for a second time. Though there are several others selling Amritsari fish fry but one of the best is at Makhan Fish & Chicken Corner. Apart from the fried fish they also serve, boti kebab, tandoori chicken and chicken malai tikka. Of course the ingredients are common to all dishes but the entire taste of the preparation depends upon the blend of spices used and the adequate quantity.
Though many swear by the butter chicken and tandoori prepared in Delhi restaurants but one has to taste the butter chicken at Charming Chicken and Beera Chicken House for tandoori chicken. Delhi though transformed the Daal but Amritsar could be the right place to remake tandoori chicken and butter chicken.