Friday, June 7, 2013

Amritsar - Kesar da Dhaba, Famous Kulche and Kanha Sweets

As I mentioned in the first part on Amritsar’s food, going easy on stomach by just having creamy lassi at Ahuja Milk Centre and having food at the langar of Harmandar Sahib helped me reverting and I was all set to visit the most legendary food institutions in Amritsar. It is said about Amritsar that 50% of the population is busy eating something (of course laced with desi ghee or/and butter) and the rest of the populations is busy preparing the stuff for the earlier category at any given moment. J I can vouch for this. I had sifted through narrow lanes of Amritsar for the best of the culinary experiences and all I could relate my memory is with the waft of something being deeply fried in the desi ghee (the clarified butter). The air in Amritsar is so thick with this palpable aroma.

Kulchas are the specialty of Amritsar. This is the kulcha land. Honestly, I had a different impression of kulchas before stumbling upon the ambrosia version served in Amritsar. The typical chole kulcha, nutri kulcha or even my personal favorite kalari kulcha of Jammu incorporates a typical baker’s bread as kulcha. Similar to the ‘pav’ in the ‘Vada Pav’ which the Mumbaikars and rest of the Maharashtrians enjoy in any season (Please note the discrimination of Mumbai and Rest of Maharashtra!). So I had thought that kulcha was just a north Indian adaptation of a typical baker’s bread. That concept hit a rock bottom when I had ordered a kulcha (it had a prefix ‘Amritsari’) in a famous suburban Mumbai restaurant (okay, hint - Sion). When it arrived on the table, I couldn’t stop laughing. The kulcha was as thin as masala dosa JJJ Let’s come back to Amritsar now..

My food destination for the lunch on that day was …hold your breath.. “All India Famous Amritsari Kulcha”. Situated on the upmarket Maqbool Road opposite the police post, this institution is thronged by patrons even on a weekday. Luckily, I got a seat as soon as I reached there. You need not order specifically here. If you are seating there, it means all you want to eat are the divine kulchas served with chana (chick pea) preparation and salad made of spring onions and green chilies in tangy tamarind gravy. It is difficult to elaborate the experience. The kulchas are thick with the generous stuffing of potatoes, chilies and other spices in the multilayer dough preparation and the tandoor roasts every layer to a tantalizing level of crispiness due to the ghee used. It is generally served with generous amount of home made white butter which melts by the time the kulcha reaches you giving it a glistening appearance. Now eat… The kulcha can be enjoyed with chana preparation and salad separately. However, I saw a gentleman sitting next to me mixing both chana and the salad. I also followed the same procedure and it tasted divine. My gastric juices were on fire merely with the sight of kulchas and I finished 3 kulchas at a go. I had heard the owner of this restaurant saying that generally even a person with heavy appetite finds it difficult to go beyond 3 kulchas. I had achieved the feat.

All India Famous Amritsari Kulcha... 10/10 in Taste!!!
‘All India Famous Amritsari Kulcha’ is a purist’s den. The food is the experience. The seating arrangement is very basic and common houseflies may test your patience. Your ideas of décor and upholstery will go for a toss here. But hello…the kulcha is available for just 25 bucks! Beat that! I tried to strike a conversation with the smiling but very shy Mr. Shucha Singh who is the owner of the restaurant and all I could get was a gesture of gratitude. Well..Sir, I am the one who is indebted that you allowed me to have such a wonderful experience! Please don’t miss this place if in Amritsar even for few hours and you’ll be indebted to me! J

All India Famous Amritsari Kulcha, Maqbool Road, Amritsar
Taste – 10/10  Ambiance – 5/10  Service – 10/10  VFM – 10/10

A special mention for the Maqbool Road area. I was amused by the size of the bungalows on this road. I am rather more amused by the size of the gardens these people are maintaining in front of their bungalows. And it is not a case for few. There is a 100% hit rate for this kind of arrangement on Maqbool Road. Extreme opulence but still very very adorable. Lahore is just 50 km away…

Food at ‘Kesar da Dhaba’ in Amritsar is the only way you may claim that your trip to Amritsar was complete. Dinner is always an exquisite event and if in Amritsar then make it sure that you are at Chowk Passian (now being called as ‘Chowk Passion’…see what food can do to places!) to have the best of the Pujabi food at the legendary ‘Kesar da Dhaba’. However, before going to the dinner, it was inevitable to pay respect to the legendary lassi at Ahuja. J I again went there and drank the full glass of lassi with utmost satisfaction.

I anyways have found a very effective method of building appetites for exquisite stuff. I always walk for long distances. So for ‘Kesar da Dhaba’, I decided to walk all the way from Beri Gate to my hotel and whoa, again from my hotel (near ISBT) to Chowk Passian. It took almost an hour to reach ‘Kesar da Dhaba’ and meanwhile as expected, my stomach had started secreting enough gastric juice. It was a Friday night and though the weekend culture is yet to make roads to these cities but still ‘Kesar da Dhaba’ was overflowing and supply demand theory had gone for a toss. The people who had come in large groups were waiting with lot of hope in their eyes and lot of hunger in their bellies.

A solo traveler always has an advantage. He/she never has to wait. I made a seamless entry in that tradition (let us not call it a restaurant!) A group of four had just settled on a table and I sneaked in as the 5th on the table. Being a research analyst by profession brings this research dimension to every perspective of life. How could I let the food stay away? I knew what I wanted to have at ‘Kesar’. My order was like this – lachcha paratha, daal (may God be with you miss this and may a digestive be with you if you finish this!), palak paneer and baingan bharta. First came that heavy stainless steel plate with all the ordered stuff except paratha. The waiter soon got my lachcha paratha tossing all the way from the kitchen on his hands. I fell in love with that paratha. Feels like God’s own creation.

The awesome spread at 'Kesar da Dhaba'..the poor tissue paper serves no purpose! :)
The daal at Kesar has turned into a phenomenon. The heavenly taste coming from the slow cooking for arduous hours with the best of the ingredients takes your culinary experience to new level. The bowl serving daal is generally bigger than others. It takes mighty effort to finish that daal and I couldn’t finish it. The baingan bharta though captures your taste with the insane amount of ghee floating in the bowl and it is not obnoxious. Palak paneer is a very different preparation than the rest of India. For me, lachcha paratha takes pole position followed by daal and baingan bhartaa. I finished three lachcha parathas and the waiter told me that it was a commendable effort. J Well, needless to say I came back to my hotel walking all the way from the ‘Kesar da Dhaba’ and how I am feeling the pang in my stomach again so that I can go and devour all the specialties there again!

Kesar da Dhaba, Chauk Passian (Passion), Amritsar
Taste – 10/10  Ambiance – 6/10  Service -10/10 VFM – 8/10

The next morning I went to try the typical Amritsari breakfast at Kanha Sweets on Lawrence Road. This shop is exactly opposite the Bijli Pahalwan Mandir. This place serves the interesting Puri Launji Thaali for breakfast. One giant masala poori is served with choley and aloo ki launji. I have had enough choley on my trip and I indeed loved the sweet and tangy Launji subzi. A glass of thick and creamy lassi to accompany completes the breakfast. Ambiance wise this eatery scores due to air conditioning.

Kannha Sweets, Opposite Bijli Pahalwan Mandir, Lawrence Road, Amritsar
Taste – 7/10  Ambiance – 8/10  Service – 8/10  VFM – 8/10

Thus, I completed the first phase of my dream trip and it is just a beginning. People have different ways of experiencing God. Some visit temples, some go to mosque, some attend masses on Sundays and some prostrate at Gurudwaras. If God exists for me then it is in every morsel I partake. Then every cook/chef who prepares great food is a messenger of God and the place which serves it is a temple. I probably get to taste great food whenever I wish to. This could be because of the respect I have for food. I have already admitted that I am insanely honest when it comes to talking/reading/writing about food. Trust you enjoyed my experiences with food. Wish to come up with new post soon! J Till then…Bon Appétit!


P.S. Being a veggie, I couldn’t produce any details about the non-veg food but places like ‘Beera Chicken’ and ‘Makhan Fish’ are the places my carnivorous friends would definitely relish. J   

4 comments:

  1. Hi....I too am an ardent lover of food,travel and anything to do with it. In spite of being a vegetarian like you, I enjoy learning about non veg food too. I write occasionally and have to say that your love and passion for food,your style of writing is exactly like mine! Nice to know that there are like minded souls in this divine world of food. Keep experiencing,keep sharing.

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  2. And yes....my trips to Amritsar have been to seek God and everytime I went looking,have been graced by the culinary Gods dishing out one hearty food after the other....

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  3. The pics are awesome and really makes to crave for it. Very Tempting one. I've bookmarked it def gonna try this week.
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  4. Good post! I am also going to write a blog post about this... thanks


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