It started some time back when the home-chefs started making a wave with their regional cuisines, highlighting and bringing to the forefront the ‘realness’ of their food backed with tales from their grandmother’s and mother’s kitchens. No one would’ve thought that these home-chefs would one day make a headway into the commercial kitchens of luxury properties and change the way in which the food industry thought and functioned. The focus is now strictly on regional cuisine with chefs making an attempt to go back to their roots and unearth recipes and stories from different regions of India. There is now a space where chefs with their training for commercial kitchens and the home-chefs with their expertise in their regional cuisine can co-exist and change the dynamics of the food industry.
If we focus on the region of Punjab particularly, in the past month I have attended two Punjabi food festivals and hosted one myself. While my focus strictly remains to be vegetarian Punjabi cuisine and the nuances of the same, backed by tales from the region, there is my friend Sherry Malhotra – an exceptionally talented home-chef, who treats her audience to the food and tales from Undivided Punjab. From the chapli kebabs and mutton Beliram that dates back to the kitchens of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh ji of Patiala and is inspired by his head-chef Belliram, to the quintessential aloo vadiyaan and khushka – Sherry will entice your taste buds with her passion for her cuisine and the history of our dishes. She’s hosted many successful pop-ups at her home and in collaborations with hotels and restaurants be remains to be one of the flag bearers of our rich culinary history.
Last month, I also followed my friend and Punjab Grill‘s executive chef – Amitesh Virdi‘s road trip to the heart of Punjab. He and his colleagues travelled to Patiala, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur and Amritsar to delve deeper into the culture and kitchens of the cuisine they proudly promote. I remember sending suggestions to Amitesh as I saw him in familiar lands and thoroughly enjoyed their stories and glimpses of what’s to come. Yesterday I visited Punjab Grill for their month long Noor-E-Punjab festival, which is an outcome of that trip. The menu is simple and well researched. A mix of street food and food from the Punjabi kitchens – a menu that you can’t stop reading as each dish is accompanied with a reason behind it’s existence and the chef’s experience. I tried the karele ki tikki for the first time – served exactly like the aloo tikkiyaan di chaat, this one has a bitter aftertaste rounded off by the chilled sweetened curd.
There was also the much loved matar-kulcha that was just perfectly flavoured and the mains had delicious home-like aloo vadiyaan, gobhi de paraunthe, aloo-pyaaz kulche and more. What is appreciable here is the manner in which a successful commercial venture like Punjab Grill is trying to breakaway from the stereotypical image which has been created over the years about Punjabi cuisine being rich and creamy and “unhealthy” by catering the real food from the land to their customers. Mind you, they do have a section of the Mughlai dishes that are served in the name of ‘Punjabi’ and ‘North-Indian’ food, but that’s because there will always be a customer base for that too. But ensuring that we take the responsibility to educate people about the nuances of our real cuisine lies in our hands and using our platforms like – restaurants, social media and blogs to make way for the change is imperative.
My journey of Delectable Punjab started exactly a year ago, when I visited my family in Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur for a month and took it upon myself to document and preserve the culture of my motherland before it is lost to time. I chose to talk about vegetarianism in Punjab, because believe it or not, almost seventy percent of the state is vegetarian and dishes like “butter chicken” and “dal makhani” find no place in our kitchens. I was encouraged by my followers on social media to talk more about this and slowly I saw that I had more people joining in the movement and telling me stories from their childhood in Punjab and as a Punjabi staying outside of Punjab. The most overwhelming experience was the day when I received a mail from a seventeen year old girl living in New Jersey, USA, where she said how following my work on Punjab and its cuisine has made her appreciate her roots more and from a girl who used to shy away from her identity, today she proudly proclaims that she is a Punjabi. She further added how she wishes to document our culture as well, so that it isn’t lost in the time to come. Honestly, that is the day I truly understood the meaning of using social media as platform for positive change and not being an ‘influencer” just for the sake of it. There was also that one time when a Pakistani follower messaged me on Instagram and we talked for hours about our shared culture rather than the divide that we have been brought up with.
There is a wind of change and a very welcome one at that, as we all in our small ways are uniting to break myths about Punjab and its rich culinary and cultural history. All small efforts are like a drop of water that will soon form an ocean of knowledge and in a time where there are more reasons to be to find differences, there is a sense of belonging and feeling loved by sharing a common culture and identity.
Like I said in one of my previous posts –
“All these years I spent in the darkness of where I came from, who I am, have now culminated into this journey which I have embarked on. This is now bigger than me and my questions…this is now about us. About all of us who want to understand ourselves better and preserve our heritage. There is a long road ahead, and I have only just begun.”
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