Those of you know follow my project #DelectablePunjab on Instagram would know that I recently visited Punjab for a short media trip to the holy city of Amritsar. While I visit the state at least once a year to visit my family and research further for my project, this was the first time that I was there for work, so to say. Coming to Punjab is always like homecoming for me – the familiar scent of the fields, the language and the generous love and अपनापन from the people – it’s like I never left.
I was a guest at the newly launched Welcomhotel Amritsar. The hotel is built around a colonnaded mansion, the erstwhile Sandhanwalia Haveli, which traces its origins back to the early 1900s. Maharaja Ranjit Singh ji, it is believed shared a lineage with the family. The hotel was launched as the brand’s tribute to the city on Guru Nanak Dev ji’s 550th birth anniversary, late last year.
If Punjab was a movie, then food would be in the lead role, and ITC true to its indulgent nature started out our gastronomic journey to the city on that note with their Welcomsthalika thaali – a celebration of regional and local cuisine – an initiative by the Welcomhotel group of ITC Hotels. From vadiyon waala saag, mah choleyaan di dal, kadhi, cholle, paneer, dilkhush, vadiyon da pulao to the crisp yet soft Amritsari kulcha, this treat was divine and set the tone for all that’s to be expected in this trip.
Punjab is divided into three regions (Majjha, Doaba, Malwa). This division is due to the rivers Sutlej and Beas flowing through the land of Punjab. In the earlier times it was not easy to cross the rivers, hence the areas divided by the rivers were considered a separate region. Each region has distinct cuisine that reflect the topography of the area. Amritsar is part of the Majjha region of Punjab. As it is an alluvial plain, it has been the most productive region of the state – as a result it is more prosperous and populated.
Through this post I will list down a few places we visited during this trip, which can also be a handy guide for you when you visit Amritsar.
1. Bharawaan Da Dhabha
Located in the Heritage Street of Amritsar’s Town Hall, this eatery is a go-to choice for most tourists and pilgrims visiting The Golden Temple. Though we arrived here after a heart lunch at ITC, we did squeeze in some paneer pakodas, phirnee, matka kulfi and gara,-garam chai. Apart from these I’d recommend their cholle-kulche and paneer, kaali dal and tandoori roti.
2. Kesar Da Dhabha
We visited the legendary Kesar located in the bylanes of Passian Chowk on the second day. A place that is almost a century old, it is known for its ghee laden kaali dal and rotis. In an attempt to try more stuff that the place offers, we placed an a la carte order of palak paneer, aloo-gobhi, cholle, kaali dal and assorted tandoori parathas. While some may call this place overhyped, I honestly cannot recommend it enough for it’s rustic lip-smacking fare.
3. Ram Lubhaya and sons
A tiny shop at Lawrence Road, they are known for their aam papads. They used to have a cart parked under a Bodhi tree (pipal) since 1968 but have now shifted to a shop. Famous for their varieties of aam papads and churans, they also make a tangy aam papad chaat where different types of aam papad are mixed with tamarind water and chaat masala and served.
4. Sharma Tea Stall
While they are known for their bun-samosa and chai, we relished their mini gulab jamuns and jalebis. Hopefully I’ll some day visit the city with more time in hand and will have enough space in my stomach to sample more from here!
Another interesting discovery for me was the satpura – a flaky seven layer savoury pastry that one can mostly find in the confines of the walled city, this is had with tea, or with aloo subzi and launji. The original recipe had seven poori layered and folded over seven times and that’s where the name comes from.
I owe this discovery to my friend and writer Pallavi Pasricha and I couldn’t be more thankful to her. In fact, you can check out her guide for “Best dishes to try in Amritsar” for Lonely Planet magazine here. In case you’d like to read more about Punjab and what to eat in Amritsar, you can also check out my friend Puneetinder Kaur Siddhu‘s latest book for Punjab Tourism – Punjab – A Culinary Delight.
Apart from the local delights of Amritsar, our hosts Welcomhotel Amritsar also treated us to a spread of delicious kebabs, biryanis and curries at their signature restaurant Kebabs & Kurries – which houses dishes from the Dum Pukht and Peshawari of ITC’s Luxury Collection Hotels. Mr. Samir Pandita – the General Manager of the property was a perfect and warm host who looked after us like guests visiting his home – and well, I guess that is what ITC’s hospitality is all about, with a touch of Punjab to take it a notch higher!
I was accompanied for this trip with fellow food and travel writers and bloggers – Pallavi Pasricha, Plavaneeta Bora, Parnashree Devi, Anurag Mallick and Priya Ganpathy, Indrani Ghose and Abhinav Gupta, who made this a trip to remember. You can follow them for some amazing work they do.
Wherever in India, or in the world you’re reading this, there’s a chance that you’ve had your share of encounter with Punjabi cuisine at some point of time in life. Well, maybe it is now time to make that trip to Punjab and fall in love with its less known dishes and culture? And while you’re at it, I’d recommend that you check out Welcomhotel ITC in Amritsar as an option to stay at as they’re a stone throw away from the airport at Raja Sansi and trust me when I say that they’d spoil you and blanket you with the warmth of Punjabi culture!