Amritsar is the capital city and home to the Harmandir Shab, AKA the Golden Temple, which is the spiritual centre for Sikhs and a place that is very special to me.
The temple was built by the Sikh Gurus and completed in 1604. It embodies the belief of egalitarianism which is the foundation of Sikhism - by welcoming all people, regardless of creed or colour. It’s also built lower than the surrounding land level to signify humility. The temple feeds over 100,000 people a day and all the cooking, serving, and washing up is done by volunteers in the vast langar hall. We perfectly timed our visit with Vaisaki – the celebration of the birth of Sikhism - so it was a time of inner thought, quiet contemplation and an opportunity to bathe in the Amrit Sarovar (the holy water that surrounds the temple). I will really cherish this time with my mum and daughter away from the hustle of the busy streets outside.
The hot dusty streets are bustling with every form of transport imaginable - from carts, three-wheelers, cars, trucks, cycles and a new metro service, currently under construction. This combined with people, dogs and cows all meandering across the roads wherever they choose adds extra complexity. The sound of horns constantly rings through your ears because in India beeping is a necessity. Trucks even have ‘please horn’ painted on the back. You have no idea where the cars are coming from and it feels like there are no rules… but they all seem to cope just fine and amazingly there are very few accidents.
The streets are teeming with traders selling a multitude of goods, from soft fabric scarves to plastic toys and the traditional Punjabi juti, which are shoes with curly toes.
There are hundreds of bazars (known as mundis) each one specialising in its own wares. The wonderful vegetable bazar bursting with fresh, seasonal, vibrantly coloured fruit and veg. You name it, they have it - muddy beetroots that are used in salads, okra for a simple sabji and the lovely thin pale green, curly cucumbers that would just not make it on to the shelves at your local Tesco.
Spices of all varieties are sold in hessian bags and the aromas hang thick in the air – I’d challenge anyone to walk through one of these bazars without sneezing.
There’s even a dhal bazar dedicated to all kinds of lentils, which make up a large part of the Sikh diet.
Dhabas and Food Stands
One thing that really jumps out at me in India is how food plays a huge part in everyone’s lives - whether it’s at home, in a posh restaurant, eating from a tiffin box in a field in the village, or at a street dhaba. People are very particular about what they eat and everyone is a food critic. I guess this is where I get it from and where my love for food was born.
There are street food hubs everywhere and they come in all different shapes and sizes. I love the pull-along Gol Guppa carts selling round pastry bombs filled with spicy green coriander water that are wonderfully cooling under the hot sun. Then there’s the chai wala (remember Slumdog?) who so expertly pours out tea from a great height to give it time to cool down before he hands it to you in a small glass. Then the sugar cane drinks stands where they squeeze out the sweet cane juice in front of you and serves it up in steel tumblers are impressive.
Around every corner there is someone making sweets, either deep frying sponge balls to make Gulab Jamun, soaking fried pastries like Jalebi's in sugar syrup. or making these little Imarthi.
Check this out sweet street food!
Posted by Hari Ghotra on Wednesday, 15 April 2015
The food dhabas are out of this world, we visited the oldest dhaba in town, called Kesar da Dhabba, which was established in 1916. It’s a fully vegetarian restaurant cooking up a variety of amazing tandoori breads, all dripping in soft local ghee. The dhal was buttery, silky and smooth cooked slowly in huge round pots all day long. The tandoori men sitting up cross legged next to the hot openings of their ovens in the blistering heat all to satisfy our desire for flaky, or crispy or soft breads.
One of the things that I was most interested in trying was the famous Amritasi Kulcha - a flaky bread stuffed with spiced potatoes cooked in a tandoor oven - and lucky for me my friends knew the best place in town to try them.
Come back next week to discover this incredible Punjabi delicacy.Back to Blog