We woke at 4:45 am. It was still dark and boiling in Chandigarh. Today, the three of us had decided to take a road trip across Punjab to visit the world-famous Golden Temple and devour some of the delicious foods found in the India Pakistan border city of Amritsar.
I stumbled into the shower and struggled to locate the light switch in the darkness. In India, light switches can be found in the most bizarre of places. I wished I’d slept earlier, but there’s always a party in Punjab. Punjabis love to party, dance, sing, drink and eat. They’re merry people and always fun to be with. A splash of cold water began to wake my sleepy eyes. Fifteen minutes later the three of us piled into the Suzuki Swift (the most popular car in India) and began our journey.
One bad thing about India is that restaurants don’t do breakfast. Indians generally wake up late and start work late at 10 or 10:30 am. So nothing opens until 9 am at the earliest. We were keeping an eye out for somewhere to get a quick bite but alas the rest of India was still sound asleep. It’s so peaceful in India when everyone is asleep, and the dogs aren’t barking.
We eventually found a Burger King on the highway at 8 am that was open, well their drive-through at least. Not exactly Punjabi food, but beggars can’t be choosers. There’s no breakfast menu in India so we scoffed down some whoppers and fries and kept going on our 228 km journey to Amritsar. You might be thinking, “228 km, that’s not far.” In India it is. You’re on average going to be travelling only 50 km per hour because of potholed roads or having to serve around cows.
Free – Golden Temple Food Hall
We started off the day visiting the beautiful Golden Temple. It’s surrounded by a lake with the temple on an island in the middle. Men added to the mystical atmosphere by performed Punjabi folk songs loudly as we sat and took it all in. All Sikh temples such as the Golden Temple are called Gurdwaras. All Gurdwaras provide shelter and food to anyone who wants it. While most people won’t sleep at a Gurdwara, although they’re welcome to, most will eat the food, called Langar. The Golden Temple alone serves tens of thousands of meals a day. Gurdwaras are entirely run by volunteers. You’re welcome to visit the kitchen and washing room and see the masses of people giving their time to serve others – it’s something a lot of religions could learn from.
As you enter the Langar hall, you’ll be handed a plate and spoon. Find a place sit on the mats provided and wait to be served a two-course meal. The meal is usually some sort of lentil or chickpea curry, rice, and roti followed by a sweet dish such an Indian rice pudding (Kheer). It’s always delicious and hygienically produced.
One thing you can do help the Gurdwara sustain their free meal plan is to donate a few rupees or help roll rotis or clean dishes. But it’s in no way compulsory, and you’ll never be asked or hassled to donate like some other religion’s temples shamelessly do.
$ – Kulchaland
$ – Kesar da Dhaba
Next up we went on a 1 km walk to Kuchaland. You can’t leave Amritsar without eating one of their famed Amritsari Kulcha. A kulcha looks like a naan bread stuffed with potato, onion, and spices but it’s actually very different. The bread is very light, and the texture is that of multiple layers of wafer thin, buttery bread. To top it off they smother it with melted butter and sometimes seeds and spices too. You then break it like a naan and scoop up the unlimited portions of spicy chickpea curry provided.
You could confuse it for an Aloo Paratha too, but once you taste it and feel the texture of the bread, you’ll see how delicious and superior it really is. It’s the ultimate stuffed bread!
The name Kulchaland inspired thoughts of Disneyland or some other land of epic proportions. But it’s really not the case, unfortunately. Kulchaland has 0 atmosphere and the non-existent and slightly dirty decor may put some people off. If you want somewhere slightly cleaner, then set your GPS to Kesar da Dhaba. Both places are great and serve authentic kulcha.
$ – Gian Chand Lassi Wale
To wash down the Langar and Kulcha we’d just eaten we headed to the most famous Lassi store for a large 500ml plain yoghurt lassi drink topped with a dollop fresh cream. After a spicy meal, I always have a plain or sweet lassi or just plain milk to neutralise the spices and refresh my mouth.
As we took the car out of the parking lot, we realised most of the streets were completely empty and that Police and Swat teams were swarming around. Turns out the Chief Minister of Punjab was nearby, so that made our ride to Gian Chand Lassi Wale very quick with no traffic!
After eating all the best food that Amritsar has to offer the span of 4-hours our stomachs were stuffed. Make sure you spread these meals out over the day. You’ll want to do it all over again the next day, I know we did.