Not just butter chicken!
by Preeti Verma Lal
That's Punjab. You don't count
your calories and you don't stack olive oil in the kitchen. That's blasphemy in
the land of the sturdy sardars and the effusive sikhnis. It is always pure ghee,
and not for them the oreganos and the rosemarys - onion, ginger, garlic and tomatoes
together constitute the basic ingredients. There's nothing really sophisticated
about the food - its USP is its rustic flavour. Remember the ground rules - never
cut raw onion with a knife, just break it with a heavy thump of your fist.
Stuffed aloo matar paranthas cooked
in pure ghee and a glass of lassi.
That's Punjab. You
don't count your calories and you don't stack olive oil in the kitchen. That's
blasphemy in the land of the sturdy sardars and the effusive sikhnis. It is always
pure ghee, and not for them the oreganos and the rosemarys - onion, ginger, garlic
and tomatoes together constitute the basic ingredients. There's nothing really
sophisticated about the food - its USP is its rustic flavour. Remember the ground
rules - never cut raw onion with a knife, just break it with a heavy thump of
And they always throw in the exclusive Punjabi
TLC (tender loving care) - they let their mah ki dal simmer for more than 12 hours
and it takes an equal number of hours for their kheer (rice cooked in sugarcane
juice) to get ready for the table. When the dal is ready it is spiced up and a
lot of cream thrown in for that splendid flavour. The dals sure have variety -
it could be mah ki dal one day and rajma the other.
it is the Punjabi bread - the rotis and the paranthas - that occupy the pride
of place. Punjab is the country's wheat-bowl and Punjabis have always been wheat-eating
people. Tandoori rotis take their name from the clay tandoors that they are cooked
in, while paranthas can be deep fried or cooked without ghee - you then have the
privilege of lavishly spreading butter on your parantha. They can come stuffed
with mashed, spiced potatoes or filled with sautéed dal. The laccha paranthas
are layered and the famous Amritsari kulchas are made of refined flour.
is not just the wheat-bowl, milk also flows here and its abundance can be gauged
from the dairy products in any menu. Paneer (cottage cheese), lassi and of course,
the cream are everyday fare in every household.
Never think porcelain
in Punjab. It is always brass thalis and bowls. Lassis can turn up on your table
in footlong glasses or the dainty brass 'chanas', while the phirni is always served
in earthen bowls.
No, lunch is not just makki ke roti
and sarson ka saag. There's rajma-chawal or kadhi-chawal combo that's the commonest,
yet the yummiest of all. Makki ke roti has not been ostracized by its brethren,
it is a winter specialty eaten with a liberal spread of butter and sarson ka saag
(mustard greens). Another winter special is the gurwala chawal - rice cooked in
However, no meal is complete without the
delicate phirni, the favorite dessert in Punjab. Made of rice flour, sugar and
milk, phirni is cooked over slow fire for hours before it is chilled in earthen
bowls and served fresh.
Like other cuisine, Punjabi cuisine also has its
variations. While the people of Amritsar like their stuffed paranthas fried really
well, in the Malwa region bajra and kedgree are considered the hot favorites.
But no talk on Punjabi cuisine can be complete without
a lengthy discourse on chicken tikka masala that has literally conquered the world.
If celebrities line up to eat and open restaurants that serve Punjabi food, the
commoners don't mind buying them off the shelf. In England alone, every second
the stiff upper-lip Britishers spend roughly 50 dollars buying tikka masalas and
the annual sale of this delicacy at Sainsbury's, a retail chain, is a whopping
1.1 million frozen packets.
But who really invented chicken
tikka masala? The granddaughter of Glasgow's first Indian restaurant owner claims
her father Sultan Ahmed Ansari invented the dish sometime around 1950s. Ansari's
Taj Mahal restaurant was started nearly 40 years ago but when Ali Ahmed Khan bought
it he also wanted credit for having "invented" the tikka masala.
facts like this don't matter to people who make a beeline for the tikka masalas
in Birmingham, England, or the Chaat Café in Fremont, California. They
neither look up the Oxford English Dictionary that lists 'tikka' to understand
its meaning, for them it is great taste and that is enough.
elsewhere, amongst the non-vegetarian choices, chicken is the favorite, though
fish has its share of admirers, specially in the Amritsar region.
when in Punjab, forget the calories, roll your sleeves up, sit on the charpoy,
scoop the dal with the tandoori roti, enjoy the hearty meal and BURRRRRP. Get
Kesar Da Dhaba
1916, in a tiny village near Lahore, Lal Kesar Mal ji, the rich jagirdar, hit
upon a business recipe. Put a tandoor, a few cots and get the people to pay for
the phulkas made in his tandoor.
Lala Kesar wasn't way off the mark; the neighbouring
women came with the dough for the phulkas, the men from the British army came
for rest. The rich jagirdar got richer, but not before the muse hit him again.
It was from his tandoor did the first parantha - as we know it now - come.
That is what his grandson, Vijay Kumar, who now the runs the Kesar da Dhaba show
in Amritsar would have you believe.
During partition, the family of Lala Kesar
Mal ji moved to Amritsar with their tandoor and their zeal.
Today Kesar Da
Dhaba is a landmark in Amritsar, no itinerary complete without the phirni cooked
in this kitchen. Sold for Rs 6 an earthen bowl, on an average 700 people walk
away with their favorite dessert every day.
The regular thali consists of
the parantha, dal, - which is cooked for 12 hours - subzi and chutney. All for
But people here neither count their calories nor the price.
all that matters is the food. From his framed picture above the cash counter Lala
Kesar Mal ji does smile.
Crowds are hastening to a village on the Jalandhar-Phagwara
highway. The village, spread over two acres, has a bullock-cart at the entrance,
a haystack in one corner and a pile of dried cowdung cakes in another. When you
walk in there's Kallu Tailor, a stout bull running the kolhu to draw water from
the well, a munim ji keeping count of all that goes out of the village's kitchen,
a carpenter, men playing cards in the market, women gossiping at the well, camels
and elephants for transport, bhangra and gidda dancers, puppet show, wooden, hand-operated
The village sure is a village, you
can't doubt that - the walls are plastered with clay, the bricks are Nanak Shahi
and the utensils pure brass.
Forgot to mention that the
village is called Rangla Punjab.
Also forgot to mention
that is it a month-old restaurant serving traditional vegetarian Punjabi food.
ushers and the waiters dress up in traditional Punjabi lungis and bright kurtas,
their turbans making them a few inches taller. The restaurant that can seat 350
is done in the typical Punjabi style - the table is a low 'pidhi' and the chairs
again are low and made of woven ropes.
The meal begins with a shikanji
or a thandai served in earthen glasses (kulhads), followed by dal, sabzi, paranthas,
chutney, papad, achar, rice and of course, raw onions broken with the thump of
a fist. All vegetarian and cooked in pure ghee. The dessert changes each day,
it could be gulabjamun one day, rasmalai the other, phirni the next. The restaurant
that opens its doors at noon and closes at midnight has a fixed menu, lunch is
priced at Rs 95 per head and dinner at Rs 115 per head.
the village you can buy kulfi, popcorn or get your clothes stitched at KalluTailor.
(Not the clothes really. Like the women at the well and the hens next to the popcorn
wallah, Kallu Tailor is made of clay by artists from Orissa and West Bengal.)
to Mr D K Umesh, general manager, Rangla Punjab is owned by The Heritage Village
group that also runs the Haveli restaurant next door. In Haveli, a real truck
is parked inside the dining area and green chillies come tucked in toothpicks.
"It took more than six months for the village to get ready but we wanted
the authentic look," he adds.
by the success, we are taking this theme resort to Jalandhar and later to other
cities", adds Mr Nitin Kapoor, CEO.
The food is yummy and the crowd
from all over Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and the assorted highway travellers
are going crazy. Look for alternate parking, but go there. Even if you have had
your dinner, it is worth the toddle in the Punjabi parish.
in Discover India magazine, August 2004.