Friday, October 2, 2015

Amritsar - second time in 2015

Amritsar! Again!! My second visit of the year, HRH The Queen of Kutch’s third. We are on a roll. Chennai, Amritsar and Kolkata are our favourite cities in India. This year we will be visiting all three. Yes, it’s been a good year.

This time, we were sort of tour guides for Amritsar. Le Grande Fromage in the MNC nutrition and healthcare space with whom we had dined at the Bombay Canteen, was so enthused with our rapturous account of Amritsar that they proposed that we go together. So that was it, a two night three day visit to Amritsar.

This time it was hot. The sun was bright and scorching. To add to that, we were in Amritsar on a weekend, so it was extremely crowded. This was a bit of a dampener, but it did not deter us at all.

Before I plunge into a description of what we ate, I have an observation to make on our eating habits.

As you know, the incidence of diabetes is the highest in India. We have the world’s largest number of diabetics. The Southern Indian states, especially what was Andhra and Tamil Nadu are the diabetes capitals in India. There is a very simple reason for this – diet. Rice – Carbohydrates. The people eat massive quantities of rice. Rice is present in everything and is eaten at all meals, breakfast lunch and dinner. While in the South rice eating is massive, we in the West eat massive quantities of carbohydrates every day. May not be only rice but bread, potato, semolina [Rava] Poha [Rice] and so on. Eating two carbs and even three carbs together is common, especially among the vegetarians. The deadly Vada Pao, Pao Bhaji and McAloo Tikki are two carbs eaten together. Combining a sandwich, French fries and a pizza over a meal and some pasta at night for dinner is not just acceptable but often done without thinking twice. A breakfast consisting of a toast, an Idly and a helping of Upma is not unusual, especially when confronted with a buffet. I shudder when I see this.

However, when in Amritsar, I realised that it is not the same. There is no carb bingeing. What does a man eat? Choley Bhature, Choley Kulcha, Roti Paneer, Roti Kaali Daal, and, what caught me by surprise was Roti with Nutrie Kheema [Protein granules]. What is each one of these combinations? A carb in the form of a bread, and a protein in the form of the Channa [Garbanzo Beans] or Daal or the Nutrie Kheema [Protein granules]. This is a reasonably balanced meal. Why do we not do this in our own meals? I wonder.

Our first meal in Amritsar was at Kanha which I have written about earlier. Excellent. The same taste the same quality and the same shockingly cheap prices. You get 2 large Poori with unlimited sweet sour potato vegetable and Choley all for just Rs 65/-  Brilliant food.

Dinner was at Makhan Fish, which we had visited earlier too. As I said, Amritsar was crowded and so was the restaurant. Packed to the rafters. After a wait of some 15 minutes we got a table. Staggeringly good food. The Fried fish, Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Malai Kebab and a very good Butter Chicken. Top class food. Really really good. This place is a must visit.

The Langar the next day was pretty crowded. Lots of people, but the brutal efficiency of the place is something to behold. From door opening, to serving, to eating to finish, not more than 20 minutes. This time in addition to the Rice Kheer and Daal we had Panjabi Kadhi with Pakodas. Lip smacking. I say lip smacking in the true sense of the word. There was no added taste or aura of divinity to the food. It was simply well cooked simple food robustly flavoured aggressively seasoned and served at searing temperatures. What more can one want. I had two helping of the Daal and three of the Kadhi. I like Panjabi Kadhi.

A huge, I mean huge vat of Punjabi Kadhi waiting to be served at the Langar

We then went to two places we had not been to before. Beera Chicken was the first. This is substantially downmarket when compared to Makhan Fish. They have a shorter menu concentrating on various grilled & tandoori and fried food with just a couple of gravy dishes. No Daal no Chinese food. There is no Tandoori chicken here. It is called `Roast Chicken’. Like at all places in Amritsar, it is not red, no food colour is used. I thought that at Beera they Spatchcock the chicken and then grill it on coals and do not put it in a Tandoor. If you look at the photo you will realise what I am saying. The chicken is flat. The Roast Chicken was better than the Tandoori Chicken at Makhan. We also ordered the Chicken Champ Champ rhymes with the Hindi word Saamp or snake. This turned out to be a sort of Chicken Cutlet with minced chicken, Very tasty but not what I was expecting. The Seekh Kebab, which is what our waiter recommended, was ordinary.  The Tandoori Fish was excellent, better than at Makhan. I quite liked the Shahi Paneer. It was quite unlike the white gravy dish you get in Mumbai restaurants. Very tasty. Between Makhan and Beera, I would say stick with Makhan. It’s more upmarket and has a wider range of food.

Chicken Champ

Fish Tikka

1/2 Chicken Roast

Seekh Kebab

Shahi Paneer

Amritsari Kulcha with the obligatory cube of Butter

The last meal was vegetarian at Brothers Dhaba. The most legendary vegetarian restaurant in Amritsar is Kesar Da Dhaba. However, we felt that standards were slipping here. This was confirmed by our driver and  the staff at the Hotel who said that quality was slipping and Kesar was relying on past glory. So Brothers Dhaba it was. And, what a good decision. Sarson Ka Saag and Makkai Ki Roti, Sarson [Mustard Greens] was in season so we had to have this classic combination. It was the best Sarson Ka Saag we have ever eaten. Great Punjab on Linking Road Bandra in Bombay serves a good Sarson Ka Saag, but this was a class apart. Also ordered was the Black Daal or Daal Makhni. Silky, smoky and beyond belief good. This was good food by any standards. HRH The Queen of Kutch and Mrs Le Grande Fromage ordered Choley and Baby Kulcha. Unfortunately my greed got the better of me so there is no photograph. The Choley was hum drum. You get far better Choley at Kanha. The Kulchas were wonderful. The Amritsari Kulchas are made in a Tandoor and then dabbed with butter. They are not shallow fried.

The Daal Makhni

Delicious Makkai Ki Roti

Sarson Ka Saag

On a slightly different point. Amritsar is famous for its Lassi, what with the fantastic quality of milk and the water, for which Amritsar is so renowned. On every visit have a glass of Lassi at Ahuja Sweets where we also buy Ghee to bring back to Bombay. Now Lassi is not something I get ecstatic about. After all it is just yogurt water and sugar blended together. Another famous lassiwalla in Amritsar is Munim Di Hatti. When at Brothers Dhaba we ordered a Lassi. I must say the one at Ahuja Sweets was better. Somehow the Brothers Dhaba Lassi seems grainy, or should I say, chalky. Anyway, no matter.

The other new thing we did on this visit was a drive through the famous fields of Punjab. Just a few kilo meters outside Amritsar found us in the middle of miles and miles of fields. Most of them were paddy fields right now and our driver informed us that in the next month or so, after the rice was harvested, they would sow potatoes and after that wheat. Crop rotation. Remember that from your school books? The drive was an eye opener. For one, the sheer size of the fields and second the reminder that Punjab is a rather rich state. This is not the fields of poor farmers who toil to make ends meet. One field had a huge combine harvester, most homes of the farmers had a car and a tractor parked in the compound. This is rich arable land with a good water table and a huge investment in machinery and irrigation. It was a fun, eye opening drive.

All in all Amritsar remains a delight. Great food, a great Temple and friendly people. Just don’t go in summer and don’t go on a weekend.

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