The Punjab is often heralded as a culinary hotspot of India, and the holy city of Amritsar is the perfect place to sink your teeth into some of the region’s finest cuisine. We were lucky enough to experience the city’s eateries and signature dishes through the eyes of a local (and obsessive foodie): Sanjay from Jugaadus Hostel. From hearty breakfast dishes to coma-inducing sweet treats, here’s a guide to some of my favourite dishes in Amritsar that you shouldn’t miss.
Kulcha – a vegetable-stuffed bread served with butter, chickpea curry and tamarind onion sauce – is the original Punjabi breakfast (and perhaps my favourite dish). You’ll spot Kulcha stands on almost every street corner, but it’s finding the best one in town that’s the real challenge! Solely for comparison purposes (yeah right!) we sampled a LOT of different kulcha spots during our stay in Amritsar. All India Famous Amritsari Kulcha, which we visited after a hectic morning of Holi celebrations, is certainly top of my list. This simple roadside street food vendor boasts an almost pastry-like consistency that you won’t find anywhere else in the city.
The Amritsar institution, Kesar da Dhaba, has been serving up well-priced and tasty main meals for over 100 years. This eatery doesn’t need a marketing budget or a fancy interior, it’s the Punjabi food alone that keeps the crowds flocking to this no frills setting. Ghee is the key ingredient of many of the dishes, from the rich dahl fry to the butter-drenched bread. My personal favourite dish was the shahi paneer – paneer in a creamy and slightly spicy tomato sauce. Don’t miss this place!
The Punjab is the birthplace of the lassi, and the original version is available in two flavours: sweet and salty. In fact, Punjabis believe that the mango flavoured lassi many of us know and love is an absolute abomination on their treasured drink. Gian di Lassi has been serving up Lassi since 1921, and is one of the most famous spots in town to grab a refreshing cup of joy (or a half cup if you want to go for the “lighter” option).
Crispy Jalebis is only advised for those with a seriously sweet tooth. Made by frying wheat flour dough in ghee, then dipping it in sugar syrup, you’ll spot vendors selling these all over the city (look out for the squiggly shapes frying in a big vat). These are best served fresh, so if you see some that have just come out of the pan – grab a batch (and be careful not the drip the molten hot syrup on your toes). The best in town are served at GurdasRam Jalebi Wale, just a short walk from the Golden Temple.
Forget scrambled eggs, in Amritsar it’s all about scrambled paneer. To make this tasty (and equally unhealthy) dish, Indian cheese is scrambled with ghee and spices to create a rich snack, perfect accompanied with a good old slice of cheap white bread. Fine dining this is not, but when it tastes this good who cares? Get your fill at Tara Chand. Side note: it tastes much better than it looks!
Chai isn’t technically a punjabi speciality, but it’s not without reason that Giani Tea Stall is the city’s most loved chai shop. Serving up their special recipe since 1955, they combine black tea carefully selected from local markets with spices and milk. This spot is SO popular that it causes traffic jams every morning, as the city’s residents stop off for their morning brew. If that’s not a sign of the best chai shop in the city, I don’t know what is.
Have you visited Amritsar or the Punjab region? If you have more culinary tips please let me know in the comments below. Happy eating!