I rang in my 30th in Amritsar. The city was long pending on my bucket list. What was it about the place that attracted me so much…the border where two countries at loggerheads participated in a patriotic rave, the golden temple every visitor came back home raving about, or the food dunked in pure ghee, potent enough to give you an organ failure – mostly the third.
I’m starting to believe I’m the happiest when I write about food. When Sri Lanka happened four months back, it was food I chose to write about first. In this post too, I’ll talk about all the awesome local food I tried in Amritsar. Brace yourself…
Kesar Da Dhaba
The hundred year old institution needs little introduction. Everyone in Amritsar is familiar with Kesar Da Dhaba, its food and its history. Kesar Da Dhaba originally operated from Punjab in Pakistan, but post partition they shifted base here.
The moment I had dropped my bags at the hotel, we found ourselves navigating through narrow alleys inside the old town to find this little gem. Kesar Da Dhaba still retains its old world charm, and the prices are dirt cheap. Every dish here is cooked in desi ghee from the rotis to sabzis and even the daal! We shared the table with two women, who figured we were newbies, and suggested to go for the thali which will give us a little of everything the place is known for. For dessert, we tried the saffron phirni (ride pudding) with edible silver. If this isn’t one of the best phirnis you’ll ever eat, I don’t know what sort of desserts you’re into. The owner also let’s you take a tour of the kitchen on request, which obviously I did. Why wouldn’t I?
Hot Milk in the by-lanes of the Gurudwara
Sweet shops in Amritsar are the old Halwais you’d hope to see who have fortunately not altered their recognition. Envision them sitting in front of huge kadhais simmering with hot boiled milk and a thick layer of cream floating atop. The shops are a centre of gathering for locals to talk about everything under the sun. A post-dinner walk in the back lanes of the Gurudwara for a kullad of hot milk was one of my favourite things to do in Amritsar. Especially if it’s December-January and you’ve got to do everything possible to beat the cold.
Kada Prasad at the Golden temple
The vibe at the Golden Temple is unmatched. It’s peaceful, yet you’ll find yourself among thousands of visitors at any given time. After paying my visit to the sanctum sanctorum at the Golden Temple, I ate the Kada Prasad that was offered to pilgrims. A dollop for everyone in a bowl made by stitching together dried leaves. The Kada Prasad is prepared with semolina (rawa) and desi ghee and is served hot and fresh every day. I absolutely loved it and often turned up for a second helping.
Langar at the Golden Temple
There’s a saying that “Amritsar se koi bhi ghar bhookha nahi jayega”
All thanks to the mega kitchen at the Golden Temple that serves free meals to about 1 lakh visitors every day. The community kitchen is called the Langar and is open 24 hours, managed by volunteers like you and me who offer their community service. Some help in washing the plates, others clean onions and garlic and few others serve you food. Eating at the Langar is a humbling experience. You sit on the floor; eat with your bare hands, sharing space with people from varied castes and background. The meal was simple yet one of the most content meals I have ever eaten.
Lassi at Brother’s Dhaba
Lassi in Amritsar is the real deal. They are served in tall glasses with a thick layer of cream floating atop. But you’d never be full after downing one…it’s so light and airy with the perfect hint of sweetness. I tried the lassi at Brother’s Dhaba near the Golden Temple for a meagre 40bucks. A competition with a co-traveller on who’d finish the glass first, priceless!
Kulcha at Bhai Kulwant Singh Kulchian Wale
If you visit Amritsar and return without trying the famous Amritsari Kulchas, your trip is pointless. A good kulcha can be identified by the crackle when you break into it for your first bite. They come in variants like plain kulcha, gobi kulcha and aloo kulcha along with a chick pea gravy and a mixture of onions and green chutney. You have to try the Amritsari Kulcha at Bhai Kulwant Singh Kulchian Wale near the Golden Temple, which was a local recommendation from a gentleman who sold me some souvenir kadas. Bookmark this place!
Makhan Chicken and Fish Corner
It was my last night in Amritsar and I needed a beer (don’t forget it was birthday too!). A catholic is always going to hunt for her beer and chicken and fish meals. It can get tricky to find non-vegetarian food in Amritsar. I found Makhan Corner to be quite popular for its golden fried fresh water fish, although it’s equally popular to grab a beer. The fish in my opinion wasn’t the best I had eaten, but you should definitely try the mutton masala which is out of the world. It’s creamy, smoky, spicy and goes excellent with the beer.
Beera Chicken is right next to Makhan Chicken and Fish corner. In fact, I had my starters at Makhan and then hopped to Beera for the main course. You got to the try their signature roast chicken which comes in quarter, half and full portions. The meat is moist and comes to your table piping hot straight out of the tandoor. It’s clubbed with tangy green chutney and onions. For variety, you can try their Kheema Naan which is quite popular too. Beera Chicken is a no frills joint, but you should go there if, like them, you take your food seriously.
What to see in Amritsar
Obviously, you’re going there for the Golden Temple. It’s one place you can never get tired of visiting. In my three days at Amritsar, I visited the temple every day, sometimes twice a day. The Jallianwala Baug is barely a few meters from the temple, although there’s nothing to see except a huge park filled with locals and tourists.
The Partition Museum is a new addition to the things to do in Amritsar, launched in 2017. It houses tonnes of photos along with arts and artifacts to learn more about India’s partition history. Ticket costs Rs. 10 and photography is not permitted inside the museum.
You must also visit the Wagah Border. I mean c’mon! You have to go there and scream your lungs out while jawans on both sides go about this perfectly synchronised Beating Retreat ceremony. Joining in to sing ‘Yeh desh hai veer jawano’ and ‘Aisa des hai mera’ along with thousands of other visitors, turning the stadium into a patriotic rave party is a bonus!
Where to stay in Amritsar
Stay should be least of your concerns in Amritsar in my opinion. There is an accommodation here for every type of traveller. Although you should make sure you stay close to the temple, and honestly you’re spoilt for choice. I’d go to the extent of saying you need not book a hotel in advance if you’re visiting Amritsar. I booked my stay in advance at Hotel Sarovar Regency which was hardly 50 steps away from the Golden Temple. The location was a huge plus, but they were a little overpriced because my room was very basic for 3800 INR for two nights.
Many pilgrims also stay at the dorms in the Gurudwara complex for free. Expect to sleep in a huge hall on the floor with a basic blanket. They have private rooms too which depends on first come, first serve basis; and also special rooms for foreigners only.
Travelling around Amritsar
If you stay close to the Gurudwara, your travelling expense is close to zero, which is what was in my case. The Jallianwala Baug, Partition Museum and all the food joints are walk-able distances. The only time I spent money was for my airport transfers. Rickshaws are a great choice for this and can charge anything between 400 and 700 rupees depending on your bargaining skills.
Wagah Border is about 30 km from Amritsar. In the afternoons, you’ll get taxis and rickshaw-walas near the temple area shouting ‘Wagah border, Wagah border’. Sharing taxis can take up to Rs. 300 per person for a return journey. Rickshaws also charge about the same. We tried the local bus service from Amritsar to Attari and then rickshaw from Attari to Wagah border – the price was also about the same!
You can also check out my four minute video on Amritsar below 🙂
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