I start to salivate just thinking about the “Kesar Da Dhaba” in Amritsar, Punjab. And it isn’t a 5 star restaurant. In fact it is a very humble, working man’s sort of eatery. Nonetheless, it attracts a broad spectrum of diners, from Bollywood stars to famous food writers. Very few serious eaters make it to Amritsar without enjoying a meal at the Kesar Da Dhaba. If you happen to be on one of my tours, we often end up in Amritsar at the end of my north India tours and a meal here is a huge highlight.
The state of Punjab is the bread basket of India, growing much of the country’s wheat. It is logical that their menus favor the eating of flat breads with their curries, as opposed to rice as in other areas. If you are familiar with Indian cuisine, the dishes that you associate with Indian food are most likely from the Punjab, like palak paneer or tandoori chicken. The popularity of eating in a restaurant is a relatively new phenomenon. This is partly due to the dietary requirements of the different communities and the importance of the nuclear family and eating at home.
The presence of the British in India contributed to the increase in a restaurant culture and India’s partition in 1947 was also a factor. Punjabi refugees flooded into Delhi and other cities and opened up restaurants. They immigrated across the globe as well and brought their delicious restaurants with them. There is, however, nothing like going right to the source!
While eating with my small tour group, my enthusiasm earned me an invitation to visit the kitchen. I grabbed my camera and dashed across the street. The restaurant has two separate small dining rooms, one directly across the street from each other. Situated somewhere inside the bazaar down a maze of intricate winding, narrow lanes. I always ask a cycle rickshaw driver to take us there because no matter how many times that I’ve been there, I could never easily find it!
The chefs inside the kitchen were proud and happy to oblige me a few photographs.
I had to restrain myself from not devouring the food when it finally arrived.
Directly from the street, facing into the kitchen, customers placed their take away orders.
We also enjoyed a creamy, sweet yoghurt based drink called a lassi but by the time they arrived, I had put away my camera and my attention was on this dining delight.
We groaned with contentment as we climbed into our rickshaws, keenly aware that we had just had a rare culinary experience that would be cherished but nearly impossible to describe.