Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu
With winter making a grudging approach, and the stubble-burning brouhaha somewhat dissipating like a haze, there is plenty that beckons one to Punjab. Not least the heaped thaal of appetising experiences that awaits those brave of stomach — and heart — should they be planning a visit. Sharing here a handful of worthies I came upon during a trot around the state for a book about its culinary ethos. By no means is this an exhaustive list, just those I took a subjective shine to in different cities.
With the maternal family engaged in extensive farming in Bathinda, the area was usually bypassed for homey fare. Summers spelled chilled milk and watermelon chunks for breakfast and winters ushered in the bajre-moth di khichdi. An enervating morning meal consumed sweet with milk and sugar, or as a savoury with curds. They rarely showed up in Patialvi homes and we looked forward to these novelties immensely. It would fall to the research trip earlier this year to eventually introduce me to Bathinda’s street specialties.
Of which, my visit to Bodi Jalebiwala was made far more memorable by a timely drizzle that begged several rounds of his crisp treacle-trickling treats. A one-man show, it has been a permanent fixture near the railway station since 1947, when its eponymous owner found himself displaced by the Partition of India. Bodi is now helmed by his son Ramesh Kumar. In Ludhiana, deep-fried roundels of melt-in-your-mouth paneer pakoras, dunked in apple chutney, left an indelible imprint on the palate. Though it was my first time there, Panna Singh Pakode Wale, a modest shop on the busy Gill Road, has been in the reckoning since 1952. All because this city just cannot get its fill of their signature snacks, including dahi bhallas. For good reason!Another unforgettable pakora experience I had was in Jalandhar. The Sadar Bazar in the Cantonment here hosts Jawali Di Hatti, an iconic eatery engaged in the business of fried goodness for an incredible 166 years, and counting. That Jawala Prasad Goyal’s family has survived six generations on moong dal pakoras alone spurred me to discover for myself what the fuss was all about. One quickly consumed a dona of their soft, steaming, tamarind chutney soused fritters revealed all. I was completely sold.
Topping my meaty memories is the skewered succulence at Bittu Meatwala, located in the innards of an automobile parts market in Jahajgarh, on the outskirts of Amritsar. Their juicy mutton burra, addictive pota dana — goat liver enveloped in fat — and crispy thin garlic naans provided just the right amount of impetus to return more than once. The closely held Pashtun recipes are evocative of the Peshawari roots of owning brothers Jasmeet and Tarunpreet. Following the family’s relocation from Pakistan, it was their late father, Davinder Singh Bittu, who started life afresh behind the tandoor.
As for Amritsar’s most preferred breakfast, I’ve tried and tested most all well-known kulchawalas in the holy city. I wondered what could possibly set the ones at Pehalwan Kulcha Shop apart, as I made my way to Lakhmansar Chowk near Chatiwind Gate. It was the queue. I have yet to see a happier display of patience as we slowly shuffled into the constricted confines of this 66-year-old eatery. Besides, no fierier way to kick-start the day than that extra layer of chopped green chillies they slather onto their crisp and buttery stuffed kulchas.
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