It started with a query on the Delhi Food Walks Facebook page and Instagram – “Where do you get the best ghewar in Delhi?” Most of the respondents answered unanimously Chaina Ram in Fatehpuri chowk as the best ghewar. The second most popular recommendation, however piqued our interest with the answer being Sonepat. After a brief interaction with ghewar lovers on social media listing out all the known places in Sonepat for Ghewar, I headed on a ghewar trail last Sunday from Delhi to Sonepat. A good friend of mine, Naman helped me in exploring the places in Sonepat.
Ghewar is a traditional monsoon sweet dish, popular in Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh. The basic ingredients are all purpose flour, sugar, milk and ghee. First you will need to make a thin smooth batter using refined flour and milk. Next you slowly pour the batter into a ‘kadhai’ or a wok of boiling ghee or Vanaspati, all the while separating the fried batter to the side of the cooking utensil. Once fried, it is dipped in sugar syrup or it can simply be poured on top and drained with the help of a wire mesh.
There are different varieties of ghewar- kesar ghewar ( flavoured with saffron ), milk ghewar ( the batter is made using milk ), malai or mawa ghewar ( a layer of mawa/rabri is added over the top of the ghewar and garnished with dry fruits ) white ghewar ( simple ghewar – the batter is made with water with no milk in it). The sizes and shapes also vary– some of them are heart shaped while other could be round or squared; simply achieved by using different moulds and the sizes could vary from small to the huge ‘fit for a king’ kind.
The Ghewar trail in Sonepat started with Shaant sweets corner. The shop is located inside a lane on Geeta Bhawan chowk. I tried a medium sized Kesar- Mawa Ghewar garnished with raisins, pistachios and chironji. This one was a mouthful of sugar, sugar and sugar. The ‘mithas’ or sweetness was literally dripping out of the ghewar.
Next I moved to the Sonepat bus stand where a number of ghewar shops are lined next to each other. Some of the shops were selling jeans and ghewar at the same place. Such is the popularity of Ghewar in Sonepat. Most of the shops have enormous ghewars there. The rooftops were like ghewar factories producing ghewars by the kilos (probably tonnes). The whole place was working in an assembly line like production- On one corner, a man was pouring the batter of ghewar in a big khadai filled with boiling ghee. The next in line was dipping the ghewar in sugar syrup- ready to be sold to customers. I tried a small bite from the king size ghewar. It was again too sweet to me. The quality and price is less compared to other ghewar shops keeping in mind the moving customer from different district and the shops close proximity to bus stand. We stopped midway at Triloki halwai. Here the barfi is what caught my fancy instead of the ghewar we were really out to taste, but hey Sonepat is a hub for mithai.
Next, we went to the one shop recommended by everyone – R K Sweets in Subhash Chowk. The shop started with selling pakodas but have now diversified into Ghewar. Although they still have a pakodas stall outside the main shop but R K sweets has now become synonymous with ghewar in Sonepat. To compare the taste, we sticked to malai ghewar here as well. It tasted heavenly- not too syrupy plus the quality of the batter and the consistency was really good and again the same toppings except chironji.
We thought that our search for the best Ghewar in Sonipat ended with this but we had picked one more place; Sunder mishtan bhandar in bara bazar. Tucked in the busy lane of Sonipat, the place is known for its quality sweets. At the entrance, one man is seen frying the ghewar, while another is adding the sugar syrup and mawa over it and then finally sprinking a generous helping of dry fruits – mainly chironji, almonds and pistachios. This was the best ghewar I had in Sonepat- one, it was fresh. Two, it was not too sweet, the sugar was completely drained out of it. Three, it was crisp and soft at the same time-that shows that it was fried just perfectly. Four, the quality of mawa was excellent, slightly grainy – adding a nice texture to the ghewar. Five, the almonds, chironji and pistachios were a better quality than the previous shops.
After a day of doing what I love best and stuffed to the throat, I returned home happily, finally; carrying loads of Ghewar with the belief that Sonepat should be hailed as a Ghewar district of Haryana.
This article was first published in Huffpost. Link to the blogpost- http://www.huffingtonpost.in/anubhav-sapra/eating-my-way-through-amritsar-day-3_a_23044828/
Eating My Way Through Amritsar: Day 3
Ending on a high note.
By Anubhav Sapra, Founder, Delhi Food Walks
Punjabi food, like its culture, is very hard to ignore especially in Amritsar, the golden heart of the land of butter and celebration. The flavours are just like its people, loud and in your face but in a very good way. We went on a food adventure spanning over three days in the land of the gurus and stuffed our faces with the most beautiful, delicious and rich dishes we could find on the streets of Amritsar. Read about day 1 here and day 2 here.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It is something we have all been taught. And so we took it literally with some authentic Amritsari kulchas. We started with Kulwant Kulcha. The place is ideal for those who like their kulcha really flaky, crisp and lightly spiced. Then there is All India Famous Kulcha Wala, which has been in business since 1989. The shop is owned by Sucha Singh ji and is managed by his son Ponty Singh. The kulcha dough is rolled into seven layers and then stuffed with aloo and paneer filling and half cooked. When someone places the order, the cook handling the tandoor applies water on one side and sticks it in the tandoor. Like Kulwant’s this kulcha was flaky, crisp and subtly spiced. They also have another outlet called Kulchaland which has a more restaurant-like setup. But for me, Ashok Kulche Wala rules the Amritsari Kulcha chart with perfect spicing putting its offerings a cut above the rest (I’ve already described it in some detail here). One can walk in to his open kitchen and see the steps involved in making a perfect kulcha. This is what I liked best about Amritsar. The people here are open hearted and there are no secrets—one can easily walk in to any restaurant’s kitchen. Amritsaris love feeding people and the owners themselves are involved in cooking.
The people here are open hearted and there are no secrets—one can easily walk in to any restaurant’s kitchen.
Next up was Surjit Food Plaza at Nehru Shopping Complex, Lawrence Road. An interesting thing about Amritsar’s food joints is that though some look quite modern and fancy, the food they serve is authentic and traditional. From the outside, Surjit looks like the kind of place I can’t usually afford, but the food has not lost its Amritsari soul. I asked for tawa chicken pulao, which I could see being prepped from behind a big glass wall by none other than the owner, Amarjit Singh. He mixed ghee as well as butter into the chicken and then added boiled rice into the mixture. The tawa chicken pulao is garnished with ginger and coriander. The flavourful rice balances the soft pieces of chicken.They have served their food to who’s who of India. They even have a picture album which one can ask for to see the pictures of celebrities dining at the restaurant. But what caught my attention was the modest beginnings of the restaurant. Starting from a small khopcha, it is full-fledged restaurant today with modern facilities.
A foodie friend, Girish, sends me screenshots of food joints on WhatsApp all the time, often giving me valuable leads. While I was in Amritsar, he sent a screenshot of Giani Tea Stall, established in 1955. The place is famous for its breakfast dishes, especially kachoris, but since I couldn’t make it in time for a morning meal I had to satisfy myself with an omelette and special spiced tea. The tea maker, Ajay, who hails from Pathankot has been working at Giani’s for 15 years. I tried the spiced tea with saffron, cardamom and almonds (₹35 per cup). Next time, when I visit I will make it a point to start my day with his kachoris.
On the recommendation of another recommendation, we went to Pal Dhaba near Hathi Gate for lunch. We tried magaz, kharode and mutton tikka. The dishes were similar to what we had at Prakash (see here) but super delicious. The kharode, in particular, amazed me. Unlike the soupy Delhi variety, it was thick and unctuous. The pieces of goat feet are boiled in water and then added to a stock-based gravy later. It’s delicious with tandoori rotis. On the table next to us, a group of people from Delhi were having mutton tikka with buttery white sesame naan. I couldn’t resist ordering the same dish. The mutton tikka is again cooked in spices and served in thick gravy. The naan is so delicious that it can be savoured alone without any sauce or curry.
This was exactly what we were exactly waiting for—a high note with which to end our amazing food journey. Needless to say we’ll be going back for more.
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Punjabi food, like its culture, is very hard to ignore especially in Amritsar, the golden heart of the land of butter and celebration. The flavours are just like its people, loud and in your face but in a very good way. We went on a food adventure spanning over three days in the land of the gurus and stuffed our faces with the most beautiful, delicious and rich dishes we could find on the streets of Amritsar. Read about day 1 here.
On the second day of our food expedition, we woke up to the aroma of deep fried imarti. It was the day of Baisakhi, which marks the start of the Sikh New Year along with the formation of the Khalsa Panth. And sweets are a hallmark of the celebration.
Pooris for breakfast
Breakfast meant sampling wares from two Amritsar mainstays, starting with Kanhaiya Lal on Lawrence Road, where we sampled a fried poori made of maida and atta (in a 70:30 proportion) stuffed with a little dal pitthi. The poori is served with sweet and tangy aloo lounji, chane ki sabzi, another savoury aloo sabzi and carrot pickles. I also tried another interesting dish called satpura—a puffed pastry (with seven layers) filled with dal ki pitthi, and served with lounji and chane. Incidentally, a similar dish called the Japani samosa is available in Old Delhi’s Manohar Dhaba. The difference is that this “samosa” is filled with mashed potatoes and served with chane and lauki achaar.
Amritsar changed my conception of the ‘nutri kulcha’ and showed me what the Delhi version was missing.
We then moved on to Kanha Sweets that serves pooris that are quite similar to Kanhaiya Lal’s—the only thing missing is the savoury aloo sabzi. Kanha Sweets also sell aam pickle, stuffed matthi and besan matthi (this last is a boon for those with a gluten allergy).
A note on aam papad
Among the most enticing of all the places I visited was Lubhaya Ram, famous for aam papad. They have two outlets—the first one is a proper shop with jars and packed boxes of aam papad and the other one is a cart, right next to the DAV girls’ college.
The owner of the shop, a big-time foodie has all the information on the best eating joints in Amritsar. The way he makes the aam papad platter is a sight to see—small pieces of all the different varieties of aam papad and anar goli are placed on a plate and then given a squeeze of lemon. Next comes a sprinkling of a 12-spice mix, white salt and black salt. The taste is simply out of the world—sweet and tangy at the same time. You can see why Amritsar needs this tasty digestive bit in a corner after you have sampled the heavy deliciousness of Kanhaiya Lal.
The breadbasket of India
Amritsar is sometimes called the Breadbasket of India. I tried kulcha at three places in the city—Ashok Kulche Wala at Ranjit Avenue, All India Famous Kulcha Wala at Chungi, and Kulwant Kulcha Wala near Golden Temple.
But first let me explain how an Amritsari kulcha is unique.
The first rule is that each layer of the dough is spread with ghee. The second is that the kulcha is always stuffed with spices ranging from pomegranate seeds to raw coriander seeds. The layered dough is filled with a mixture of aloo or paneer, or anything else and then put in the tandoor, where it gets crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. A generous helping of butter is applied over the kulchas, which are devoured with chana, spring onion and amchur chutney. The chutney is a mix of tamarind, green mangoes, spring onion and spices. Out of the three kulcha places.
The uniqueness of the chicken at Beera is in the softness rather than the crispiness that’s sought after elsewhere in north India.
I found Ashok’s to be the best kulcha in terms of authenticity and taste.
At Ashok, for the mix kulcha, mashed potatoes are combined with cauliflower mix, paneer mix, coriander seeds, fenugreek leaves, black pepper and other spices. Then are added yogurt, ghee, red chilies and salt. This combination is stuffed in the kulcha, which is placed in the oven to cook. Once it emerges, it is slathered with butter and is ready to be savoured.
At All India Famous Kulcha, the pre-made mixture is simply stuffed in the dough and cooked in the tandoor. While all India and Kulwant served crisper kulchas, Ashok’s spices elevated the dish. Ashok has been in business for 36 years. The shop is open from 9 am to 2:30 pm.
Next on our agenda was the bija kulcha (the word bija in Punjabi means wet). Iqbal our food guide in the city took us to a place called Pappi di Hatti. The yeast kulchas (bo kulchas) are dipped in chickpeas topped with chopped onion, juliennes of ginger, green chutney, and amla pickles. The kulcha soaks the gravy of chickpeas and becomes soft and flavourful. The wooden containers in which the chickpeas are kept are 15 years old.
Being a Delhiite, I have tasted cuisines from all over India in this multicultural city. Thus, I’d already sampled a “nutri kulcha” at Shalimar Bagh in Delhi when I decided to see how Amritsar’s version compared. Amritsar changed my conception of the dish and showed me what the Delhi version was missing. In Delhi, it was a normal kulcha with butter and soya granules mixed with spices. Here in Amritsar, the nutri was tawa-fried with capsicum and onions in spinach gravy. A fried piece of paneer was crushed over the nutri and the entire concoction was served with butter. It tasted heavenly. I had nutri also with bhaturas, a unique and delish combination.
Desi hot dog
Having tried the famed chaat in Varanasi, Lucknow and Delhi, I was not that excited to try the chaat in Amritsar. However, Brijwasi is everyone’s favourite go-to go chaat place. The family that migrated from Mathura still serves chaat and other dishes without onion and garlic. They have an interesting desi-style hot dog—the footlong bun is fried in vanaspati and then smeared with methi chutney or saunth on one side and green chutney on the other. A single piece of crushed tikki makes the filling. Interestingly at Brijwasi, they don’t add sweet or green chutney on the papri or bhalle unless expressly asked to do so.
Since I was there on the day of Baisakhi, the harvest festival of Punjab, even the long queues at the gates of the Golden Temple couldn’t deter me from seeking the blessings for an auspicious year.
The roti-making machine is said to make 6000-9000 rotis in an hour. Men and women put ghee over the rotis to keep them soft.
Another big draw is the langar, an important part of Sikh tradition, where anyone can walk in and eat the simple and soulful food. It is a community kitchen where the followers sit in a row and are fed by volunteers who come in to do “seva”. As you enter, on the left hand side is the roti-making machine which they say makes 6000-9000 rotis in an hour. Men and women put ghee over the rotis to keep them soft. On the right hand side is the dishwashing unit—volunteers washing the soiled plates and spoons. At the rear is the main cooking area, where the food is cooked. I have never seen such a big cauldron in my life. There is no chef—the food is cooked by volunteers and sewadars. And what comes out is delicious dal that one can taste nowhere else. On special occasions, kheer and halwa is made for the followers. This institution is responsible for feeding hundred of homeless people in the city.
Chaamps and chicken
Now, one of the food explorers in our group was a vegetarian. So, before moving to the popular Beera Chicken, we stopped at Hathi Gate at Lovely Chaamp. The chaamps, made up of maida and soya are given different shapes, marinated in different spices and then grilled over charcoal. The spices are similar to those that are used in meat preparation. The most interesting out of all the soya champs was the completely veg fish champ—a fish-shaped patty made of soya and spices that are used in making Amritsari champ. (In Delhi, we have our own versions for vegetarians—deep-fried kurkure champs and Afghani ones with white creamy sauce). I loved the way creativity is inculcated in food. The Amritsari folks do not compromise on the taste and meaty texture even in vegetarian food.
Next up was Beera Chicken on Majeetha Road, where several customers ordered their food from inside their car and ate there too—Delhi-style! The shop has a sitting section too, though. Balbir, the owner, manages the restaurant, while his son takes care of the grill counter.
The chicken is first marinated in secret spices, half cooked and finally grilled straight over a griddle. One can also ask for tandoori chicken—the same chicken is cooked in a clay tandoor.
The uniqueness of the chicken is in the softness rather than the crispiness that’s sought after elsewhere in north India. It tasted heavenly. The other recommended dish at Beera is keema naan. Minced mutton is stuffed in the dough and cooked inside the tandoor. Loads of delicious butter is spread over it. While I am usually a little more careful about my butter consumption, in Punjab you gotta do as the Punjabis do. The naan is served with chutney, onions and a mutton curry that is so delicious that I slurped it straight from the bowl.
We ended our second day with Prakash which was a big disappointment. I tried magaj (brain curry), chaamp and mutton tikka. Apart from the champ (minced meat deep-fried in ghee) the other two dishes were nothing to write home about. When we visited the shop construction for a bar section was in full swing. Maybe it was just a bad day for them or maybe they have moved away from their roots—who knows?
Unable to eat a morsel more, we ended the night with digestive tablets, hoping for a grand day three to end our food expedition on a high note.