Vegetarian Cuisine in Amritsar, India

Golden Temple in Amritsar, IndiaPop quiz: what landmark in India attracts more visitors than the Taj Mahal? No, not the glowstick stand at a Goa beach rave.

The correct answer is the Harmandir Sahib, or Golden Temple, of Amritsar, in the state of Punjab. The spiritual hub of Sikhism – the mother gurdwara – lures, on average, 100,000 visitors a day. It is a significant place of pilgrimage, even by India’s standards, and the crown jewel of the city.

Golden Temple, Golden City

Although Chandigarh is the capital of Punjab, Amritsar, with close to 1.2 million people, is the most populous city. As the linchpin metropolis of the only state in India with a majority Sikh population, Amritsar is in a singular position. This “Golden City” is a cradle of culture and, by extension, a cradle of cuisine.

The multiplicity of culinary styles in India is as rich and diverse as the country’s linguistic heritage. You can travel from one village to the next, let alone one district or state to the next, and taste completely different interpretations on the same ingredients, or, indeed, different ingredients altogether.

Punjabi and Sikh Hospitality

Punjabi cuisine, like Punjabi culture, casts a wide net. It not only covers Punjabi ethnicity, which itself covers some 120 million people, but various sub-groups, such as Punjabi Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jats, Rajputs, Khatris, Dalits and Brahmins. Moreover, the traditional Punjab region straddles both India and Pakistan. A fascinating study for any cultural anthropologist, to be sure.

In Amritsar then, one city in Indian Punjab, with a dominant Sikh population, hungry travellers can drill down on a cuisine that is a little more focussed. Sikh temples enforce strict vegetarian codes but the religion itself is flexible on the subject of the consumption of meat outside of places of worship (Kosher and Halal-type dietary rituals do exist).

Still, vegetarian cooking in the city, from the best Amritsar hotels to a humble street cart, evinces fragrances and an exoticism well worth pursuing. Especially if you do it in a langar.

The langar, or community kitchen of a Sikh temple, is a wellspring of intel on the roots of vegetarian cuisine in Sikh Punjab. At the Golden Temple in Amritsar everyone is welcome to partake. Meals are served twice a day, every day of the year. The food is simple: flatbreads cooked on hot iron plates; spiced vegetables; lentils.

Some items carry more spiritual symbolism and weight than others – though all food is regarded as sacred in Sikhism. Karah Parshad is a prominent example. The semolina confection made with flour, butter, and sugar is shared, in small portions, with all temple visitors. It is bad form to refuse this ancient hospitality contract.

One for the Bucket List

A brigade of volunteers prepares the food and manages the kitchen at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. This is how you serve 50,000 devotees and tourists a day – more than double on special pilgrimage days. No visit to Amritsar, or Punjab, India for that matter, is complete without a vegetarian meal at this most holy of places. It may lack the pizazz of a fancy restaurant meal but it more than makes up for that with a genuine sense of spiritual intimacy.

From his recent visit to India, Jarred has brought back plenty of tips, tricks and helpful information to hopefully help out future travellers.

Editorial Team
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