The essence of Punjabi cuisine can be found in Delhi and Amritsar, the stretch of the Grand Trunk Road (NH1) that connects them, and the many hamlets that lie in between. When it comes to the delectable cuisine of Punjab, Amritsar is truly a food lover’s paradise! The Makhan Fish and Chicken Corner on Majitha Road is an extremely popular joint so much so that when people speak of Amritsari machhi, they are, more often than not, referring to the fish-fried sangara (deep-fried battered fish) served here. Besides the fish dishes, it is also famous for its many chicken and mutton options. Another famous establishment on Majitha Road, Beera Chicken Corner is my personal favourite. It is known for its roast chicken, which stands out because of its melt-in-your-mouth succulence. Pair it with keema naan and you are in for a treat.
Though best known for its non-vegetarian dhabas, Amritsar boasts of an iconic vegetarian dhaba as well – the 101-year-old Kesar Da Dhaba. Their thali – consisting of parathas, dal fry, chana plain, raita and salad – is quite renowned. Kesar is located in Amritsar’s famous hall bazaar, which lies adjacent to the Golden Temple complex. No foray into Punjabi cuisine is complete without indulging in the langar served at the Golden Temple.
You won’t find this eatery mentioned in most Amritsari food guides, but it is an absolute must-visit. Anant Ram Ke Bun Chole sells bun chole or bun chane (buns filled with spiced chickpeas) at a small roadside eatery on Lawrence Road. The taste is truly unique and quite reflective of Amritsari street food.
You must visit Ahuja Milk Bhandar in Dhab Khatikan for its lassi. Its famous beverage is a meal in itself, thanks to its thickness. This is, indeed, the quintessential “lassi, malai maar ke!” (lassi, with a layer of cream). For those with a sweet tooth, Sukhram Fruit Ice Cream & Juice Bar is the place to head to for its delicious fruit cream (sweetened cream and fresh-cut fruit).
Highway dhabas in Punjab are not far behind when it comes to serving delicious Punjabi fare. Amrik Sukhdev in Murthal is an instantly recognisable name thanks to the massive building it is housed in. Its butter-laden parathas are indulgent and filling. Two simple words are associated with the famous Jhilmil Dhaba in Karnal – white butter. The parathas at this dhaba are always overflowing with it. Bonus: the dhaba chai here is to die for.
Turns out, the vegetarian dhaba-friendly GT Road also has a well-known non-vegetarian eatery. Mayur Dhaba in Karnal is known for its chicken paratha and range of chicken and mutton dishes.
If you have travelled on the Delhi-Amritsar NH1 stretch a few times, you may have seen branches of the vegetarian restaurant, Haveli. Of these, I usually stop by the Jalandhar Haveli, about 90km from Amritsar. Though not as cheap as other highway options, the paneer paratha and lassi are worth every penny. It’s also a very hygienic option.
Chandigarh too has its fair share of eateries serving great Punjabi fare. Some argue that the city’s best butter chicken can be found at Pal Dhaba in Sector 28, while others vouch for its chana masala. No one, however, disagrees about the fact that Pal is amongst Chandigarh’s top dhabas.
You discover a definite winner of the puchka vs panipuri vs gol gappe battle once you take a bite of Garg Chaat’s. You should also try the papri chaat at this famous street food eatery in Sector 23. For just `40 a plate, you get 12 pieces of papri (fried wafer) with boiled potatoes, yogurt, tamarind chutney and a whole lot of flavour.
In Ludhiana, a famous eatery you must visit is Baba Chicken in the Model Town area. My personal opinion is that the best butter chicken in Punjab can be found here. It is creamy, golden in colour rather than the usual reddish-brown, and unapologetically delicious. Baba’s food may be a little spicy, but has that ever been a problem?
In Ambala, you will find many impersonators of the famous Puran Singh Da Dhaba lining GT road, however the original and the one you must take a trip to is located at the corner facing Ambala bus stand’s main gate. There’s even a picture of Rocky and Mayur of Highway on my Plate to confirm that this is the one they visited on the show. The dhaba shuts by 4.00pm because it runs out of food to serve, so go here early.
Delhi cannot be skipped when it comes to mouth-watering Punjabi dishes. Dhaba – The Claridges inside the well-known Claridges Hotel is a dhaba-themed high-end restaurant, which has been in operation since 1986. Every dish is not just inspired from typical roadside Punjabi fare, but also retains the taste, if not improves upon it. I recommend the signature balti meat and kanastari baingan here. Another icon is Kake Da Hotel, an 86-year-old Punjabi dhaba with a legacy that began in Lahore. It’s one of those taste-over-hygiene places, and the food is meant to be simple in flavour, much like home food. It is located in Connaught Place.
Read more in the Outlook Traveller Getaways India’s Culinary Heritage