Amritsar is known for Golden temple and the beating retreat ceremony at Attari border. But what attracted me the most was the label given to Amritsar by many – ‘Culinary capital of Punjab’. The foodie in me wanted to try all the delectable cuisines that Amritsar was famous for. As always, the first thing that I did before visiting a new place is to read in detail about the local food culture. By the end of my research I came up with a long list of items to try out.
And probably because of the long hours I spend searching for food in Amritsar, an ad of city on pedals came up. Out of curiosity I went through their site and it looked interesting – cycle tour to lesser known gems of Amritsar, cycle tour to explore street food etc. The more I read about each, the more I wanted to do all of it. But then, with just one day in hand it was impossible to join for all the tours. In the end, I zeroed in on street food tour. There were two timings – 11 am and 7pm. Since I had so many places to visit during day time, I opted for the 7 pm street food tour and did an online booking.
I landed in Amritsar on a Sunday morning full of energy and started exploring the city. I was able to do a detailed tour of Golden temple, Jallianwala bagh and Durgiana temple. I also was fortunate enough to witness the beating retreat ceremony on republic day when the people were in a jubiliant mood. My food journey was also awesome. I was served makki ki roti, maa ki daal, sarson ki saag and kheer at the langar of golden temple. I was full but didn’t want to miss out other famous foods of Amritsar. So, I went on gobbling all the food that I could lay hands upon – Kulcha from Kulcha land, Lassi from Gyani, Kulfi near temple, Fish and mutton from Makhani etc. By the time I returned from Attari border, it was 7pm and I didn’t have an inch of stomach left to fill. I was tired too after the long day and decided to drop the cycling thing.
Anyway I finally made up my mind to meet the cycle on pedals team, have a chat with them and then leave. Well, once I met the young team full of energy and enthusiasm waiting to show me their city, I didn’t feel like disappointing them. Thus, I let Sam and Rishav to take me for the street food tour. At the onset, they made me wear a fluorescent safety jacket and helmet. There were a few cycles to choose from. After trying one two cycles, I finally found the one I was comfortable with. Sam rode his cycle ahead of me and before starting educated me on the signs he will be using while on cycle to guide me the way.
Sam also explained to me that the basic idea of the tour was to introduce me to some unique street foods. Our first stop was at a Vaishno Bhandaar which was tucked deep inside an alley . It was a small shop but very neat and cozy. As we waited for hot pakoras, Rishav offered me hand sanitizer and I was surprised to see their preparedness. Unlike the onion pakoras that you get everywhere, here the pakoras were made with gobi (cauliflower), paneer (cottage cheese) and baingan( egg plant). It was accompanied with mint chutney mixed with fresh cut onions. The pakoras were one of the best that I had tasted. Eventhough my stomach was full I couldn’t resist finishing half the pakoras that was served.
Next stop was at a Gol gappa centre set up right on the side of a busy road. The water to be filled in gol gappa was neatly kept closed in beautiful red earthern jars. I was offered 5 different flavoured gol gappa and was challenged by Sam to identify the flavour. The first two were very easy to identify –pudina( mint ) and imili( tamarind). The rest of the three were very unique and had a tough time identifying – kalimirch (black pepper), hing (asafetida) and jaljeera(cuminseed). Managed to score distinction by identifying four out of five flavours!!!
Then we stopped at a road side eatery were a man was grilling chicken pieces. When I asked Sam about what was unique about it as u get grilled chicken all over, he shocked me by telling that it was not chicken but soya. It had close reseblence to chicken version. I am not a big fan of soya and not at all of malai version. I told Sam and Rishav that I’m happy seeing it and don’t want to taste it. But then Sam insisted on tasting a piece of the malai version of soya chaap. Well, one bite and I absolutely fell for it It was tasting heavenly and in the blink of eye , I fiished the whole plate of soya chap offered. It was the best dish that I had in Amritsar. From the same shop I was served the tandoori version of momos. Momos is always my personal favourite and I was happy to taste the tandoori version. Steamed moms are marinated with crean and various other Punjabi spices and then grilled over a tandoor. It was a delectable thing.
Our next destination was Lubhayya Ram which is very famous for aam papar. The 50 year old shop had an array of items – plain aam papd, sweet version, masala version prepared with chaat masala, ram laddu prepared with imli, anaardani goli prepared with pomegranate, jeera goli prepared with cumin etc. Seeing my enthusiasm, he made a special chat which combined samples of all the items. It was mixed with some spices and lime juice. Next in our agenda was Kulcha and chicken which I had to deny as I was filled till my throat with food. But Sam and Rishav were not ready to let go off me so easily and they took me to sharma sweets were Sharmaji was preparing hot jaleby and tiny gulab jamuns. One look at the mouth watering delicacies and I gave in. The hot sweets tasted truly great.
By then it was 9 pm. We had almost covered 6 kilometrs on cycle. Eventhough I had left cycling years back, I was completely comfortable riding again as the team helped me through out the trip. At busy junctions, all three of us would get down and push our cycles. While Rishav was busy capturng the fun moments of our trip, Sam kept me engaged with stories of Amritsar. I learned more about golden temple and Amritsar during the two hours of ride than from the days spent on Amritsar research.
Sam and Rishav had lots more to show me but since I had to catch my Delhi bus at 10 pm I had to wind up my street food exploration. I thanked myself for selecting this unique tour to explore the street food of Amritsar. Inspite of being tired, I thoroughly enjoyed the cycle ride through the busy streets of Amritsar, local eateries, the special food and the wonderful company of cop team. Surprisingly, except for the aam papad , I had never read about the specialities that I tasted anywere else. If you love good food, if you are ready to sweat out, then don’t miss out the street food exploration on bicycle with city on pedals team.