A weekend in Amritsar: Breakfast, Lunch, Dessert, Snack, Dinner, Dessert – the title of the most shared document on my notes app.
Every time I convince a new set of friends, colleagues, and sometimes, strangers to plan a food trail to Amritsar (also my hometown), I send this to them. They often ask me why I’m so obsessed with sending them there, and my response, over the years, has remained unchanged – “The food!” God knows it’s worth it.
But there’s a little more to it.
They say feeding someone is a love language. There is something so quietly romantic about a small city that carries tens of little corners, where hundreds of people set up tiny kitchens just to cook for and feed thousands of mouths every day. And it’s not just the city, but the people. People, who spend their entire lives cooking the same thing, in the exact same way, just to see the same looks of joy and satisfaction on countless faces right after they devour that first bite.
And ultimately, the city’s magic, and the people’s warmth, come together in the form of delicious plates of food. To me, the essence of Amritsar lies in its food – the love we have for it and the love we show through it.
And while I stay thoroughly unbiased in my objective curation of what all to eat in Amritsar; when it comes to me personally, there’s a clear and obvious favourite – a hot, crisp, brown, buttery, evenly stuffed, and unbelievably delicious Amritsari kulcha.
Served with chhole, a tangy chutney, and dollops of butter, it’s the entire city’s unanimous favourite breakfast. Friends, families, kids, old, young, or in denial – all of them, every Sunday, go to their one favourite kulcha spot (out of potentially hundreds, that town is obsessed), and have a breakfast that’s going to knock them out for the rest of the day.
Chungi’s on Maqbool Road, has been that one place for me. An old school, open tandoor setup, with hardly any place to sit, and lingering smell of melting butter. That shop and the countless cars that line up to eat there have caused many traffic jams over the years. And if that isn’t testament enough to its greatness, the fact that nobody stuck in traffic there ever complains, should be.
They’ve all gotten a taste, they all understand.
Having been around for decades, it’s almost shocking how little that place has changed. Same steel benches that are too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. Same two tandoors that feel like bottomless pits the way kulchas just keep coming out of them. Same uncle at the billing counter who has always astonished me with his ability to pack hundreds of packets of chole for takeaway while simultaneously handing people their change and never staining a single note. Ever.
The very first time I had a kulcha in my life, it was here. I remember standing in front of the billing counter, staring at the “packing uncle”, and being absolutely fascinated by the way he would twist a polybag full of chole across one hand and tie it into a knot.
I’m fairly certain the much younger me wasn’t too interested in actually eating the kulcha. What an idiot. But one that has surely learnt over time.
Every time I go back home, I go there with my mother and her passive resistance. She loves the Kulchas, but having spent all of her loyalty on my father, and the city having spoiled her for choice, that woman wants to go to a different place to have one every single time. My undying loyalty to Chungi’s irks her. But it’s well-founded.
My standard order? Two crisp and flaky Amritsari kulchas with extra butter and a can of Coke. Although I haven’t had to specify any of this for years now. The same man has been in charge of taking all orders for years and he remembers mine verbatim by now. “Aapke chehre pe khushi hi alag aati hai kulche kha ke,” he said to me once. One of my proudest moments till date.
And he’s not wrong. Whether it’s the extra crunch around the edges, the hot, perfectly seasoned potato stuffing, or that special last bite at the centre where the butter rests till you get to it – there’s something about that kulcha that goes beyond the ordinary and it blatantly shows on my face from my first bite to the last.
In a world full of culinary geniuses and cuisines that attempt to bend the rules of science, it both baffles me how something so simple continues to be so many people’s absolute, undisputed favourite, as well as tells me all I need to know about life – you don’t need to do a million things or a difficult thing or a new thing, you just need to do a simple thing and do it well.
I’m signing off with something I tried with every fibre of my being to not write today but failed. The next free weekend you get, and decide to travel, please go to Amritsar and eat as much as you can.
If you promise to start with Chungi’s, I will send you a little gift. It’s called A weekend in Amritsar – Breakfast, Lunch, Dessert, Snack, Dinner, Dessert.
‘An Ode To’ is a monthly feature…no, love letter, to a cuisine, dish, drink, ingredient or maker that impacted the writer in big ways and small.