Kesar da Dhaba is, inarguably the first dhaba that comes to mind when planning a food trip in Amritsar
Amritsar is the spiritual centre of Sikhism, where the most revered Golden Temple is situated, thus, purity and satisfaction are the takeaways from your trip to Amritsar, as its spiritual vibes fill you with peace and serenity to calm your stressed mind, body, and soul.
If you are a foodie, the Amritsar trip would shower you with its warm hospitality and the variety of delicious Punjabi that can satiate the craving of any culinary enthusiast. As we explore the narrow, meandering lanes of Amritsar, we experience the true culture of the city. In its numerous bazaars and chaurahas, lie some of the sacred food hubs that any food lover would not imagine missing out on his culinary pilgrimage.
Kesar da Dhaba is, inarguably the first dhaba that comes to mind when planning a food trip in Amritsar. Just a 10-minute walk from Gurudwara, a more than 100 years old culinary institution ‘Kesar da Dhaba’, serves delicious desi food to visitors and locals alike.
Kesar da Dhaba, which was started in 1916, in the small town of Sheikhupura, near Lahore, had to shift to the Indian side of the border post the partition in 1947. And even after 75 years of India's independence, the recipes and the traditional methods of cooking deployed at Kesar da Dhaba, have remained the same.
As soon as I got the opportunity to visit ‘Kesar da Dhaba’, the pleasant whiff of ‘Tadka’ signalled to my mind to enjoy the meal of a lifetime. Dal fry! My scanning eyes were looking for this tempered and aromatic anchor dish of the Dhaba. The aromatic spices lured me into the massive kitchen of ‘Kesar Da Dhaba’ and after seeking permission from Mr. Ramesh (4th generation owner), I could witness the heavy-handed chefs continuously stirring the human-sized ladles into the big handis of dal simmering on low flame.
“Is this the dal that is cooked for 12 hours?” I asked in curiosity, ‘Yes’ replied Mr. Makhanlal, one of the senior cooks at Kesar da Dhaba, “this is cooked for more than 12 hours, and then it gets tempered in ghee and spices before it reaches the guest’s table”.
“This handi cooks around 50 kgs of dal, and a similar handi is just about to go on the flame”, replied Makhanlal Ji, as he smilingly tends to all my curiosities about this culinary gem. I was highly impressed by the whole kitchen setup and how efficiently the food was dished out to a massive crowd of food-lovers, who happily hold their tokens and await their delicious meal. Around half-a-dozen skilled cooks manning as many tandoors, the clapping sounds of rotis and parathas being flattened out by hands create a symphonic harmony. The aroma of crisp parathas getting doused in superior quality desi ghee, the crunching sound of flaky bread being crushed by hand, and a subtle but consistent sizzle of the piping hot tadka of ghee, orchestrate the rhythmic ballad of this sumptuous Punjabi Dhaba cuisine.
The menu card listed an array of world-famous Punjabi dishes; palak paneer, chana masala, Shahi Paneer, Baingan ka bharta, kadhai paneer, and malai kofta to name a few. I could not wait for these delicacies to occupy space on my thali, and a permanent abode in my heart.
Sitting among a crowd full of Punjabi cuisine lovers at this legendary Dhaba, waiting for my thali tested my patience. However, the wait was worth it as soon as I laid my eyes on the well-appointed thali. Palak-paneer, chana masala, dal fry, and laccha paratha were cooked to perfection with lots of butter, ghee, and love.
Crispy & layered laccha parathas are your best bet for bread. It is not just the best accompaniment to the beautiful and balanced texture of the dal but also lays a perfect plank to rest a spoonful of luscious ‘palak-paneer’ before you bite into its dense and irresistible flavours. As you enjoy this instantly hit combination, you can’t help but appreciate the unparalleled camaraderie between the season’s fresh spinach, creamy silken paneer, and the crispy ghee-dipped parathas.
‘Chana masala’ was another highlight of our selection of dishes, Punjabi’s treatment of this humble legume is famous the world over, and while you are at Kesar da Dhaba, do not miss this flavourful version of Chickpea curry; enjoy it with a stuffed paratha of ‘aloo’ or ‘gobhi’ to seek pleasures of a full-fledged Punjabi culinary affaire.
Food at Kesar da Dhaba is heavy. However, the quality of the ingredients and the authenticity of cooking methods make dining at this legendary dhaba one of the finest dining experiences across India. Where else can we expect better Punjabi food if not in the culinary capital of Punjab, Amritsar?
Although the sweet hospitality and the smile on the faces of cooks and servers at this Dhaba are enough to satiate your craving for a well-rounded experience, you should not miss the famous chilled ‘phirni’ of Kesar da Dhaba. Scoop out the silver varq blanketed phirni from its circular earthenware grooves called ‘sakora’. Enjoy the creamy milky sweet goodness of this perfect ending to your gastronomical pilgrimage to Kesar Da Dhaba.
The city of Amritsar has seen centuries of cultural evolutions, and in its 106 years old life, Kesar da Dhaba, too, has evolved and grown in stature. The spiritual shadow of this holy city, which is an inspiration to thrive in all adversities, must have some role to play. It is challenging to be consistently magical for more than 100 years unless the divine truly blesses you. After tasting the heavenly food of Kesar Da Dhaba, our belief in divine intervention is strengthened.
So why don’t you beckon on this culinary pilgrimage and book a ticket to Amritsar?
Sidharth Bhan Gupta is a Hospitality/F&B Consultant travelling across India exploring regional cuisines.