Part of my ancestry is from the “Doaba” region of Punjab. This was the first time in my life I was going to see my ancestral home in the village and to sample some real Punjabi cuisine.
First things first. FORGET what Bollywood has described as village life. The villages of Punjab are prosperous. Where one was expecting thatched roofs and straw huts, one found concrete houses with split air conditioners. Where one was expecting oxen and ox carts, one found Mercedes SUVs. Where one was expecting dirt roads, one found cement roads which don’t wash away with the rains (you could say they were better than the tar roads in the city).
Bit of an eye opener really. The closest major city to the villages of my paternal grand parents is Jalandhar, which is where we were based. So I wasted no time in ordering tikkas for my first meal in Punjab along with dal makhani, some paneer bhurji and some butter naan (well, this is what Punjabi food is supposed to be famous for, so I thought, why not!).
Another point to note here before I proceed further. Punjab is to India what Texas is to the United States. Everything is bigger there. The portion sizes of food were so generous that a single order of dal was too much for three grown adults. Same goes for the Tandoori Sampler platter of tikkas which contained chicken tikkas, chicken malai tikkas, some kind of green marinated chicken (which I couldn’t work my way to, there was just so much food!), fish tikkas, and some mutton seekh kebab. This serving in itself was enough for four people.
As far as the taste is concerned, it was very good, and very reasonably priced for top notch restaurant food. The dal was well cooked but not overpowering. The tikkas were well marinated but to be honest, you get pretty good tikkas in Delhi as well. And again, there was so much food that I had to give the paneer a miss or risk exploding.
Punjabis who return from Europe and the Americas are also very fond of their continental food, so there is plenty available for those who want to give the local cuisine a miss (though why any one would do that is beyond me!). We visited one of the top restaurants in town (according to trip advisor) and tried their Roast Chicken in Jack Daniels barbecue sauce with buttered greens and mashed potatoes on the side. Perhaps I thought otherwise but I realise now I’m definitely not a whiskey person so the sauce wasn’t a huge hit with me, but that’s just me, it’s likely there are plenty of whisky lovers out there who would have loved it.
My last major meal in Punjab was the Punjabi version of Chinese food (what can I say, my traveling companions had had enough of the local cuisine after the initial overload). Punjabi Chinese is a cuisine in itself and is famous all over India so it was time to give it a try in the place where it was invented. We tried some chicken in black bean sauce, some vegetable hakka noodles and some vegetables in hot garlic sauce (all names that would be familiar to Indians from India any where in the world). Once again, the portion sizes were large, and a single portion of noodles was enough for the three of us. The food did not disappoint, the chicken was heavy on pepper, not chilies, so it wasn’t too hot, and the vegetables were in a mild gravy so all in all it was quite a delightful meal.
I returned to Delhi about a Kilo heavier. Considering I was in Punjab for two nights and two and a half days, that’s enough of an achievement. On my next trip to Punjab, I plan on trying out the butter chicken, the paneer paranthas and the dahi. I didn’t try them, but my traveling companions strongly recommended these items, specially the dahi, which was thick, and very creamy. Not at all like what you get in Delhi.