Amritsar loves to eat. It’s famed for it’s street stalls known as ‘dhabas’ which fill most square inches of the city. (The other square inches are filled with turban-ed Sikh men hiding their round bellies under woollen shawls.)
Despite the cold (it’s sub zero here) the street chefs are busy on their compact kitchen carts cooking up their specialities in pots and pans of huge proportions, each with magnificent showmanship. One man making kulchas is whipping around a flat disc of dough on one hand before stuffing it with potato, onion, dried pomegranates and chillies and adeptly whacking it into a tandoor. Another is serving up Amritsari fish: battered and fried swordfish laced with ginger, garlic and paprika. They’re all utterly mesmerising to watch.
In search of the best local ‘dhaba’ we’re taken to Brothers Dhaba. Less a street stall, more a cafe full of pretty young Punjabi girls with long plaited hair. On the specials board is a rare beast of a dish, only served up in the Winter and traditionally eaten by local Punjabi farmers. It’s mustard leaf curry (sarson ki saag) – the pungent leaves are cooked in a generous amount of ghee until they break down and served with a corn flour chapatti called ‘makki ki roti’. (Although the photo below is of their spectacular thali.)
Later and back at Mrs Bhandhari’s home, where we’re staying, Sweet Dilip (the resident chef) teaches me how to russle up some of that famous Amritsari fish.
3 small skinless and boneless fillets of swordfish
2 tsp very finely chopped ginger
2 tsp mashed up garlic
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp salt
6 tbs white flour
1/2 tsp garam masala (available in supermarkets)
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
Around 2 tbs water
Place the fish fillets in a bowl, add the rest of the marinade ingredients – stir gently (so not to break up the fish) and leave to marinade for at least half an hour. (Dilip tells me the fish is much tastier if you leave for a day.
Make the batter up just before you fry. In a bowl add the flour, the garam masala, chilli, ginger, garlic, fennel seeds and finally the egg. Stir through before adding a little water to create a thick batter – just thicker than double cream.
In a deep sided pan, add enough oil to deep fry the fish. Get the oil up to around 170 degrees celcius. Drop the fish in the batter and ensure it’s well coated and add to the oil. Fry until nice and golden on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and serve with a squeeze of lemon.