If you are a Punjabi or love Punjabi food, this story will get you thinking, if I get successful in getting you to think, I might as well get successful in gently nudging you to try some of the food I am going to talk about.
This piece got inspired by our CEO, Simarprit Singh’s breakfast anecdote. It was during a much regular breakfast buffet experience that he realized how a stranger sees Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani written all over the face of a Punjabi.
Here is the story:
Yesterday morning, I got angry while adding items to my plate at a breakfast buffet spread. Someone sympathized with me – he felt bad there was no Daal Makhani for me, though the spread was elaborate. I politely told him, “Punjabis, I know, don’t eat Dal Makhani for Breakfast” and I thought I was done. “No! But you do end the day with Butter Chicken,” he said with a chuckle, and I rather uncomfortably answered hiding my sarcasm, “Yes, Yes, every day and for lunch, we take Shahi Paneer”. This guy went back to his seat happy, but I was seriously miffed. I thought, “Are we so messed up? Or are we seen to be so messed up?”
Post this, he took to Twitter to share his experience and tweeted:
I am a North Indian, a Punjabi, a Sikh, a Foodie and I just can’t stand three much-hyped “Punjabi” dishes: Butter Chicken, Dal Makhani and Shahi Paneer. Many would feel that’s all Punjabi food is about. NO! I have zero childhood memories of these 3 dishes, and they don’t ring a bell.
In today’s highly commercial world, if you are running a restaurant, you will see how the waiter points to the part of the menu where Butter Chicken, Dal Makhani, Shahi Paneer and the like sit like the crown jewel of the place.
I went to review a restaurant some time back in Noida and when I asked what the speciality of the restaurant is, the manager promptly replied – Punjabi Food. The maximum revenue of a restaurant is usually generated by Punjabi food and hence, the choice for the focus. But what many of us don’t know is how diverse Punjabi food is.
There is a popular notion that North India is largely Punjabi because of the influence of Punjabi food over there. However, Punjabi food is not all Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani, I assure you, at least my conversation with Simar proved it.
The unintended cathartic tweet by Simar provoked a serious chain of discussion though and before I realized, the Twitter handle was buzzing with people talking about other kinds of Punjabi foods they have grown up with. For me, this was eye-opening.
Provoked by this discussion, I went online to read about the diversity of Punjabi food. Imagine my amazement when I saw images on my browser of Dal Makhani and Butter Chicken drenched and dipped in super-rich cream. Then I went on to Zomato and Swiggy to check order for some Punjabi food, Simar WAS right. We are seriously messed up because the stereotype food joints have many dishes in common.
This made me dig deeper into the essence of Punjabi food. And what I have learnt is that more than the spices and the cream or even nuts, Punjabi food has a bounty of seasonal vegetables in the making of its dishes. But today, diners are largely compelled to stick to some paneer, mushroom or chicken. We are in the restaurant and aggregator age which promotes food as extravagant without much thrust on promoting what is original and the diversity of the cuisine.
Rajma, Chole Chawal and Moth Kachori reached Delhi post-partition and are today a prominent part of the food culture of Delhi. Bhatti (tandoor) came to Delhi with the Punjabis from Peshawar region. Guru Nanak stressed on communal tandoors where every person from the community would come to bake their loaves of bread and cook their food in the same open pit. In today’s Punjabi restaurants, tandoor and the kebabs are the most integral part of the menu.
Then you have Mustard which is the easiest crop to grow. Punjabis have the traditional Sarson ka Saag and Makki ki Roti, a bread made with Portuguese imported corn.
And of course, there are dals. Not just the Dal Makhani though.
Have you heard about MAANH KI DAAL? This one is slowly cooked with a little quantity of onion and ginger, and more of garlic, over low heat. When it reaches the well-cooked and desired viscosity, you can pour the much favourite desi ghee into it and add cumin powder along with herbs like onion, ginger, garlic and green chillies.
Then there are Paranthas, Papri Chats, Dahi Bhallas, Kulcha, Achars and hundreds of other dishes.
Punjabi food has always been distinct. It offers a vast variety of delectable and exotic vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes that are prepared with varied culinary styles. Punjabi food is a wealth of flavours and from the use of oil to spices, it is the epitome of diversity.
I am leaving you with some of the interesting comments of people who are breaking the food stereotype from Simar’s tweet (Join the conversation here) and the next time you meet a Punjabi, don’t ask him about Butter Chicken or Dal Makhani. Let him fill his platter with the food of his choice.