Thursday, January 12, 2012

punjabi cuisine


Punjab –the land of five rivers

Punjab, the land of the five rivers-Beas, Satluj, Chenab, Ravi and Jhelum, is also called the land of milk and honey. Perhaps it would be appropriate to call it the land of plenty!! Punjabi cooking and eating is just like the Punjabis themselves. It is simple and forthright. Punjabis are a hardworking and fun loving community by nature with food and merriment, very much a part of their lives.

Punjabi cuisine is never complicated. Bhunao is one of the main techniques of Punjabi cuisine specially for non-vegetarian cooking. It brings to mind images of appetizing food. Being an agricultural state the staple food of Punjab is wheat and to accompany hot rotis and parathas are a variety of the most exotic vegetarian and non-vegetarian delights.

The earliest references to region’s food are found in the Vedas, which document the lives of the Aryans in the Punjab. Amazingly the elements mentioned over 6,000 years ago are still extant in this cuisine. This includes dairy-dughd (milk),ghrit (ghee) and dadhi (curd),shak (leafy green vegetables) and a variety of grain. Even today, the staple in the Punjab is grains and vegetables in their basic form.

Ayurvedic texts refer to Vatika-a dumpling of sundried, spice specked delicacy made with lentil paste called vadi .The art of making vadi reached its acme in Amritsar with the arrival of the merchants of Marwar, who were invited by Ram Das, the fourth Guru if the Sikhs, to stream line the trade in the sacred city. There is also reference to vataka or vadha made of soaked coarsely ground and fermented mash (husked urad) daal.

The unhusked mash is the mother of all lentils. Rajmah derives from the word raj mash or the regal mash. Other pulses mentioned are chanak (channa dal) and alisandaga(identified as kabuli ar large channa)that is stated to have reached India with Alexander the Great’s troops who came to India via Afghanistan.

Punjab-this side of the border or that-is situated at the crossroads of the Silk Route. This allowed the Punjabis-Sikh, Hindu and Muslim-to imbibe diverse culinary influences. The proximity with Persia, Afghanistan and Central Asia gave them a taste for fresh and dried fruits and exotic nuts.

Punjabi cuisine has always been strongly influenced by Mughal invaders who brought with them the tradition of the great Tandoor and now Punjabi tandoori cooking is celebrated as

one of the most popular cuisine through out the world.

Let’s take a look at some of the sub-regions that have contributed to enriching the cuisine of Punjab.

Peshawar-The most North Western of districts in British India is a Pathan country and the fare is akin to the food eaten in Afghanistan. The market in Peshawar handled, besides large volumes of cambric, silks and indigo, spices that came from Hyderabad(Deccan),saffron from Kashmir, sugar, salt, tea and asafetida from Delhi. The exports were raisins and dry fruits.

Rawalpindi-South of Hazara and east of Jhelum, separated from Kashmir with Attock to its west, the district of Rawalpindi is covered with groves of oak, olive and chestnut. The flora and fauna is the same as in the other parts of the lower Himalayas. This area has imbibed culinary influences from Kashmir, North West frontier and the plains and the plains irrigated by the Indus.

Baluchistan- Bounded on South by Arabian sea and extending in the North to Afghanistan and NWFP, Baluchistan touches Persia in the west, and Sindh and Punjab in the East.

Food in the region has been basic and robust. Breads are made with wheat and jowar (barley) .cheeses of different kinds are an integral part of the diet and among the vegetables onion, garlic and fresh asafoetida stalks are used. Rice and fish are the staple diet along the coast. Among the birds chakor and grouse relished.

Amritsar- Shaped like an oblong between the Ravi and Beas rivers, the districts northeast of Gurdaspur and south-west of Lahore. The forests of dhaak, baer, mango and jamun abounded in the district until recent times urbanization decimated most of them. The chief crops are wheat, gram, barley, maize, rice, cotton, pulses and sugarcane. The region is famous for its buffaloes and its milk product


Punjabi cuisine is distinguished by the proportionally high use of dairy products; milk, paneer, ghee (clarified butter), and yoghurt (yogurt, yoghourt) are all common ingredients. Gravies are typically dairy-based. Other common ingredients include chilies, saffron, and nuts.

Punjabi cooking features the use of the "tawa" (griddle) for baking flat breads like roti and paratha, and "tandoor" (a large and cylindrical coal-fired oven) for baking breads such as naan, and kulcha; main courses like tandoori chicken are also cooked in the "tandoor", a cylindrical shaped clay oven. Other breads like puri and bhatoora, which are deep fried in oil, are also common. Goat and lamb meats are favored ingredients of many Punjabi recipes.

The samosa is a popular North Indian snack, and now commonly found in other parts of India, Central Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. A common variety is filled with boiled, fried, or mashed potato. Other fillings include minced meat, cheese (paneer), mushroom (khumbi), and chick pea.

Punjab is located in the northwest of India surrounded by Pakistan on the west, the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir on the north, Himachal Pradesh on its northeast and Haryana and Rajasthan to its south. It covers a geographical area of 50,362 sq. km which is 1.54 % of country’s total geographical area. Punjab state is located between 29° 30' N to 32° 32' N latitude and between 73° 55' E to 76° 50' E longitude. Its average elevation is 300 m from the sea level.
Most of the land of Punjab is fertile plain but one can find the south-east region being semi-arid and desert landscapes. A belt of swelling hills extends along the northeast at the foot of the Himalayas. Punjab state is situated between the great systems of the Indus and Ganges rivers. Most of the state is an alluvial plain, irrigated by canals; Punjab's arid southern border edges on the Thar, or Great Indian, Desert. The Siwalik Range rises sharply in the north of the state.

In Punjab, the soil characteristics are influenced to a very limited extent by the topography, vegetation and parent rock. The variation in soil profile characteristics are much more pronounced because of the regional climatic differences. Punjab is divided into three distinct regions on the basis of soil types. The regions are: South-Western Punjab, Central Punjab and Eastern Punjab. Punjab falls under seismic zones II, III, and IV. Zones II and III are referred to as Low Damage Risk Zone while zone IV referred to as high damage risk zone.


Punjabi cuisine (from the Punjab region of Northern India) is mainly based upon Wheat, Masalas (spice), pure desi ghee, with liberal amounts of butter and cream. Though wheat varieties form their staple food, Punjabis do cook rice on special occasions. During winter a delicacy, kheer a very popular dessert is cooked using rice.

Punjabi cuisine specialises in variety and it can be non-vegetarian or completely vegetarian. It is widely popular however there is some ignorance in Western Cultures that Punjabi is cuisine is completely curry based. The level of spices can vary from minimal to very prevalent. One of the main features of Punjabi cuisine is its diverse range of dishes. Home cooked and restaurant Punjabi cuisine can vary significantly, with restaurant style using large amounts of clarified butter, known locally as desi ghee, with liberal amounts of butter and cream with home cooked concentrating on mainly upon wheat masalas (spice) flavourings. Though wheat varieties form their staple food, Punjabis do cook rice on special occasions. During winter a delicacy, Roh Di Kheer, is cooked using rice. Rice is cooked for a long time in sugar cane juice.

Within the state itself, there are different preferences. People in the area of Amritsar prefer stuffed parathas and milk products. In fact, the area is well known for quality of its milk products. There are certain dishes which are exclusive to Punjab, such as Mah Di Dal and Saron Da Saag (Sarson Ka Saag).

The food is tailor-made for the Punjabi lifestyle in which most of the rural folk burn up a lot of calories while working in the fields. The main masala in a Punjabi dishes consists of onion, garlic and ginger. Tandoori food is a Punjabi speciality especially for non-veg dishes.

Wheat and maize are the staple food grains that the hardworking, food-loving people of Punjab depend on for their nourishment. Typical Punjabi cuisine is as simple as it can get and there is nothing subtle about it. All lentils, especially black gram and yellow gram, are a part of Punjabi cuisine and so are rotis and curd. In fact, if you are anywhere in the north, chances are that you have some Punjabi dish every day without even knowing about it-if it is not dal and roti, then it can be rajma or chana. Milk is synonymous with this land of five rivers and plays an important role in the Punjabi diet. Various milk products add to the variety and a part of the daily diet are milk products like dahi, lassi, paneer, cream and not to miss ghee and butter.



In Punjab, wheat is the main winter crop, which is sown in October and harvested in March or April. In January, the fields come up with the promise of a golden harvest, and farmers celebrate Lohri during this rest period before the cutting and gathering of crops. For Punjabis, this is more than just a festival, it is also an example of a way of life.
Lohri is a festival of zeal and verve and marks the culmination of the chilly winter. In true spirit of the Punjabi culture, men and women perform Bhangra and Giddha, popular Punjabi folk dances, around a bonfire. Enthusiastic children go from house to house singing songs and people oblige them generously by giving them money and eatables as offering for the festival.

Logs of wood are piled together for a bonfire, and friends and relatives gather around it. They go around the fire three times, giving offerings of popcorns, peanuts, rayveri and sweets. Then, to the beat of the dhol (traditional Indian drum), people dance around the fire. Prasad of til, peanuts, rayveri, puffed rice, popcorn, gajak and sweets are distributed. This symbolizes a prayer to Agni for abundant crops and prosperity.
Lohri is also an auspicious occasion to celebrate a newly born baby’s or a new bride’s arrival in the family. The day ends with a traditional feast of sarson da saag and makki di roti and a dessert of rau di kheer (a dessert made of sugarcane juice and rice). The purpose of the Lohri harvest ceremony is to thank the God for his care and protection. During this festival the people prepare large quantities of food and drink, and make merry throughout the day and night. Therefore everyone looked forward to this day.


Baisakhi, celebrated with joyous music and dancing, is New Year's Day in Punjab. It falls on April 13, though once in 36 years it occurs on 14th April. It was on this day that the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, founded the Khalsa (the Sikh brotherhood) in 1699. The Sikhs, therefore, celebrate this festival as a collective birthday.

A sweet dish called Anaarse is prepared made using fermented batter(rice or wheat) and shaped into a cup-shape.


It is a festival that marks the onset of spring. It is a brightly colored festival, with yellow as a symbolic color of harvest. This festival has a range of Punjabi foods like the main course ones such as biryani, but the lighter and excitable ones like jalaibees and pakoras are also common. A number of sweet drinks are quite common as well at this time of the year. These are refreshing and symbolize the joy during the season.

Aside from the festivals like bassant, Punjabi food traditions include the all-important heavy main courses at weddings. These might include heavy rice dishes and curries as well. These are accompanied with salads and other side dishes as well.


The Sikh festivals are celebrated as Guru purabs. They either mark the birth anniversary or the martyrdom of any Sikh guru. The devotees attend langar or the common meals where everyone eats the same food irrespective of caste, class, or creed. Devotees offer their services for cooking food, cleaning the Gurdwara or carrying out other chores. This is called the Kar Seva. The food is served with the spirit of seva (service) and bhakti (devotion). On Guru Arjan Dev's martyrdom day, sweetened milk is offered to passers-by.

The food served in the Langar must be simple, so as to prevent wealthy congregations turning it into a feast that shows off their superiority.

Although Sikhs are not required to be vegetarian, only vegetarian food is served in the Gurdwaras. This ensures that any visitor to the Gurdwara, whatever the dietary restrictions of their faith, can eat in the Langar.

The meal may include chapati, dal (pulses), vegetables and rice pudding. Fish and eggs are counted as meat and excluded.


In order to cook Punjabi foods, you have to have all the necessary know-how as well as the utensils. If you do not have the right kinds of equipment to cook Punjabi foods, cooking will become problematic.

One of the utensils used in cooking Punjabi foods is a deep boiling vessel for boiling rice and other foods. It is particularly known that the utensil used for boiling rice should not be used for anything else. Let’s say you start boiling curries in that same utensil you use for boiling. What will happen is the taste of your rice will not be the same, and it is possible that oily residue will be left in the rice utensil. Removing the oily substances is not a problem, but who wants to start cleaning out oily substances in the middle of cooking. Also, some experts believe that leaving the rice utensil to be used only for cooking rice is important because of the residue that rice leaves in it. It is thought that the rice as well as the salt used in boiling is important for the taste.

Aside from important utensils such as the rice boiler, there are the drainers to be used. The rice needs to be drained well for better graininess. For cooking biryani, this is an important apparatus.

Strainers, drainers and large spoons are also important to use in cooking Punjabi food. Large spoons are very important because there are often large quantities of curry that you need to stir. Strainer spoons are also handy in this regard. These are spoons that are porous, and allow you to collect the solid portions of a curry without scooping up the liquid. This is especially useful when separating the solid portions from the liquid one.

Another important cooking apparatus to use is the tawa. This is used for frying or cooking chapatti or parhatta. These are two integral meal portions in Punjabi cuisine, and only a tawa will suffice as a cooking apparatus.

A tandoor is a cylindrical clay oven used in cooking and baking. Although originally introduced to the region by Mughal invaders and bearing it’s origin in Mesopotamia, it is here in Punjab that its use was honed, and the tandoor reached it’s proverbial ‘peak’.

The heat for a tandoor was traditionally generated by a charcoal fire or wood fire, burning within the tandoor itself, thus exposing the food to both live-fire, radiant heat cooking, and hot-air, convection cooking

Temperatures in a tandoor can approach 480°C (900°F), and it is common for tandoor ovens to remain lit for long periods to maintain the high cooking temperature. The tandoor design is something of a transitional form between a makeshift earth oven and the horizontal-plan masonry oven.

Chajj is a kind of winnowing instrument. Ukhli is a mortar used. Charkha is a spinning wheel. Dauri and kundi are kinds of stone mortars. Gothna and danda are wooden pestles. Chaati is a large earthern vessel. Takri is a scale. Madhani is a churning staff is used to separate white butter from milk. Dechka is a brass cooking vessel. Chulha is the traditional fire-place used for cooking. Loh is a large pan used for cooking breads. Tawa is an iron pan used to cook breads.


Most Punjabi menus are made according to the season. The universal favorite is chole-bathure which is a round-the-year item and is available at every wayside dhaba anywhere in Northern India. But, the pride of the Punjabi winter cuisine is sarson-ka-saag (mustard leaves) served with blobs of white butter accompanied by makke-di-roti and lassi (churned yogurt).

The other popular dishes, which belong exclusively to Punjab, are mah ki dal, rajma (kidney beans) and stuffed parathas. Punjabi cuisine is characterized by a profusion of dairy products in the form of malai (cream), paneer (cottage cheese) and curds.
Though chicken is a favorite with non-vegetarians, fish is also considered a delicacy, especially in the Amritsar region, which is also known for its kulcha, baked bread made of refined flour.

Tall glasses of lassi, made of yogurt, tempered with either salt or sugar, are a popular cooling drink of Punjabi origin but it is quite popular all over the country. Phirni, a sweet dish made of milk, rice flour and sugar and chilled in earthenware bowls is a typical Punjabi dessert. Punjabi sweet dishes like gulab jamuns and burfi have a strong percentage of khoya again made from milk.

Then there is also paneer-a must in the vegetarian Punjabi menu. Several delectable items are made out of this rather bland derivative of milk. Creations like the Kadai Paneer and Makhani Paneer are basically Punjabi but are well loved all over the country.
One thing that makes Punjabi cuisine so special is the tandoor. Besides being a versatile kitchen equipment it is much more - a social institution. In rural Punjab, the community tandoor, dug in the ground, is a meeting place, just like the village well, for the women folk, who bring the kneaded atta (dough) and sometimes marinated meats to have them cooked while chit-chatting. Until a few years ago, this phenomenon existed in urban neighborhoods too. Even today, a few neighborhoods have a communal tandoor.

Punjab's other grand contribution is the dhaba - the roadside eatery that has become a prominent feature on the national and state highways. Earlier frequented only by truck drivers, today it is in vogue to eat at a dhaba-urban or roadside.

A predominantly wheat eating people, the Punjabis cook rice only on special occasions. Rice is rarely cooked plain or steamed and is always made with a flavoring of cumin or fried onions, which is the served with rajma (kidney beans) or kadhi (curd curry). In winter, rice is cooked with jaggery - gurwala chawal or with green peas or as a delicacy called Rao ki kheer, which is rice cooked on a slow fire for hours together with sugar cane juice.








Langar (Punjabi: ਲੰਗਰ, Hindi: लंगर) is the term used in the Sikh religion for the free, vegetarian-only food served in a Gurdwara. At the Langar, only vegetarian food is served to ensure that all people, regardless of their dietary restrictions, can eat as equals. Langar is open to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike.

The exception to vegetarian langar is when Nihangs (in India) serve meat[1] on the occasion of Holla Mohalla, and call it Mahaprashad[2]. There are also variation on Langar, for example at Hazur Sahib[3][4], where meat is included. Langar is also a common term used across various units in the Indian Army, when referring to a mess especially when there is no building and the food is served in open air (or through temporary arrangements like tents).


The institution of the Sikh Langar or free kitchen was started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak. It was designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status, a revolutionary concept in the caste-ordered society of 16th century India where Sikhism began. In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of Langar expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind. "..the Light of God is in all hearts."[5]

After the Second Sikh Guru, the institution of Langar seems to have changed[6], somewhat, and meat seems to have been excluded from this institution. The reason cited for this by historians, is to accommodate Vashnavite[7] members of the community[8].

Origin Of Word 'Langar'

Guru ka Langar (lit. 'Gurus' communal dining-hall) is a community kitchen run in the name of the Guru. Often referred to as the Guru's Kitchen it is usually a small room attached to a gurdwara, but at larger gurdwaras, such as the Harmandir Sahib, it takes on the look of a military kitchen with tasks arranged so that teams of sewadars prepare tons of food (all meals are vegetarian) for thousands of the Gurus' guests daily. Langar, is said to be a Persian word that translates as 'an almshouse', 'an asylum for the poor and the destitute', 'a public kitchen once kept by a great man for his followers and dependants, holy persons and the needy.' Some scholars trace the word langar to Sanskrit analgarh (cooking room). In Persian, the specific term langar has been in use in an identical sense. In addition to the word itself, the institution of langar is also traceable in the Persian tradition. Langars were a common feature of the Sufi centres in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Even today some dargahs, or shrines commemorating Sufi saints, run langars, like Khwaja Mu’in ud-Din Chishti’s at Ajmer.

Rules concerning the tradition of Langar

  • 1. simple vegetarian meals
  • 2. prepared by devotees who recite Gurbani while preparing the langar
  • 3. served after performing Ardas
  • 4. food distributed in Pangat without any prejudice or discrimination
  • 5. all food must be fresh, clean and hygienically prepared

When preparing food for the Langar, the mouth and nose will be covered by a piece of cloth known as a "parna". Also during the preparation due regard is made to purity, hygene and cleaniness, the sevadars (selfless workers) will normally utter Gurbani and refrain from speaking if possible.

When the Langar is ready, a small portion of each of the dishes is placed in a plate or bowls and placed in front of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib and a prayer called the Ardas is performed. The Ardas is a petition to God; a prayer to thank the Creators for all His gifts and blessings. A steel kirpan is passed through each item of food, after the "Guru-prashad" has been blessed. The blessing of the Langar with Ardas can be done anywhere, in case the Langar needs to be served before the completion of the Gurdwara ceremony. The Langar is not eaten until the Ardas has been recited. After the Ardas is completed, each item of food is returned back to its original pot or container. It is said that the blessings of the "holy" food are thus passed to the entire Sangat through the Langar.

When serving the Langar, the servers must observe strict rules of cleanliness and hygiene. Servers should not touch the serving utensils to the plates of those they serve. When serving foods by hand, such as chapatis or fruit, the servers’ hands should not touch the hand or plate of those they are serving. Those serving should wait until all others have been completely served before they sit down to eat themselves. It is advisable not to leave any leftovers.

Since some Sikhs believe that it is against the basics of Sikhi to eat meat, fish or eggs, hence non-vegetarian foods of this sort is neither served nor brought onto the Gurdwara premises. Others believe that the reason vegetarian food is served in Gurdwaras is so that people of all backgrounds can consume the food without any anxiety about their particular dietary requirement and to promote complete equality among all the peoples of the world. Alcoholic and narcotic substances are stringently against the Sikh diet, hence these with any meat products are strictly not allowed on Gurdwara premises.

Vernon Coelho

Ihm Mumbai



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