Punjab – Cuisine and Culture Without Borders

What’s the first thing – in terms of food – that crosses your mind when you hear ‘Punjab’?

Dhaba, Makki ki Roti, Sarson ka Saag, Lassi, Butter Chicken. I was looking forward to all of this when I tuned in to Raja Rasoi Aur Anya Kahaaniya’s episode on Punjabi cuisine.

Robust is perhaps the right word to describe Punjab’s food. Punjabis eat healthy, but rich and heavy. Pure ghee, milk, white butter, and curd are a part of their daily diet. ‘What an appetite!’ was the standard expression throughout the episode.

Punjab is considered to be one of the most fertile regions on earth. It’s the largest food provider for India. In a world where we are conscious about organic and non-organic food, it would be a blessing to visit and eat in Punjab – a paradise of lush, green fields with crops as fresh as nature can offer. It’s on my bucket list to visit one of its farming villages and have sarson ka saag made with mustard leaves straight from the fields. (Thanks to the RRAAK series, I now have a long bucket list and most of it are food tours.)

While sarson or mustard is native to civilizations along the Indus Valley (today parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India), makki or corn is claimed to be a foreigner that thrived in India and became Punjab’s traditional food. Although the debate about corn’s origins continue, it is known to be native to Mexico and South America and introduced to us by the Europeans, Portuguese, and Spanish conquerors. Some food enthusiasts have drawn a striking similarity between Makki ki Roti and Mexico’s famous Corn Tortillas. Having tried both, I can say there’s no debate there.

Wheat and jowar are known to be Punjab’s own crops and have been the staple diet along the Indus Valley civilizations. The concept of tandoor – cooking breads/naans in the heat of fire lit in a clay enclosure – is a technique that originated in the Middle Eastern regions – mainly Iran – and was brought to Northern regions of India by the Mughals. The Tandoor stayed and gave us dishes we absolutely love – tandoori chicken, the star of our very own Butter Chicken.

Choley Bhaturey is yet another dish that identifies Punjab. Chickpeas/ Kabuli Chana/ Choley are main ingredient of traditional delicacies of different countries – Hummus in Middle East, Choley Bhaturey in India, Choley Chicken in Pakistan. I’m certain there are many I’ve missed that are worth mentioning.

While borders divide Punjab in India and Pakistan, food and culture connect it. Amritsar and Lahore are sister cities that share similar cultures, food, architecture, and attire. Murg Tikka, Khamiri Roti, Parathas, Lassi, Biryani, Tandoor, Kheer, and even the concept of Dhaba are common between them. Choley Chicken in Pakistan Punjab is as famous as Butter Chicken in ours. It’s a culture both sides are happy to share and determined to conserve.