As we all know, Indian food is represented worldwide by the cuisine of Punjab. There are many who may have never heard of New Delhi, but I have yet to meet someone who doesn't love Chicken Tikka Masala! The flavors are wholesome, the food comforting. Just like its people, its cuisine is boisterous and flamboyant.
While curating the recipes for our month long soirée featuring this cuisine, I began to realize that Punjab is not just a region. It is an emotion; an emotion of pride. For an outsider, everything about
Punjab seems uninhibited. Subtlety and reservations are not of part of its vocabulary.
My first visit was very brief. Along with my college friends, I spent a day in the capital city of Chandigarh. I was a first year student of architecture, and easily intimidated by the senior students in our group. They led us to the Capitol complex, the High court, the Secretariat; all designed by the famous Swiss-French modernist Le Corbusier. The vastness of these grey concrete structures completely shattered my romantic vision of Punjab that consisted of yellow mustard fields, young handsome sturdy farmers with turbans and beautiful girls in their colorful dupattas. I was heartbroken but kept it to myself due to peer pressure. I carried this disappointment in my heart until I travelled again, this time solo, with the sole intention to see the Punjab of my dreams, the Punjab I knew through movies. And that I did! It was everything I needed it to be and much more. The city was Amritsar. The Golden Temple offered the perfect setting for my experience. From the humble meal at the Langar or the community kitchen at the temple to the fresh baked stuffed Kulchas lathered with butter, I ate to feed my soul. The tall tumblers of Lassi topped with a generous dollop of malai or cream were just as I had imagined. Everyone I met was so warm. Meeting them, it was hard to tell that these were the same people who had experienced the brutalities during the partition of India in the recent past. Perhaps it is the same history that has taught them to be in the present moment and celebrate each day (and meal) to its fullest.
My children are a vital part of this food journey at the Verandah. It allows me to share my memories with the hope that they will take away something from it. Here is my daughter, Maithili's perception of Punjab.
"Punjab, like many of the things in the world, is something my mother first told me about.
Like the entirety of India, I view it from a foreigner’s perspective, focusing on the vibrant parts. There was a time that I did not know the difference between Punjab and Gujarat, but then I remembered Gujarat is the place where alcohol is banned. Or so I think, anyways. I think Punjab is one of the more outward and extroverted of all the places in India, given how all Indian exports seem to have something distinctly Punjabi about them. It’s the face of India. I’m not so sure what I feel about it. I recall reading or hearing somewhere about the lush greenery of this place, and that the people of Punjab are built physically strong.
I really enjoyed the richness of the cuisine I’d been given. Butter! Milk! I remember nearly sobbing from how indulgent it all was.
There’s still so much I don’t know, and my limited knowledge has me curious to learn more. I don’t know much of Punjabi history. Is it as colorful and vibrant as Aai paints it to be? What is it I’ll take from learning? There’s so much to know about the world, and Punjab is such a small part of it. It’s quite important to keep an open mind to feed one’s curiosity."