Walking down the narrow, bustling streets of Amritsar, it is difficult to ignore the aroma of food wafting from archaic corners, making it a suitable location for Michelin star Chef Vikas Khanna to launch his new book, "Amritsar- Flavours of the Golden City" here recently.
The book records the native food dishes found in the lanes of Amritsar.
From puffy 'Puris' with spicy 'Chole' to crispy Amritsari Kulcha, from batter fried chicken to the popular Amritsari Fish, soft flattened Gulab Jamuns to gooey 'Halwa' laden with purified butter (Ghee), crispy, succulent 'Jalebis' to thick, creamy 'Lassi' (Butter milk); there is more and more food to suit everyone's palate.
In his book, the sixteenth by him so far, the chef shares the history and culture of his hometown-- recipes of his grandmother, close relatives and food outlets that have been dishing out gastronomic delights since decades, becoming a quintessential part of his childhood.
In collaboration with Punjab Tourism, the chef has chalked out a list of eateries within Amritsar and created a "food trail" to make the golden city a popular spot for Food Tourism, a first of its kind.
Khanna led the first food trail here recently, which included the 'langar' served in the Golden Temple just before dawn and takes one across various dhabas, food joints and restaurants across the city and one adjoining Wagah border.
"It's a big pride for me that Punjab Tourism came together with us. It has never happened before in India. So state is focusing on its cuisine. Punjab's food is its biggest heritage. Our food is what we live for.
Personal Agenda: Vikas Khanna
"We are the first state which has produced a food trail. Food tourism starts from Amritsar, the food capital of planet earth," says Khanna.
For food lovers, Khanna's tome features a rundown of the best street food eateries to present the vibrancy of the life in Amritsar. Khanna says that is his way of expressing gratitude to the people of the city.
"With every time I gained one step forward, I felt that I've to look two steps back to understand where I come from. These are the small shops, people who've done so much to make me who I am," the chef told PTI.
"I think I owe them. It think its unfair to walk away with all this and have no responsibility or accountability for it. In a way we're giving them a small token of thanks," says Khanna, who has cooked for a large number of dignitaries.
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Vikas Khanna's book, a Lustre Press imprint of Roli books is the chef's tribute to his Biji (grandmother), whose cooking went a long way in making him the renowned culinary master that he is today.
"Biji was my full support system. Wherever I was moving, her eyes were moving with me. She became my voice, her food became my voice. This book is dedicated to her. Nobody can claim this book from her," says the chef.
Khanna started working on the book in 2009, when his grandmother was alive. She, says Khanna often accompanied him to various photoshoots for the book.
Khanna opens the flood gates of memory and remembers famous shrines, monuments, festivals of the city, debunking any conventional templates of a food book.
Covering both vegetarian and non-vegetarian delights, the Chef shares anecdotes and stories about the origin of recipes mentioned in the book.
Noting the fact that most Indian restaurants serve limited Indian cuisines, the chef says that this limited list becomes the only reference of Indian food in the western world.
"There is so much more Indian food available. People are not able to sell native dishes. I've played the opposite game. I thought of doing something which people can replicate, because they it feels close to their hearts. That's how I thought of doing a book on Amritsar."
"I hope the seeker of the wealth of this book, will be able to see what I've done with a simple thread line of using my childhood, my stories, my growing up, my culture and my coming back home. I hope this child becomes infinity. I can do only one book, and I chose my roots," Khanna told PTI.
Filled with personal stories, the book is meant to be an inspiration for young people across the country to follow their passion for cooking.
"I talk about personal stories in this book. It's one of my most personal books. This book is bigger than me, than the publisher. It's bigger than all of us. I want others to understand that if I could do it, they can also become it- that's how we become an Olympian," he says.
Khanna, who became a household name in India in 2011 when he host the 'Master Chef India Season 2' believes that in the past three years the revolution on television has given food a very different status.
"Entertainment has taken a prominent space in food. Food has a very different language, it is totally silent. You sense it and you feel it. Food speaks for itself. It is comforting for people to watch someone cook for them," he adds.
Chef Khanna also points out to the new found awareness in men about their food and culinary experience.
"We have more men watching the show now. I'm loving the space where men are becoming more metro sexual, they are becoming more aware. The guys are at least trying to indulge in the kitchen, which has never happened before," Khanna says.
Jyoti Arora, a contestant from 'MasterChef India' Season 2 has an important part to play in the book with contribution of recipes to the book and a mention in the acknowledgments. She assisted Khanna in recreating a number of recipes for the purpose of the book.
"There are two of my recipes in the book. Also I cooked his Biji's recipes featured in the book for representational purposes, as she was too frail by that time," she says.
Arora says she feels that people do not take Amritsar's food seriously.
"But Amritsar is a food hub, you move five steps ahead and you find something new to eat. Every household has a specialty of its own. Chef Vikas Khanna has gone out there and collected all of this," she adds.