When someone mentions Amritsar, only two things come to mind – the Golden Temple or the legendary food in the holy city. While the former is one of the most visited places in Northern India, the latter is talked about with awe, wonder and a watering mouth. And of of the various food items that Amritsar is famous for, the one that is spoken about in an almost reverential tone is the Amritsari kulcha. Stuffed flatbread made in a clay oven, the kulcha is one food item that no one can say no to. For those of us who visit Amritsar regularly, no trip is complete without sampling them. And for those of us who don’t go to Amritsar that often, we found a substitute in saadi Dilli!
From the variety of food joints that claim to serve “authentic” Amritsari kulcha – yes, it’s that popular – some come close, but none really match the real deal. Well, maybe except this tiny little joint in the heart of the city. It’s plainly called Kulcha Junction and once you eat here, you’ll gladly forsake all other places that pass off tandoori naans as kulchas.
The Real Deal
The kulcha is to flatbreads what the croissant is to breads. It is made of dough that’s leavened with soda and sour yogurt, then folded with ghee to give it a texture almost like that of a soft puff pastry. It is then stuffed with spiced, mashed potatoes. Some outlets in Amritsar also serve paneer kulcha or other varieties but the potato filling is the most popular one. The kulcha is then baked in an oven until it’s a golden brown and slightly puffed up. It is served with chholey – a mild gravy with chickpeas – and a watery chutney made of onions and tamarind.
And no, this dish can’t be replicated at home. There’s something about the combination of the smoky flavor from the tandoor, the technique of making the dough and the simple, homely accompaniments that makes a plate of kulcha seem like manna from heaven. Even the Amritsaris don’t dare to attempt making kulchas at home.
Those food joints in Delhi that have tried to replicate the Amritsari kulcha have failed. Miserably, at that. Until now. Enter Kulcha Junction, a small hole-in-the-wall eatery located behind Gurdwara Bangla Sahib in central Delhi. There is limited seating there – most people just stand and perch their plate on a high table. And the wait on most mornings is terrible, so make sure that you go early.
Kulcha Junction serves a variety of kulchas. From the regular potato stuffing and the not so regular paneer one, they have an interesting masala kulcha and even an exotic cheese kulcha on the menu. The masala kulcha is stuffed with a mixture of potatoes and cauliflower and is topped with pepper, ajwain, green chilli and coriander. It is their most popular kulcha and one bite in, you’ll know why. The chholey served with the kulchas are mild and non-spicy, very unlike the oily, heavy chholey that Delhi consumes with astonishing fondness. The chutney is very, very close to the one they serve in Amritsar. The kulchas are served with a dollop of butter on top and we beg you not to forsake it. Run that extra mile, but have that kulcha with the butter.
For the uninitiated, the best way to eat a kulcha is to crush it with your hands slightly before you break off a bite. Add the chutney to the chholey to spice them up, and then scoop up the mixture with a bite of the kulcha. Mmm, bliss!
A perfect kulcha is crisp and flaky from the outside and soft and melting from the inside. Connoisseurs swear that the secret of the kulcha lies in the dough. It is an art – an art that no one in Delhi has been able to replicate. Most “authentic amritsari kulcha” joints here serve stuffed tandoori naans instead of the kulcha. Their naans are crisp but not flaky. If they do manage to get the kulcha halfway right, their chholey and chutney are not a good match to their bread. Foodies in Delhi had given up hope of ever eating a good Amritsari kulcha in Delhi. But Kulcha Junction has changed that. Their kulchas are very close to the real deal and their chholey and chutney are how they should be. We can in all honesty say that this is the only place which comes close to an authentic Amritsari kulcha.
The owner of the joint, Gaurav, confesses to having stolen a chef from Amritsar. He went and researched a few kulcha joints in the city and then enticed a chef away from Kulcha Land, a popular, touristy kulcha joint in Amritsar. Maybe that’s the secret of how he succeeded where most others failed.
Where: Shop 6, Hanuman Road, Near Bangla Sahib Gurdwara, Delhi (It’s bang opposite YWCA.)
Timings: 9am to 9pm
Cost for 2: Rs 250
Saw or experienced anything unusual and uncommon that you’d like to see covered here? Email your suggestions to email@example.com with a line or two, and we will publish with credit to you. Best suggestions win shopping vouchers!