20 Famous Foods of Punjab
The word Punjab is a compound of two Persian words, panj (five) and āb (water), referring to the five rivers (the Beas, Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, and Sutlej) that flow through the land. This is a region that spans from the foothills of the Himalayas in the northwestern region of India stretching into eastern Pakistan. The five rivers feeding this valley have made it one of the greenest regions in the area, leading it to being known as the breadbasket of India. The region is rich in fertile alluvial soils, growing wheat as the main crop and rice.
The famous Basmati rice is from this region and the competition between Indian and Pakistani brands is fierce on the international market. The region is also famous for its abundant supply of milk and dairy products, as it is one of the regions with the highest dairy production and number of consumers in India.
Punjab is knows as the breadbasket of India.
Agriculture is the traditional industry with dairy farming complementing it. The food of the region reflects this in the wide variety of bread, cheese, and butter used in the dishes.
Being mainly Sikh, the people of the region are predominantly vegetarian, although chicken and mutton are notable exceptions.
The tandoor is a clay oven used commonly in Indian kitchens and originated from this region. It was introduced by the Persians/Moghuls who ruled India. A traditional tandoor is made from coconut fiber clay and water before being molded into its classic cylindrical shape and sundried till hard. It would later be seasoned with a coating of spinach, mustard, and sugar on the inside to give the inner lining a robust cooking surface.
Amritsar is the home of the Golden Temple, which is the holiest site for Sikhs. The word Amritsar means “Pool of Nectar” and this city is well known for its hearty food. An experience worth trying.
Some of the famous dishes this region has brought to world cuisine are butter chicken, naan, parathas, and chicken tikka masla.
Without further ado, I present to you the famous foods from Punjab.
1. Amritsari Kulcha (Leavened Flatbread)
Warm, crispy, and flaky on the outside and delicate on the inside, this is the perfect way to start the day. they are best hot out of the tandoor and served with mildly spiced white chickpeas cooked in a savory onion-based curry, mint, and coriander chutney and butter.
Famous on the streets of Amritsar, you can find multiple stalls serving the local delicacies starting at 7 in the morning. Pair this with a large glass of lassi and you’re on your way to a healthy start to the day. These kulchas are laden with chopped onions, chilis, coriander, and dollops of ghee.
You can find stores that sell a stuffed variety filled with potatoes and paneer or cottage cheese. Indian restaurants throughout Europe serve this bread with the infamous butter chicken gravy. It is lightly leavened with yeast and has a sweet aftertaste.
2. Chole Batura – Poori Halwa (Deep Fried Flatbread)
This is a common breakfast recipe available around the country but is a specialty in Punjab and is served with a variety of condiments and accompaniments. Sometimes it is served with a semolina halwa or sweet pudding, or accompanied with white chickpea curry or spiced mashed potato.
This bread is an unleavened flatbread that is rolled out into a thin pancake and then deep-fried either in vegetable oil or vegetable fat called vanaspati. Depending on the variety and the location, the poori or the batura may vary from a 6 inches up to 10 inches in size. A hearty and satisfying dish, and high in calories; perfect for those cold north Indian mornings.
3. Sooji ka Halwa (Sweet Semolina Pudding)
A simple and easy-to-make Indian dessert or condiment to accompany your poori, this pudding is made using wheat semolina, which is slightly roasted in ghee or clarified butter and then sweetened using palm sugar or honey and is seasoned with cardamom, and sliced almonds.
The pudding has a grainy and smooth texture and is heavily laden with richness from the clarified butter making it a special treat for important occasions. Sometimes milk, cream, and condensed milk may be added to notch the dish up to a decadent dessert.
4. Kesar Lassi (Saffron Yogurt & Cream Milkshake)
Lassi is a popular beverage famous around Punjab. It is a yogurt-based milkshake, seasoned with sweet spices such as cardamom, nuts, dry fruit, and even fruit pulp. The yogurt is first drained of whey and then churned till it’s smooth and light in consistency and has thickened naturally.
The classic lassi is seasoned with sugar, cardamom, cream or malai, and saffron. It’s a staple for breakfast or following a heavy lunch. This keeps in line with the tradition of dairy farming that the region is famous for and the combination of buffalo milk yogurt and full-fat cow’s milk makes for the perfect milkshake.
Mango lassis are a favorite in the hot summer months. The drink is garnished with slivers of almonds, pistachios, and pieces of cashew.
5. Rajma Curry (Red Kidney Bean Stew)
Rajma curry, also known as rajmah, rāzmā, or lal lobia, is a vegetarian dish originating from the Indian subcontinent. It consists of red kidney beans in a thick gravy with many Indian whole spices and is usually served with rice.
It is a part of the regular diet in Nepal, and the Punjab provinces of India and Pakistan. Since the region is predominantly vegetarian, legumes are the secondary source of protein after dairy products. Black and white chickpeas, red kidney beans, black-eyed peas, and kidney beans are some of the common legumes consumed widely. This curry is made with a base of onions and tomatoes and is seasoned with whole spices, garam masala, and chilies.
Kasuri methi or fenugreek leaves are the signature ingredient in this dish, giving it a unique flavor. It is best served with white rice and rotis or phulkas.
6. Punjabi Chole Masala
This is also known as pindi chole, due to its significance in the Rawalpindi region of Pakistan. It is a staple of Punjabi cuisine and is consumed throughout the year, sometimes for all three meals of the day.
Black or white chickpeas are cooked in a rich flavorful sauce made from onions and tomatoes that are stewed till their natural sugars have caramelized. Add a bit of Punjabi garam masala, some turmeric, coriander, and chili powder and you have a lip-smacking, mouth-watering delicacy.
A special blend of spices called “chole powder/masala” can easily be found in every Indian store. Chole masala is best enjoyed with hot naan or kulcha straight from the tandoor, or hot deep-fried poori or batura basted with a generous serving of butter.
7. Dal Makhani (Stewed Lentils)
Though this dish was initially created in Delhi based on the age-old recipe of urad dal or kaali dal (black lentils) stew, this modern rendition is much more refined and has a mild yet rich flavor profile due to the addition of dairy cream and clarified butter.
Modern recipes call for the lentils to be cooked in a pressure cooker but the traditional way of cooking this dish involved stewing the mix of lentils in a large brass pot for over 12 hours on hot coal embers. This imparts an earthy and smoky flavor to the dish.
Dal makhani is made using black lentils (urad dal) and red kidney beans (rajma) that have been soaked overnight. These are mixed with tomato puree, a selection of herbs and spices that include garam masala, sabzi masala, ginger-garlic paste, and a large amount of butter. The mix is left to cook overnight in a tandoor so the dal gets a distinct smoky flavor. The dal is served with a generous garnish of fresh butter. Best served with white rice, naan, kulcha, and parathas. A staple in many restaurants.
8. Aam Papad (Sundried Mango Pulp)
Aam refers to mango, papad refers to wafer or bar. In this case, aam papad is a traditional snack or sweet condiment made in the northern Indian regions using mango pulp, which is blended with sugar, salt, spices and then sun-dried, giving it an almost elastic and chewy texture.
It is usually blended with tamarind paste or pulp as well. Flavor-wise, it is mildly sweet with a slight tartness from the tamarind. Salt, sugar, chat masala, black salt, cumin powder, etc are some of the flavorings used to uplift this humble treat to new heights. Many combinations of flavors are available, some even include red chili. You can find it on the street being hawked by many vendors. It is famous in the city of Amritsar.
9. Aloo Samosa
A popular street food delicacy across the country, this humble dish originating in Ethiopia was brought to India by the Moghuls and made famous. It can be found with a variety of fillings from sweet to savory.
Representing the Holy Trinity, this triangular-shaped dough stuffed with potatoes is a delicacy in Punjab and North India. The potatoes are cooked and slightly mashed and flavored with fennel, mustard, turmeric, chili, salt, and pepper.
Deep-frying leaves the outside hot and crispy and the inside warm and comforting. It is either eaten as a quick breakfast on the go or at sunset as a snack. It can be eaten by itself but is usually paired with a green pea and chickpea gravy, or just plain yogurt, coriander chutney, and sweet tamarind relish. You can find this dish across the country with meat, corn, onions, peas, and potatoes being the most usual fillings.
10. Tandoori Paneer Tikka (Cottage Cheese Skewers)
Decadent cubes of fresh buffalo milk paneer (cottage cheese) marinated in an earthy tangy marinade of yogurt and spices, secured between bell peppers and pineapple cubes, and cooked in a tandoor till it literally melts in your mouth. Usually served as an appetizer, the cubes of cottage cheese impart a smoky flavor to the dish when it’s cooked in a tandoor.
It is usually served with a mint coriander chutney or a tandoori malai chutney and can be eaten by itself or paired with a buttery naan or kulcha.
11. Tandoori Chicken Tikka (Chicken Skewers)
This flavorful smoky dish is the envy of many cuisines. It usually consists of tender chunks of chicken thigh deboned and marinated in a tandoori marinade with yogurt, ginger, garlic, chili, turmeric, coriander, and garam masala.
The yogurt tenderizes the chicken till it literally melts in your mouth. The chicken is then skewered and coated with mustard oil before being put in the tandoor, which cooks the meat evenly, imparting a smoky and succulent flavor. It can be served and eaten as an appetizer, or be paired with a pan curry to make it the main course. It goes with rice, naan, kulcha, or paratha.
Although most curry houses produce a generic version of this dish, the real taste of this beautiful and iconic dish is to be found in the Punjab or Delhi.
12. Hara Bara Kebab
Hara here refers to the mixture of fresh green herbs used to prepare the kebab. Bara refers to the green stuffing or filling, and is a vegetarian recipe famous across the northern plains of the county. It is a simple dish that uses potatoes, spinach, peas, green chili, and coriander. The potatoes are boiled and mashed with the addition of spinach, green chilies, and coriander giving it that signature color and taste.
Chickpea flour is used to bind the whole dish together. It may be pan-fried or cooked in a tandoor after it’s skewered. This is a treat amongst the young and a quick go-to dish when in a hurry. It is served as an appetizer and can be enjoyed with mint yogurt chutney.
13. Shimla Mirch Tandoori Tikka (Stuffed Bell Peppers)
Bharwa shimla mirch or stuffed bell peppers are a delicacy in this region. Bell peppers, or capsicum, are consumed a lot owning to their mild spicy but strong flavor. This dish calls for the bell peppers to be stuffed with cottage cheese, potatoes, cabbage, corn, peas, and onions. It is then seasoned with mild spices such as cumin, coriander, and chat masala.
The stuffed peppers are then skewered onto shaslik and cooked in the tandoor. This chars the pepper skin imparting a deep smoky and spicy flavor while cooking the vegetable and cheese mash inside the pepper. Usually served for special occasions, it is a time-consuming dish but worth all the effort when you see the delight it gives your guests.
14. Palak Paneer (Spinach & Cottage Cheese Curry)
Just as famous as butter chicken and chicken tikka masala, this humble dish made from spinach leaves is a creamy, smooth, well-rounded, and delicate dish which is the highlight of most veg meals eaten in a dhaba, the Indian equivalent of a truck stop or motel.
It is made from blanched puréed spinach, which is blended with onions, garlic, and green chilies and cooked with a load of cream, making it smooth and luscious to the palette. It is usually served as part of the main course or as an entrée and best enjoyed with a buttery kulcha or naan. This is a simple dish and requires minimal preparation.
Cottage cheese cubes are added to the dish at the end of cooking, allowing them to simmer in the green velvety gravy and imbibing the complex yet delicate flavors the dish has to offer. A dollop of fresh cream and a spoon of butter is added as a form of garnish.
15. Amritsari Machi (Batter Fried Fish)
Signature Punjabi delicacies such as makki di roti and sarso ka saag, chicken tikka, lassi, and choley bhature have transcended the state’s barrier and secured a special place on several plates and hearts, both home and abroad. And then there are some hidden gems found in the alleys and towns of the state still waiting to get their full due. For instance, the Amritsari macchi, a fried fish snack coated in gram flour batter and served with mint and coriander chutney.
The Punjabi equivalent of fish and chips minus the chips, this is a delicacy and is sought out by many. The fish is coated in besan or chickpea flour along with spices to season the batter and it is deep-fried till crispy on the outside. Ajwain or bishops weed is the main flavoring agent. Freshwater or river fish is preferred over sea fish, sole or singara being the fish of choice.
16. Pakode (Veg Fritters)
Chai and pakode on a rainy evening are some of the simpler joys of life that are simply unmatched by anything else. India and its obsession with deep-fried food are on par with the classic fried chicken or the variety of street meats available throughout southeast Asia. From deep-fried lentil fritters to the classical medhu vada of south India.
Pakode refers to a multitude of vegetables that are battered and deep-fried to perfection. This is usually eaten as a snack or an appetizer, with a variety of chutneys and dips to accompany it. Street vendors and even the most expensive restaurants across the country serve one or another type of pakode.
Any vegetable can be cut into the desired shape and then coated with a batter made from chickpea flour, seasoning, and spices, then deep fried and served hot. Some of the most famous are onion, potato, cauliflower, paneer, eggplant, spinach, and capsicum.
17. Bheja Fry (Brain Fry)
This is a typical street food delicacy found in the night markets of Amritsar. Goat, sheep, or lamb brains are preferred. It is a quick, spicy, rich dish that will literally blow your mind away. “Bheja fry” is a term used to describe a state of mental disarray of a comical manner. There is nothing comical about this dish though, cooked on a flat griddle or tawa, fresh herbs like coriander mint are blended with chilies and spices and cooked to perfection.
It has a creamy and soft taste and texture. Some bakeries have also devised ways to stuff this delicate mixture in between puff pastry, leading to the invention of the bheja puff! Definitely not a dish for the meek of heart.
18. Soya Chaap Masala (Soy Chunk Curry)
An alternative to meat, soya chaap refers to nuggets or tikkas made with defatted soy flour, a by-product of extracting soybean oil. It is a common ingredient in vegetarian households which use it as mock meat. It is neutral in flavor and porous in texture, making it the perfect canvas to absorb all the flavors of the masala or curry added to it. This recipe uses a creamy onion yogurt and cream-based gravy into which seasoned skewers of soya chaap are grilled and added too.
It is a popular restaurant dish that has slowly made its way into household kitchens due to the availability of soy mock meat. A study published in the journal Molecules found that soy isoflavones present in these chunks discourage fat build-up around the organs, thus making it a great weight-loss aid as well. Best served with naan or kulchas.
19. Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)
Butter chicken or murgh makhani is a curry of chicken in a spiced tomato, butter, and cream sauce. It originated in the Indian subcontinent. It is similar to chicken tikka masala, which uses a tomato paste.
The curry was developed in the 1950s by Kundan Lal Jaggi and Kundan Lal Gujral, founders of the Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi, India. The curry was made “by chance” by mixing leftover tandoori chicken in a tomato gravy, rich in butter and cream. In 1975, the English phrase “butter chicken” curry first appeared in print as a specialty of the house at Gaylord Indian restaurant in Manhattan.
Nowadays it can be found as a filling in wraps, roti, and rolls. Sweet creamy and luscious to taste, it’s best served with biryani, rice, or a wide variety of Indian bread.
20. Malai Kulfi (Indian Ice Cream)
Kulfi is a popular Indian ice cream dessert made with milk, sugar, nuts, and cardamom. It is made with evaporated milk sweetened with sugar – Malai refers to the evaporated milk or condensed cream used in the dessert. Flavoring ingredients such as saffron and cardamom powder are added along with ground or chopped nuts. The mixture is then poured into molds and frozen until set.
It can be found all across the country, with pistachio, saffron, and cardamom being the standard combination. However, nowadays a multitude of flavors are on offer, ranging from chocolate to paan or betel nut leaf flavor. Other contemporary flavors include gulab jamun rabadi, avocado, and mango chili. In Mumbai, the dessert is made in the shape of a cylinder and then cut and served in slices. In Punjab, it is frozen like a popsicle and eaten from a stick.