The Langar of Amritsar – India's Famous Free Kitchen
Throughout the years, India's rich traditions and sense of spirituality have enticed travellers looking to find inner peace and experience the way this deeply religious country goes about its day-to-day life. Although predominantly Hindu, the people of India are from a variety of religious backgrounds, and the country is revered as the birthplace of not only Hinduism but Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism too.
A common thread that runs through these traditions of faith is the idea of having compassion for others, particularly the needy. And from this inherent belief springs the culture of the langar – a tradition that can be found all over India.
What is a Langar?
The word langar is a Punjab term used to describe the free, communal canteens that were set up initially by Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion. Langars provide food for the hungry and although primarily a Sikh tradition, the inclusive langar will serve food to anyone that requires it, regardless of the recipient's personal religion or background. Generally, only vegetarian food is served, to cater to religious dietary requirements, and all people are considered to be equal whilst under its roof.
The Golden Temple of Amritsar
The Golden Temple, situated right in the heart of Amritsar, is a beacon of marble and shining gold, a sign that you are nearing the most sacred shrine of the Sikh religion. The temple's true name is The Harmandir Sahib and it contains the most sacred of Sikh texts, the Guru Granth Sahib, within its glittering walls. But one of the key features that makes the Golden Temple so famous throughout the country, is that it's also home to India's largest and most famous langar – one of the biggest communal kitchens to be found in the world.
To give a sense of the scale of this langar, Al Jazeera reported that on average, up to 100,000 people are served a meal every day – an amount that can double on religious occasions or at the weekends. The man who takes on the responsibility of managing this huge operation, Harpreet Singh, told the news site: “an average of 7,000kg of wheat flour, 1,2000kg of rice, 1,300kg of lentils, 500kg of ghee (clarified butter) is used in preparing the meal every day.”
The very design of the langar's kitchens turns cooking into an industrial operation. Machinery has been installed to churn flour-based mixtures into perfectly baked, round rotis. These Indian flatbreads are rolled flat and pumped out on a conveyor belt line – warm, fresh and ready for the table. Creamy daal, bubbling with lentils, is stirred in giant pots; and the hundreds of volunteers that run the kitchen not only cook and serve the dishes but keep the langar clean, the floors scrubbed and the cutlery washed, ready for the next day's feeding.
Sharing food is an important part of Indian culture, so the next time you head out for dinner at one of London's best Indian fine dining restaurants, why not choose a variety of dishes to share amongst your table? You might not receive a free meal, as you would in a langar, but you are guaranteed to be served a top-notch one.
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