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Amar Jyoti has stuck to its USP of Punjabi home-style food since 1955

At this Delhi restaurant, everything is refreshingly old-fashioned including business ethics and ambience

A friend once told me about a humble Punjabi eatery in Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar, where she has been eating since her childhood days. I decided to visit it, thankfully in the days before social distancing. Called Amar Jyoti, it is located close to Gate No: 3 of Sarojini Nagar market. Since GPS can play tricks sometimes, I walked through the crowded market to get there. It is a small space that accommodates 43 people, and their kitchen is right behind the dining area.

As I settled down, I noticed a family of four, who at a table loaded with dishes, were talking about how they had been craving the mutton masala, seekh kebab and dal tadka. So naturally, I ordered the same with tandoori rotis. I spotted gurde kapoore at yet another table, and ordered that as well. Everything is rustic, and yet refined in terms of flavours.

It is this rustic nature, and the presence of such old-fashioned dishes like gurde kapoore and magaz masala along with the roadside dhaba-style dal tadka, that defines this place. Amar Jyoti is in its third generation; more than six decades old. Their Punjabi menu has not changed since the beginning. They did expand twice, and the menu was tweaked a couple of years ago to include a few Indo-Chinese dishes to cater to the present-day Sarojini Nagar shoppers, but their USP has always been Punjabi home-style food. In fact, some of the offal-based dishes on the menu have become so rare to find in other places, that it’s worth doing the trek to the market just for these: there are juicy kebabs, mutton masala, butter chicken, and tandoori fish tikka to choose from.

I meet Tanmeet Singh Arora, the third generation proprietor of the restaurant. According to him, the restaurant was started by his grandfather, the late Sardar Mohinder Singh and his grandmother Sardarni Swarn Kaur. The couple set up a brazier and tawa counter in 1955, and the restaurant was established on the same spot a decade later.

Swarn Kaur is over 90 now; back then, she was the one who cooked, while her husband served the guests and handled the cash counter. Her husband worked at a big hotel in Pakistan before Partition and they got into the food business once they came to Delhi. They soon earned enough money to own the whole space and open a restaurant with 30 seats. Government employees living in colonies around the market were their regular customers, and would pay for meals on a monthly basis. This arrangement went on till the mid-1980s. Tanmeet’s father, Sardar Surjit Singh Arora, tells me that Amar Jyoti is the only restaurant that has been there from the early days of the market.

The restaurant has maintained consistency in quality and affordability, and in the mid-1990s, added 13 more seats and a more efficient kitchen. More staff members were also added and most of them have worked here for a long time.

The matriarch

In fact, all their recipes have been perfected by Swarn Kaur, who used to cook and supervise actively until three decades ago. She has trained the cooks herself. Sardar Surjit Singh says Swarn Kaur was a purist in terms of recipes and cooking methods. The family still procures the spices, lentils and grains from the same vendor, as they have grown to trust him over the years. This old-fashioned business ethic is evident in the way the food tastes and how it is served at Amar Jyoti. The rotis and parathas are still made with stone-milled whole wheat flour, the spice blends are freshly made at home in bulk and then brought to the kitchen.

Now, the next time you go to Delhi and want a real good Punjabi meal of dal tadka, tandoori rotis and botis, do step into Amar Jyoti, and be sure to be transported to a different era.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 3:46:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/amar-jyoti-has-stuck-to-its-usp-of-punjabi-home-style-food-since-1955/article31109193.ece

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