I discovered Sarson Ka Saag and Makki Di Roti one chilly weekend in Amritsar. I had gone on work. The winter sun was deceptively beaming in a friendly and healing manner. I thought, damn the heavy woolies, and chucking them aside rushed out to explore the city’s renowned street food.
Everybody in Amritsar has a sweet tooth. Hole-in-the-wall dhabbas served thick, frothy Lassi, Gajjar Halwa soaking in ghee, Jalebis dripping sugar syrup, fragrant Kesari Phirni, Gulab Jamun stuffed with almond, rich and creamy Kulfi. Families drove up in Mercs and on red tractors to stand on the road and eat.
While I was still on lunch, a cold biting wind swept through the city. By 4.30 o’clock it was dark. And I was freezing. By 6.30, Amritsar was behind closed doors and shuttered windows. My host was a genial Sikh farmer whose paddy fields produced a leading brand of Basmati rice.
Outside his farmhouse were picturesque fields yellow with mustard crop. His old and rattling mother, who toiled in the fields during harvest and vigorously danced the bhangra for Baisakhi, cooked us a sumptuous dinner on a crackling wood-fire in an earthen pot. A tava on a sigdi fired by glowing coals roasted rotis.
Dinner was Sarson Ka Saag and Makki Di Roti served in copper plates. Mustard greens from the field cooked with other local leafy vegetables including spinach, bathua (it’s called chenopodium, heard of it?), radish, fenugreek, spicy green chillies, ginger, garlic and onions.
The Saag was to be eaten with crisp corn rotis on which the old lady generously dabbed huge dollops of white, homemade butter. She also gave me a lump of jaggery I did not know why. But I have not had a more soul-satisfying meal. And every winter when the weather gets chilly enough, I think longingly of Sarson Ka Saag and Makki Di Roti.