Over a hundred years and several additions to the menu later, Kesar Da Dhaba stands strong as a landmark eatery in Amritsar
The bustling streets of Amritsar aren’t deterred by the eight degree weather. Capitalising on the meek sun rays peeking through the mist, people continue to hustle about and get things done. Amidst it all, I zip my fur jacket all the way up to my neck and trek through the many interconnected lanes of Gali Rajpura. My destination, one of the most widely recognized and much loved eateries in Amritsar, Kesar Da Dhaba.
Tucked in one of many narrow lanes of Chowk Passian, near the telephone exchange, Kesar Da Dhaba stands strong even 105 years later. The restaurant opened its doors in 1916, helmed by Lala Kesar Mal and his wife, Parvati.
This wasn’t where the restaurant’s story began, however. Late Lala Lal Kesar’s first location was in Sheikhupura, a region of Pakistan in the pre independence era. Now run by Ramesh Mehra, a fourth generation owner, Kesar Da Dhaba continues to serve up delicious food, the tales of which waft across Amritsar.
While Kesar Da Dhaba currently serves a variety of vegetarian dishes on their menu, their culinary journey kick-started with just two dishes. “My great grandfather had initially started the dhaba with dal and paratha only, to which he later added chane (chickpea),” says Ramesh.
Post the dhaba’s move to Amritsar, more items found their way on the menu, including the likes of shahi paneer, boondi raita, and many more as generations passed. Ramesh himself is credited with anywhere between 15-20 menu additions, with iconic dishes like palak paneer, saag, kadhai paneer, among other items. All of these have gone a long way in making the menu as wholesome and as fulfilling as it is today.
Beaming with pride, Ramesh speaks of the untouched taste of Kesar Da Dhaba. In spite of multiple generations of owners, the constant nature and taste of the food make the place stand out amongst Amritsari eateries.
The secret to the taste of their success is the family’s choice to never depend on cooks. The recipes and preparation methods stay within the family itself, helping them maintain their unique offerings. Speaking of taste, the dal makhana at Kesar Da Dhaba is truly a labour of love. Cooked for over 12 hours on a minimum flame with constant stirring, there’s a special brass utensil to bring out its enriching flavour, immortalised since the pre partition era. Such is the fame of the dal, that it’s cooked in quantities of about 100 to 200 kgs each day.
Complementing the iconic dish is the brilliantly layered lachha paratha. It is served piping hot, as the dhaba never has time to let the food sit out. The rush of customers at Kesar Da Dhaba everyday from 11am to 11pm explains the same, of course.
This culturally rich and effortlessly affordable dhaba witnesses all kinds of customers, right from small scale locals to celebrities from across the world. “We have celebrities like Abhishek Bachchan, Sania Mirza, and many more, who are regular customers here. Every person who is a tourist in Amritsar makes it a point to visit the dhaba without fail,” mentions Ramesh.
Following the massive success of Kesar Da Dhaba, Ramesh unsurprisingly has expansion plans in place. With metropolitan cities in mind, he plans to launch a branch in the next year across the likes of Delhi or even Mumbai.
As he grooms his son, a fifth generation owner to come on board, Kesar Da Dhaba is firmly established as a heritage location with brilliant culinary promise. It’s rare for an eatery to gain landmark status in a city, but the delicious food has earned this humble dhaba its status as a location of prominence in Amritsar.