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The Ultimate Community Epicurean Experience: The Sikh Practice of Langar

By admin | December 7, 2011

Photo: mercedesfromtheeighties

By: Saira Malhotra

To whom would you bestow the crown of being your favorite chef? (Besides Marcus Samuelsson, of course!) Is it a member of your family, a friend, a chef from your most visited restaurant or that trip you took last year to Santorini where Costas made those wonderful tomato Keftes? For people in the Indian Sikh community, their options go even further and many of them would agree that their favorite cooks can be found in the kitchens of the local Gurudwara; the Sikh place of worship.

Sikhs come from Punjab, a region in Northern India situated between the border of India and Pakistan. For Sikhs, religion is a very integral part of their life and many visit their local Gurudwara on a daily basis. Yet they aren’t just there for spiritual tune-ups. They are also there to perform their duties as member of the community and connect with each other.

Every day, the Gurudwara serves Langar – three meals a day to everybody, regardless of their faith. Eating at these establishments requires payment in a different form of currency: love and equality. In the Langar rooms, there are no tables and chairs, as everyone is invited to eat in a community and on the floor. The purpose of which is to remove all social distinction and remind people that in God’s home, ‘we are all equal’. There is no paid staff here, and this powerhouse of an institution is run by people rolling up their sleeves and pitching in.

Growing up in London, my local Gurudwara bustled with ladies and men stirring large pots of food while children scurried around handing out paper napkins, fresh Roti (Indian flatbread) and cups of water to the diners. The British local, Tim Hanson frequented the Gurudwara on a daily basis too. He was not a Sikh and never actually made it to the prayer room (who’s preaching?), but he did have his evening meal there every day and afterwards, would go to the kitchen where he provided ‘Seva’ – ‘selfless service. Nobody ever explained the protocol to him; he just seemed to get it.

While this is a free kitchen, it is not a soup kitchen. There are no shortcuts taken and people show up to provide Seva at the wee hours of 4am. What makes the food experience here something that could rival even a Michelin-rated Indian restaurant? The freshness and love it is prepared with. There are large vats of simmering Matar Paneer (ricotta-like cheese and pea curry), buttery Daal (slow cooked black gram lentils), Gobi Aloo Sabzi (cauliflower and potatoes sauteed with spices, ginger, garlic and fresh cilantro), savory yogurt with tiny deep fried dumplings, fresh Roti and of course Kheer (sweet rice pudding). Though considered simple vegetarian fare by Sikhs, for whom this is a part of life, this from-scratch cooking process does require some effort and a lot of integrity. Langar draws from classical Indian culinary techniques and not flavor enhancers and packaged seasoning. The meal provides for both a spiritually and physically wholesome experience.

The Punjabi touch can breathe life into any dish and yet this meal also boasts of a feel-good factor that is derived from camaraderie, sweet giggles of children, and the chatter of ladies and men huddled around a stove.

To take part of this communal, spiritual and epicurean experience, check out your local Gurudwara. Here are a few locations in New York:

GURDWARA MATA SAHIB KAUR
SIKH FORUM INC.
100 Lattingtown Road
Glen Cove, NY 11542
Phone: 516 674 6793

SHRI GURU RAVIDASS TEMPLE OF NY
61- 01 BOADWAY
WOODSIDE, NY 11377
TEL: (718) 898-8150
FAX: (718) 898-0932

NIAGARA FRONTIER SIKH SOCIETY
68 OLD SPRING LANE
WILLIAMSVILLE, NY 14221
Tel: (716) 689 6172

SINGH SABHA OF NEW YORK, INC.
43-69 BROWNE STREET
FLUSHING, NY
Tel: (718) 461 2612

THE SIKH FORUM, INC.
1065 OLD COUNTRY ROAD
PLAIN VIEW, NY 11803
Tel: (516) 931 9304

THE SIKH CULTURAL SOCIETY, INC.
95-30, 118 TH STREET
RICHMOND HILL, NY 11419
Tel: (718) 846 9144

Photo: mercedesfromtheeighties 

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