Making the Beas flow in Mumbai
Why Fort's Oye Kake gets 40 litres of water from Amritsar twice a week
Ask any Amritsari, and they'll proudly share the urban legend that there's something in their water that makes food taste sweeter. It's something that Pankaj Gupta and Abhir Dhiwan were forced to admit when they opened their Fort restaurant, Oye Kake.
A chef prepares kulchas at Oye Kake. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
"In 2010, Abhir and I decided to go on a vacation to Amritsar. Our seven-day vacation extended to two months during which we devoured everything that the place had to offer — from lip-smacking chole kulche and parathas dripping with butter to lassi and asli ghee. We visited local homes to try the ghar ka khana," says Gupta.
It was during one of these gastronomical outings that the duo decided to launch a restaurant that would serve authentic Amritsari cuisine. With no prior experience in the hospitality business, all they had was oodles of enthusiasm and a bit of savings to fall back on.
Dredging up their resources, the duo hired Salakhand Singh, an experienced chef from Amritsar's iconic Kesar Da Dhaba to head the kitchen, bought a custom-made tandoor from Amritsari mud, purchased homegrown spices, pickles and papads, and everything that could possibly give their food a veritable taste of Amritsar.
"We were quite certain that we had got the essentials right," says Dhiwan, a Kandivli resident. The team then conducted a couple of trials of kulchas before the launch. But, the taste was not the same. "It lacked that crispiness and sweetnees of those kulchas. Even Salakhand Singh was puzzled since he had followed his regular recipe to the T," reminices Gupta. It was Singh who then suggested that the only different ingredient was the water.
"And voila, it worked like magic. The first kulcha that we prepared turned out to exactly the same you get in Amritsar," says Gupta, who assures us that the same recipe is followed across all their outlets in the city.
When the two marketed the restaurant as a place that prepares kulchas using 'Amritsar Ka Pani,' they were greeted by incredulous patrons. "We sold out the first day because people were curious. They wanted to sip the water to see what's so different about it," says Gupta, offering us a glass of water drawn from river Beas, along with a crispy aloo kulcha.
True to its name, Amrit-sar (nectar-like), the water has a certain sweetness to it. "The water became so popular with guests that with every kulcha they'd ask for a glass of Amritsar ka pani. So much so that we almost ran out of it for our kulchas," laughs the Worli resident. Traditionally, Amritsari kulcha contains less maida (white refined flour) and is cooked in a large open tandoor.
"We have got a young chef Rahul Tatri from Punjab for this," says Gupta. The only hitch, he says, is that it takes about eight-10 minutes to prepare one kulcha, since preparation calls for slow cooking. "We prepare the dough two hours before lunch so that people don't have to wait," he adds. While in Amritsar, the aloo variant is most popular, Oye Kake serves cheese garlic, gobi, pyaaz, methi and corn kulchas.
Now, twice a week, about 40 litres of water, is sourced from river Beas and brought into Mumbai by road. "We pay about 3,000 to get it in trucks because you're not allowed to transport water by airplanes or trains. It takes three days to arrive," says Dhiwan. This 40 litres is over within four days, thanks to the high demand for kulchas. "While most kulchas get rubbery when cold, ours stays fresh for much longer."