Everyone who arrives at Shri Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple, eats for free. Since the beautiful gilded structure in Amritsar, India, attracts a steady stream of visitors, that means the temple’s kitchen provides about 75,000 free meals every day. On special occasions, the number of diners can reach 100,000 or more.
The generous ritual is part of a centuries-old practice known as langar, started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak, which brings people together in a spirit of equality. Everyone sits in long rows on the floor of a Sikh temple, known as a gurudwara, regardless of class, caste, or gender, and enjoys a free, vegetarian meal served by volunteers.
Serving the thousands of visitors and pilgrims who come to the Golden Temple is a monumental task. The kitchen is a huge building filled with workers and thousands of pounds of ingredients. In one room, people sit in circles and chop carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes. In another, cooks stand at giant vats, stirring dal (lentils) or sabzi (vegetables) with oar-sized ladles.
In recent years, rising demand has led the temple to supplement volunteers with machinery, including a device that churns out 25,000 rotis every hour. Each piece of the bread will receive a dab of desi ghee (clarified butter), a staple of Punjabi cuisine.
At mealtime, thousands of people file into two large dining halls and sit in rows, picking up tin plates, bowls, cups, and cutlery on the way. Volunteers walk up and down the rows, dishing out the food. One wheeled machine dispenses clean, filtered drinking water, while another serves tea. In the morning and afternoon, chai and snacks are served.
The meals are filling, nutritious, and simple. Here, people come as much for the ritual as for the food, unless they are really in need. It is not the flavor that’s important, but the exercise of eating together in equality and harmony.
Need to Know
The Golden Temple is open 24 hours a day. Remember that it's a Sikh temple, so you should cover your head. There might be scarves or knotted kerchiefs available, but you might want to bring your own.
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Where to Try It
The Golden TempleGolden Temple Rd, Atta Mandi, Katra Ahluwalia, Amritsar, 143006, India
Also known as Sri Harmandir Sahib, the temple itself is a beautiful piece of architecture.