If you find yourself hungry in Amritsar, a major city in the Indian state of Punjab, you could do worse than stopping into the Golden Temple, the largest Sikh house of worship in the world. It thus also operates the largest community kitchen, or langar, in the world, which serves more than 100,000 free meals a day, 24 hours a day. Anyone familiar with Sikhism knows that, for its believers, serving food to the hungry constitutes an essential duty: not just to the poor, and certainly not just to fellow Sikhs, but to all comers. Wherever in the world you may live, if there’s a Sikh temple or shrine in the vicinity, there’s quite possibly a langar you can visit as well.
Of course, no other langar matches the scale of the Golden Temple’s. As explained in the Food Insider video above, it operates with a permanent staff of 300 to 350 employees as well as a large number of volunteers, all of whom work in concert with machines around the clock to produce an unending stream of vegetarian meals, which include daal lentil stew and chapati bread. There’s always been a market for free food, but recent years have seen increases in demand great enough to necessitate the construction of additional dining halls, and total operating expenses come to the equivalent of some US$4 million per year. (Every day, $5,000 goes to ghee, or Indian clarified butter, alone.)
Apart from the people of Amritsar and pilgrimage-making devotees, the Golden Temple langar has also drawn the attention of culinarily minded travelers. Take the Canadian Youtuber Trevor James, better known as the Food Ranger, to whose taste for extreme scale and quantity the operation no doubt appeals. His visit also affords him the opportunity, before his meal, to be outfitted in traditional dress, up to and including a Sikh turban. (The Golden Temple requires its diners to wear a head-covering of some kind.) James’ stock of travel-vlogger superlatives is nearly exhausted by the splendor of the temple itself before he steps into the kitchen to observe (and even lend a hand in) the cooking process. “Look at this,” he exclaims upon taking his seat on the floor of the hall with a tray of his own. “This is an almost spiritual meal” — an aura exuded whether you believe in Waheguru, the gods of street food, or anything else besides.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.