Kitchens come in all shapes and sizes, especially kitchens of India. Here we have open air angithis to high end stainless steel monstrosities in restaurants. Since food is a big part of culture in India, from celebrations to mourning, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the largest kitchens in the world are, in fact, present in our country.
The more people, the more the space required for food preparation. However, these mega kitchens are large not only in size but also in the sheer number of mouths they feed daily, and the biggest one of them all does this free of cost. This is the kitchen, or the langar, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The beautiful thought of Guru Nanak Dev Ji behind the concept of langar was that all men are equal and should eat as equals. Following his teachings, all Gurdwaras that serve it have no restriction on who can eat there. Everyone is given the same food that is prepared in the kitchens, almost always by volunteers.
The Golden Temple langar starts with a staggering 12,000 kg of flour, 13,000 kg of dal, 1,500 kg of rice, and 2,000 kg of vegetables. This tonne of raw material is converted into 2,00,000 chapatis served daily along with dal, vegetable and rice to feed devotees and tourists alike. This kitchen never closes as hundreds of thousands throng this marble and gold Gurdwara, offering prayers and then moving on to the langar, where there is an endless supply of food and no one is ever refused a delicious hot meal.
The langar system was a deliberate attempt to shun the practice of caste system and make people see that no one is more divine than anyone else in the eyes of god.
The Sri Sai Sansthan Prasadalaya at Shirdi in Maharashtra is a mega kitchen that is unique in its own way as it is also the largest solar-powered kitchen. Four whole rooftops house the 73 solar dishes that make it possible for this kitchen to dole out the prasad for close to 40,000 worshippers every day. Its not just lunch that this mega kitchen provides. Every morning thousands of breakfast packages are made that are handed out free of cost to people who start lining up in the wee hours to get a glimpse of Sai Baba in Shirdi.
During festival time, the kitchens of the Jagannath Puri temple in Odisha feed about 1,00,000 people. Even on a normal day, close to 25,000 devotees eat at the temple. Think of the time, effort and ingredients that go into this feast daily. If a dog is seen on the premises of the temple, all of that goes to waste as it is believed that Goddess Mahalaxmi cooks in the kitchen herself and all the cooks are her servants. If the goddess is unhappy with the food a mysterious dog will appear and the food must be buried so that more can be prepared.
It’s not just places of worship that feed the masses. The Indian Railways serve food to almost 6,00,000 travellers daily. The machines at the award-winning Mumbai Central Base kitchen churn out a staggering 1,500 parathas per hour. TajSATS is the kitchen that provides the in-flight catering to aircraft in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Amritsar, Goa, Bangalore and Kolkata. The kitchens produce meals as per various dietary restrictions as well, and in 2011 celebrated having served more than 1,00,00,000 kg of hot food.
The most special of all these giant kitchens is probably the Akshaya Patra kitchen that prepares meals for schoolchildren. This NGO in Karnataka has a fully mechanised kitchen that can prepare 1,50,000 lunches for students in just five hours. The state-of-the-art equipment and quality control managers ensure that clean, safe food is provided to the kids.
The food journey in India is one that holds surprises at every turn. The kind of food and its preparation changes every few kilometres like the language does, but what doesn’t change is the practice of service and charity of which these amazing mega kitchens are the epitome.