A free kitchen that is open to anyone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – is there such a place?
In the town of Amritsar, India, the Sikh community gathers at the Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple, as a place of worship. This is one of India’s most popular temples and houses one of the largest free community kitchens in the world, feeding 50 to 100,000 people per day - not only Sikhs but also people from all over the world who visit the temple. It is known as the place where the food never runs out and no one has to pay a single rupee.
Everybody is welcome at the langar (the term giving to free communal kitchens in Hindi), and its practice goes to the heart the Sikh teaching that everyone is born equal. Every Sikh place of worship, known as a gurdwara, has a langar, where everyone can come together to share a meal, and this sharing of food is an important part of Sikhism. Regardless of religion, colour, age, gender or social status, no one is ever turned away.
A langar is a place where no religious rituals take place; what you will encounter is thousands of people eating a hot vegetarian meal of chapati, dahl, vegetables, rice and usually a sweet dessert, too.
The amount of work, time and support that is required to feed 100,00 people every day - not to mention the clean-up! - means that this well-oiled machine relies on a lot of staff. 90 per cent of the temple's functions are carried out by volunteers - from the local community and visiting people; within the langar, volunteers share the tasks around preparing ingredients (peeling and chopping), cooking the food in extra-large pots stirred with paddles, serving the people, as well as the cleaning up - trays, are washed by hand five times in a communal area prior to reuse.
The kitchen is split up into two dining halls that each can accommodate up to 5,000 people at a time.
From about 5 am the langar serves its first daily snack and tea; from about 8 am the first daily meal is dished out to the arriving devotees. “The langar is cooked in three spells and we cook in advance to avoid any mess,” general manager of 17 years Bhupinder Singh tells the Indian Express.
There are two kitchens where the food is prepared. According to a Vice Munchies article, 12,000 kg of flour, 1,500 kg of rice, 13,000 kg of lentils, up to 2,000 kg of vegetables and 200,000 chapatis are prepared each day.
On religious holidays or during special occasions and festivals, a roti-making machine is used to keep up with the greater demand, churning up to 25,000 rotis per hour.
To keep all of this running, you need a great deal of power. In a bid to reduce air pollution, the temple - as of this year - moved completely to solar power, thanks to the donation from a Mumbai company.
Many ingredients are sourced locally, and the kitchen budget, like the labour, is entirely donated - as people donate and contribute regularly due to their spiritual and social obligations.
The langar at the Golden Temple, filled with tens of thousands of people every day, sends a powerful message of how people can come together, without discrimination, over a shared meal.