Popular Indian Buffet Has Centuries Old Sikh History

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, March 22, 2007

Gaylord’s in downtown Sacramento is a proper white-tablecloth Indian restaurant with posh outposts in London, Tokyo and New Delhi. But at lunch, the big draw is an all-you-can eat buffet. Today’s Sacramento crowd is here for the Indian buffet’s three V’s…. VALUE. 

“For the amount of food, it’s a great price.”


“…if you limit to one or two, you’re just missing out.” 

And it’s OK for vegetarians.

“And they had a vegetable dumpling that’s phenomenal. Pakoras are good.” 

I’m glad you guys are here and you love Indian food.

Karam Gill is Gaylord’s manager. Northern Indian food may look like simple fare on a buffet, but Gill says that’s an illusion.

…because Indian food is not cheap, first of all, there’s a lot of intricate cooking in this, and the cost of everything behind the buffet is great. 

At work, Gill wears a dress shirt and slacks. But the way his red TURBAN is coiled TIGHT identifies him as a SIKH. As Gill explains, SIKHS and BUFFETS go way back.

There is a big history with this. In our temples, if you go there, there’s a buffet, which is actually called langar in our language, and anybody can eat whatever they want to eat.

Karam Gill isn’t kidding. Anyone can go to a Sikh temple and enjoy a Punjabi-style. So, I did

[Chanting, drums, Indian music]

This Sikh temple is in West Sacramento, and I’m in the middle of its langar hall on a recent Sunday. This big bare room is like any church social hall, right down to the linoleum floor and folding tables. On the wall is a big map of India’s Punjab, where Sikhism began. Prayers in Punjabi being piped through the temple complex have been going on three days straight. When the prayers are over, the langar lunch will feed more than a thousand people.


The cooking has been going on for three days, too. I arrive in time to see about 30 women slapping bread dough in hypnotic syncopation with their chant. They’re off to one side of the langar hall in a huge open kitchen. The equipment is black from constant use. Silk in all colors flows over their heads and shoulders. They’re making chapattis. One woman’s part is to shape the dough.

I make a round chapati, and I give to her, to other lady…

The chapattis will be perfect for today’s lentils, pakoras and chutney, potatoes-and-peas, yogurt and sweets. There’s 3,000 chapattis to go. 

This is definitely ten times, a hundred times the dimension of what goes on in a restaurant.

This is Gurbaksh Kaur. She’s griddling the chapattis. She flips 10, 20 at a time. The langar is always vegetarian, and it’s free. What happens next would be a restaurant owner’s dream.

And we will eat what ever they serve us, there’s no picking or choosing, oh we want this we don’t want that. Whatever they feel like they want to bring us, we are happy to accept …sigh FADE

It’s good karma to take food. In the late 1400s, when early Sikh gurus created the langar, it was a time of class struggle. A COMMUNAL meal was a revolutionary concept. When I asked the priest here about the langar, Wadhawa Singh Gill told me the langar killed the caste system. 

In India, they discriminate between rich and the poor, between priest class and others. We do not discriminate between human beings. And we are required to sit at one place and at one level. All are one.

By midday, the air down this West Sacramento side street hangs with the aromas of cardamom, cumin and sautéed onions. The langar is ready. Men brandish serving ladles. I get in line. 

Oh, this yogurt…it’s actually chickpea flour, fried…it’s actually part of the main course. 


All the Indian recipes here at this gurdwara live on beyond the langar hall. After all, what Indian restaurant doesn’t sell lentils, pakoras and chapattis? But back at  Gaylord’s, where the lunch crowd sees a buffet, Gaylord’s manager, Karam Gill, sees the legacy of the langar.

It was really inherited from all our ancestors. It’s nothing new for us to do it.

At this lunch buffer, the locals are eating what’s in front of them, at one level and filling up on a Sikh guru’s vision of the common meal. All you can eat. I’m Elaine Corn KXJZ News.