It would be easy, and not inaccurate, to assign It’s a Punjabi Affair to the category of “Indian Food.” But that simplified understanding of the cuisine served at the quaint building at the intersection of Bushland Blvd. and Western in Amarillo would be a disservice to the ancient history, abiding culture, and delectable nuance in the dishes they serve.
Geographically, the modern Punjab region consists of parts of both northern India and Pakistan. Named for its proximity to five rivers (punj means “five” and ab means “water”) Punjab is a region that has been well-trod by invading armies and migrants alike. It’s said to have been influenced by the many people who have used it as a passageway west to Tibet and China, or east to Iran. Scholars believe it is referenced as far back as 2,500 years ago, and nearly 155 million people worldwide speak Punjabi as their primary language. All that to say: The place has history, and the dishes originating there must be good—really good—to continue to be made over and through thousands of years.
At the present day, and some 7,800 miles away from where the dishes originated, It’s a Punjabi Affair makes meals that feel both ancient and modern. Above all, they’re mouthwatering.
Eating Punjab food is like ingesting a lively dance of flavors performing at the Super Bowl halftime show: well-rehearsed, and perfectly in sync. Spice is present, yes, but the turmeric, garam masala, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, and chile seem to dance a cha-cha as you chew. One spice takes the lead in one bite, and in the next, that spice steps back while another flavor steps forward. It’s a Punjabi Affair’s popular Butter Chicken is a flawless example of that balance and abundance of flavor. Bite-sized white meat chicken is immersed in a generous portion of warm curry and served alongside a heaping helping of Basmati rice. Cilantro leaves and pickled, sliced red onions, along with papadam (a cracker-like side made with lentil flour and spices) round out the dish. Butter Chicken is the perfect introductory dish if you have never eaten Punjab food before.
Most of Punjabi Affair’s dishes can be made using the vegetarian option of paneer in place of an animal protein. Paneer is a slightly salty, soft, non-melting cheese—a bit like a cheese curd—and chunks of it add flavor and texture to the Mutter Paneer. Curry as thick as gravy, seasoned with smoldering spices, is brightened by the addition of fresh peas and a topping of spicy shredded ginger.
What chocolate does for the Mexican dish mole, fenugreek provides for Fenugreek Chicken. The ancient herb creates a slight sweetness and bottomless depth to the sauce and boneless chicken pieces. When coupled with some warming curry spices, it’s like fighting fire with fire on a warm day—somehow pleasantly refreshing and extraordinarily good.
Layers of sauces, both curry-spiced, and yogurt chutney-cooled, make every bite of the Loaded Fries fun. Crispy fried onions help the thick fries hold their texture under the liberally applied sauces. The addition of a protein-like grilled steak is a treat, but unnecessary with such a hearty helping.
Douse any heat from the many spiced dishes with It’s a Punjabi Affair’s house specialty drink Nimbu Laid, made from lime juice, grated ginger and fresh mint.
Let’s be clear: Cloak & Diner hasn’t eaten everything on It’s a Punjabi Affair’s menu. The menu is flexible, often supplemented with mouthwatering specials (like their take on a burger or burrito). But it is always a shame when the leftovers are gone. I find myself craving their food practically as soon as I take my last bite. I always order an extra side of the pillowy soft Naan to comfort me as my meal—even when stretched to a second lunch or third dinner—finally comes to an end. That’s when I start planning what my next meal from It’s a Punjabi Affair will be.