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Indian Buffet: A Centuries-Old Tradition

If you like Indian food, you're probably familiar with the Indian buffet. The all-you-can-eat attraction shows up at both mom-and-pop and fancy Indian restaurants, but it is more than just a promotional sideshow for Americans. It's a 500-year-old tradition.

Karam Gill, manager of Gaylord's restaurant in Sacramento, Calif., says his restaurant's buffet is a big draw at lunch. But where the lunch crowd sees a good deal on Indian food, Gill sees the long-standing Sikh tradition of langar.

"There is a big history with this," Gill says. "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."

At a Sikh temple in West Sacramento, a langar lunch after prayers will feed more than 1,000 people.

Temple attendee Gurbaksh Kaur, as she makes chapattis for the meal, says there is no special ordering.

"We will eat whatever they serve us," Kaur says. "There's no picking or choosing... Whatever they feel like they want to bring us, we are happy to accept."

In the early 1500s, when early Sikh gurus created the langar, it was a time of class struggle. A communal meal was a revolutionary concept at the time. Priest Wadhawa Singh Gill says 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," he says.

Elaine Corn reports for member station KXJZ. You can find her top buffet picks in Sacramento here.

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