DHABA…… The very word is enough to make the mouth water.
A dhaba conjures up an image of a rustic eatery with a charpoy( cot made with woven ropes) and platefuls of fresh scrumptious dishes which scores of itinerant truck drivers enjoy..
Traditionally Dhabas were made of mud structures and a wooden plank was placed across the width of the cot(charpai) to keep the dishes.
The dhabas with time have become more comfortable and cater to all kinds of people, who look out for low cost food with no overhead costs . There are no constraints, no dress codes or fine dining rules, one can lick the fingers and belch ,with no one objecting. It is basically a no frills eating joint for the common man .
A dhaba can be a simple shack which sells two three dishes like dal (lentil), rice ,rotis(Indian bread) and a seasonal veggie ,or it can have a large menu which can consist of various cottage cheese preparations like Kadhai paneer ,matar panner ,shahi paneer ,Kadhi chawal seasonal green vegies like sarson(mustard) ka sag and makki ki roti (in winter) ,scrambled egg or egg curry , butter chicken ,or kadhai chicken etc. One can sum up the Dhaba food in three words :Buttery, spicy and hot.
Almost all the dhabas, especially the highway Dhabas serve large glasses of lassi (sweet n salted), curds, onion slices and pickles which are part of all dhaba meals.
Most of the dhabas serve Panjabi cuisine, as the Dhaba culture has originated from Punjab.
The mouth-watering rich aroma rising from the cauldron full of boiling mah ki dal (black lentil), the freshly made hot rotis straight from the tandoor(clay oven), oodles of butter on stuffed parathas and strong Adrak wali 500 miles chai(strong ,sweet tea), malaidar lassi (thick creamy curds drink), and, if you are a non vegetation, then there is no end to what Dhabas can offer you .All this, combined with the Panjabi warmth of the owner, is enough to lure any hard core foodie to the roadside dhaba.
Eating out in a dhaba can be a heart-warming experience. Usually dotted along the highways, dhabas dole out hearty rustic fare. They are India’s Mecca for food lovers, and equivalent to the British transport café. This place is the true example of national integration and cross cultural exchange.
To watch the sweet smiling person in a string vest, artistically churn out rotis from the tandoor with his bare hands, is a sight to enjoy.
They make a great show working their trade, kneading and slapping fist sized balls of dough with pomp and flair, churning out dozens of flat chapatis(breads) in a blur of motion. In fact the whole process of dishing out food from the containers into the plates in remarkable .It just adds to your hunger and makes the wait impossible.
The moment the car hits the national highway, dhabas decorated with colourful signboards, lights, flags and mouth-watering specialties are the first sights one notices. . It’s an amazing glimpse into the world of entrepreneurs who have created a food cult with quality & hygiene.
The Dhabas on highways, generally have a small pan n cigarette shop nearby or a local liquor shop called Theka , selling chilled bear sometimes written as ‘child bear’. With huge signs all along the highway .That attracts a large number of travellers and drivers .
On our various trips, we discovered some of the finest dhabas strategically located on G.T.Road. Most of the Dhaba’s have their secret recipes to attract customers. These dhabas may look rustic, but as far as the menu is concerned they are at par with any other multi-cuisine restaurant in the city. Though Tandoori and Punjabi menus are the hot favourites, they also serve Chinese dishes like noodles and chilli chicken.
Some of our favourite stopping joints are Puran ka dhaba near Ambala cant. A must stop for all who love their food.
There is one on way to Mandi, which takes pride in having catered to the likes of Bollywood actor Salman Khan and some film unit members. They even have pictures and autograph comment book to prove it .The food is excellent and the ambience very good. It is worth a stop.
There are many others on way to Shimla, Mussourie and Manali.
On our way to Ranikhet , we discovered Amritsariya dhaba .What made this place special was, the location .Just ahead of Rudrapur, comes a green and not so congested Bilaspur and this dhaba is in the very beginning .Owned by an old sardarji, the place is dotted with plastic chairs, wooden tables, a tube well and a hand pump which doles out chilled clean water at all times. Surrounded by paddy fields this place is one of our favourite places.
The old man is a perfect example of Indian hospitality and friendliness .The staff, very efficient and clean.
As our visit became regular, the old man became a part of our family, he would ask for our wellbeing and, about my elder one, who was studding in a residential school, way up in Ranikhet .He would always wrap up some parathas for us in nice packs with pickles and, never charge for them. They were a part of his blessings for the kid and our safe journey. He even shared the magic masala of his delicious pepper chicken, with me and packed a generous amount, in a small plastic bag for us along with the recipe. Now that our visits have become rare, we recommend all our friends going that way, to stop there and darji always remember us fondly.
Murthal is a Mecca for Dhabas lovers .located on NH-1 near Sonepat; this place has a vast variety of delicious food. People especially go to eat food there during weekends.
The city Dhabas are not as colourful as the highway ones and each one has its own specialty. Most of the Dhaba workers stay, in and around the joint, so they are able to keep up with the odd working hours. Many of them are open from early morning till very late in the night.
In Delhi also we have some of the best known dhabas like, Kake ka dhaba in Chandni Chawk. The owner Mr. Lovely Singh is a foodie himself and has tremendous knowledge about the stuff .He has gone for a number of food fests in India and abroad.
Rajender da dhaba in Safdarjang Enclave is one of my favourites. If looking for great food in the middle of the night; this place is where one should go.
The Delhi – Gurgaon border and the Kapashera border are also two great places for authentic dhaba food .Most of the places are open throughout the night and a hub for all the young people working late nights.
Dhabas have undergone a makeover and the complexion of the clientele has also changed. It is no longer a roadside pit stop where truckers can fill their tummies.
One can see the hep call center and BPO crowd and the night revellers frequenting these places very often.
Unfortunately most of these eating joints have lost their charm of traditional dhabas and have become a roadside restaurant for the youth. Gone are the fried parathas , there place has been taken by tandoori parathas .
The new health conscious generation prefers fat-free food and dhabas which were never known for this variety of food are now giving in to the whims of customers. The young new owners want their swanky young “always in a hurry young customers” to be happy , and, gladly serve, anything from chowmein and chilly cheese to fruit juices, coke etc .These hybrid dhabas have mushroomed all over the city. Even the highway dhabas have become modern in more than one ways .Some of them have mobile charging facilities ,A small T.V. set or a S.T.D. calling facility .Some have small but clean restrooms to attract more travellers .
People travel short distances from Delhi just to eat at their favourite highway dhaba.
WE often drive down to moolchand’s paranthewala or the Jain’s dhaba in Connaught Place for a late night binge.
A few friends, winter nights, dhaba food, a lot of laughter and chit chat and the warmth and joy of being together …..
There are some things that money can’t buy.