I promised to bring some sizzle with this post but you know I am a wimp when it comes to divulging such details. Though I can assure you some nice leisurely Monday reading that will make you nostalgic about those good old times when life cruised along at snail’s pace and we had time to smell the flowers and watch the sunsets and of course savor good food morsel by morsel.
Indian highways are dotted with Dhabas and theka’s (liquor stores) that sell “child(chilled) beer” . When you are on National Highway and you know your dhabas then only you can call yourself a true blue traveler. They can be one of those famous ones like Puran Singh Da Dhaba at Ambala, Sukhdev Da Dhaba near Karnal, Chaupal near Ambala, Pahalwan Dhaba at Murthal (vegetarian) and if you are traveling in the blistering summer heat then 1-2 kms after Modinagar to Meerut, is Jain Shikanji where you get amazing lip smacking shikanji (lemonade) and to-die-for paneer pakodas with tangy chutney. Anyone who has driven on NH-58 will tell you about this awesome joint.
Be it NH-58 or NH-1 we discovered some lesser known dhabas which serve food that makes you yearn for them. They may not feature in Travel blogs, Food shows or magazines but still they are on the list of all those zipping past on these highways.
We took NH-24 very often for our trips to Uttarakhand and every time visited some new dhabha to satisfy our hunger for fresh , wholesome meal but the Amritsariya Dhaba just ahead of Rudrapur became our favorite stop. The place is owned by an old sardarji who became an integral part of all our journeys. It wasn’t just the delicious food that he served or the charm of the rustic ambiance the place offered but the unconditional love with which he always welcomed us. Sometimes all it takes it a nurturing, caring attitude to end all your troubles, all your stress and tiredness. There was a special magic in his thin wrinkled fingers, in his trembling voice, in those delicate lines on the face and in the eyes that lit up when he saw our car approach to a halt. Each visit gave us a sense of homecoming. As he artistically spun the dough for those soft, aromatic tandoori rotis he would as us about our journey, Adi’s hostel stay and the remarkable thing was that he never forgot anything we had earlier mentioned to him. There was a joy in the simple things he did.
The aroma of the Dal Tadka and the chicken gravy that he made with a secret spice mix still lingers in my mind. He never allowed his staff to prepare Rotis or Parathas for us. He would roll up his sleeves and do the honors himself. If you have ever eaten food in Dhaba set in the midst of fields of rice with the fresh water hand-pump gushing out clean chilled water then you will know what I am talking about. Most of the time the tea would be complimentary and so would be the packed food. He always packed us some food on our trips to Adi’s hostel in Ranikhet. A gesture that warmed our hearts. He even gave me a packet of freshly made “secret” masala for his chicken gravy and always called me “Puttar ji” (a loving word for daughter).
I know this is a food post but food is made special by those who cook it with love and passion. We recommended the place to many and everyone came with similar tales of love and caring. They all told us how much the old man missed us. A bond made over authentic rural food, sweet sugary milky tea and big glasses of sweet or salted lassi / shikanji in summer. A bond that warms our hearts across miles that stretch between us.
The other story comes from ancient picturesque town of Bhagsunag in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. It is place I have visited many times and each visit became memorable for more than one reasons but one thing that remained forever etched in memory is the variety of delicious food from Tibetan to Israeli to Mexican and the list goes on.
It was a beautiful summer night when we decided to dine at the German Bakery. I have eaten in may German Bakeries all over Himachal Pradesh and never tasted such good food anywhere. It was managed by two young men from Goa and between them they churned out the some of my favorite dishes. Be it lamb steak or baked beans on toast,variety of grilled and plain sandwiches, freshly made burgers, pastas, pizzas that left you longing for more, authentic Israeli dishes like shwarmas, falafel, crepes,sabih etc with accompaniments , two types of English breakfast, mouth-watering apple crumble and apple and walnut pies to name a few things.
That one last night was made special by the crescent moon that lazily trailed holding a hem of cottony clouds. It was a rather nippy night warmed by dark rum that we had carried with us. A chess board spread across the table, notes from guitar and hushed laughter filling the night, an orgasmic blend of aroma rising from the joints the hippies were smoking in the corner table, low lights just enough to spot what one was eating.. it was heaven on earth.
The boys had to go to bed and were whisked away by their dad to the hotel but I decided to stay back with a friend who has accompanied us. Some times are made memorable just by sheer magic of the place and words often fall short when one tried to capture those feelings much later in life. We played a few games that stretched for hours but neither of us had our heart in the game of chess. After finishing our food we just sat there gazing at the beautiful night and entranced by what surrounded us.
The owner, a friendly chap, brought us some more snacks, this time on the house. We thanked him and settled down for a midnight feast of delicate flavors and tender bites over coffee shots and dark rum. It was amazing to find traditional pies done to perfection. Each bite was full of crispy pie and hot apple chunks flavored by spices. Unforgettable to say the least.
Around 2 o’clock in the night we took leave from the friends who had made our stay in Bhangsu so special and headed for the hotel. Fingers linked together we maneuvered the narrow winding lane and walked on the moonlit path leading to the hotel. The rest of the gang was snoring to glory and we, still intoxicated by the sumptuous food and drinks, sat on the terrace till the clouds took over the little town and it began to drizzle. Among all my travel food memories I cherish this one a lot. I somehow never managed to go back and now as I write this my heart is yearning to escape to those lovely hills. My room seems full of those aromas from the kitchen of that fantabuous German Bakery. Maybe it is time to pay a visit.
I will come back next Monday with some other recollections from the past , till then bon appetit.