Neither a wanderer’s delight nor a tourist attraction, the roadside eateries are respite for travellers. The busy Delhi-Chandigarh highway in north India, dotted with such places, offers authentic food with earthy hospitality.
A plate of wonders piled high with fat, freshly cooked paranthas (Indian flatbread) with big dollops of white butter or spicy rajma chawal (red kidney bean with rice) or a simple dal-roti-sabzi (pulse-bread-curry) meal at the dhabas (roadside eateries) by the highways, scripts a special gastronomy memory.
For a Punjabi such as me, Delhi-Chandigarh route along (national highway) NH-1 is perhaps the most frequented one. Before each trip, the foodies in my family list out their favourite halts along the road and juggle among the favourites for final selection – if it is a stopover at Sukhdev Dhaba at Murthal for stuffed paranthas served with white home produced butter for breakfast, the lunch is settled at Pal dhaba at Chandigarh for its special butter chicken.
The morning stop
Driving down the highway in Haryana, one eagerly awaits these dhabas. As one approaches Murthal, 50 km from Delhi, one finds a flurry of dhabas on the left. However, the most popular among all is the Sukhdev Dhaba that can serve 100 to 300 people at a time. It is famous for its tandoor paranthas stuffed with a variety of vegetable such as potato and onion , cauliflower or cottage cheese. Served with white butter, it is a must have, especially as an early morning breakfast. A tempting aroma from the cauldrons of dal (pulse), fresh spring veggies and cottage cheese, chapattis from the tandoor and the thought of a big glass of lassi (sweet yoghurt drink) or sweet- milky tea, lures one to stay for lunch.
Started in 1956, it is very popular given the number of cars parked around it. Of late, the dhabas that once served as resting and eating corners for truck drivers with their basic mud structures with tin shed, have undergone a makeover fora new clientele. Sukhdev dhaba, for example, has evolved as a stopping point for holidayers, business travellers, college students and for the local population as well. The waiters in the dhaba could be seen dressed in red and speaking English. More such decade old dhabas such as Arjun, Gulshan and Pehalwan have transformed similarly.
Like all the dhabas in this particular belt, the food is all vegetarian as Murthal is also a religious site. Originally the paranthas were shallow-fried in pure ghee. The growing health consciousness among led us to switch over to the tandoor,” said the manager at Sukhdev Dhaba.
The Punjabi-themed Haveli
Further along the NH1, many cheerful establishments pass by in a blur as the speedometer reads 100 km per hour while the milestone shows ‘Karnal – 1 km’. About 140 km from Murthal via Panipat, lies a Punjabi-themed, village-style restaurant – ‘Haveli’. With the doorman and waiters dressed in traditional Punjabi attire, every corner inside the restaurant boasts of Punjab. The half truck parked inside the space, with headlights turned on and indicators blinking, is hard to miss.
Haveli receives not only the highway travellers, but also people from adjoining towns, including Chandigarh. With a footfall of 5,000 people every day, the place offers all Punjabi delights. A vegetarian meal includes paranthas, dal makhni (buttery lentil), puri chhole (deep fried Indian bread served with a gram preparation), lassi and jalebi (sweetmeat) that finds a special holler in the menu. “Let’s face it, food is not the only reason that so many people come for. Just take a look around. We have tried to give them a glimpse of most things that the state’s cultural heritage is associated with,” says Kapil Seth, senior operations manager, Haveli.
But to get a taste of old dhabas and enjoy the meal sitting on charpoys, Jhilmil opposite the Haveli, is a good option, or Mayur Dhaba for non-vegetarian options. Although Haveli is the most frequented eating joint in the area, the butter chicken lovers stop only at Mayur Dhaba.
Any road trip along this route is incomplete without heading to meat lover’s mecca – Puran Singh ka Mashhoor Dhaba. Specialising in mutton and chicken curry, Puran Singh’s dhaba has stood straight at Delhi-Chandigarh highway for the past 65 years and witnessed a change in ownership when Puran Singh sold the copyright to the present owner Vijender Nagar.
The evergreen Pal Dhaba
An hour journey from Ambala leads to the ‘green city’ Chandigarh and the last stop for food journey on this route. City’s oldest eating joint, Pal Dhaba, knows no competition. Despite numerous eating options that the city is known for, this dhaba in Sector 28 remains the most popular. Although butter chicken and keema kaleji (minced meat and chicken liver together) are the speciality, vegetarians don’t need to be disappointed as dal makhni and shahi paneer (a cottage cheese preparation) adorn the menu as well.
Whether it is about feeding our gurgling stomachs or reflecting the authentic taste of any region or the hospitality with which the food is served, these dhabas certainly know the way to win one’s heart.
Read the full version of this article in India & You – March-April 2015 (special ITB Berlin).
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