I have been a traveller & a foodie since I can remember. People mostly travel for relaxation and sightseeing but I travel to discover and sample great food. For a foodie like me, what better place than India to explore. There are so many hidden food secrets here that one can’t possibly unravel in a lifetime. This is what makes it mysterious & exciting.
Out of all the places in India, there is no other place more symbolic of the dhabas than Punjab. Punjabi dhabas are known countrywide for their rich and finger-licking food on the roadside. But it is also the lavish spread of their interesting names that makes them stand out.
From simple names like the typical ‘Punjabi Dhaba’, which one can find all over, to the once well-known ‘Puran Singh da Mashhoor dhaba’ in Ambala, to Chandigarh’s famous ‘Pal Dhaba’, to the uphill attraction of ‘Giani da Dhaba’ on the Chandigarh-Shimla highway, to modern ones like ‘Dhaba Express’ near Hoshiarpur – dhaba names do carry a unique identity about themselves.
Dhabas – or roadside eateries – have been a popular attraction for decades, especially for those travelling along highways. Most of them are popular for serving hot, spicy and fresh food.
The common names that are associated with dhabas are ‘Lucky da Dhaba’, ‘Kakke da Dhaba’, ‘Pappi da Dhaba’, ‘Sher-e-Punjab’ dhaba and others. Among the unique dhaba names that one comes across while travelling in northern India are ‘Ladoo ji da Dhaba’ near Jalandhar, ‘Pahalwan dhaba’, ‘Veerji dhaba’ and others. “Dhaba names are as much an eye-catcher and an attraction as is the food that they serve. While many of the dhaba names are common ones – those that you will find after every few kilometres – some are really unique,” says Amandeep, a businessman from Chandigarh.
While dhabas along highways are popular, at certain places even within city limits, some of the dhabas have acquired a cult status. Though these city-based dhabas are more like casual restaurants rather than having the look of a rustic rural dhaba, they attract hundreds of dhaba-food hungry clients every day.
Amritsar’s most famous dhabas are ‘Bharawan da Dhaba’ and ‘Kesar dhaba’. Kesar dhaba is famous for its Laccha Paratha and Dal Makhani. Pal da Dhaba in Chandigarh is very famous for its mutton dishes. Ludhiana is another place which has a great dhaba culture. The Friends dhaba in Ludhiana is well known for its Parathas dripping in pure white ghee. While most of these dhabas are simple eating places and vegetarian, there are many dhabas that serve non-veg food. Ambala, 45 km from Chandigarh, had its ever-famous ‘Puran Singh da Mashhoor dhaba’. Jalandhar city had its popular ‘Vijay dhaba’ though other dhaba-style eateries along the Jalandhar-Ludhiana highway are now more frequented by people.
The Delhi-Ambala portion of National Highway No. 1 (NH-1) has always been a popular destination for its ever-increasing list of dhabas. Here, the likes of ‘Sukhdev dhaba’, ‘Gulshan dhaba’ and ‘Zilmil dhaba complex’ and the more refined ones like ‘Haveli’ attract thousands of people every day.
“Some of the dhabas along the Delhi highway not only provide good food at reasonable rates but also offer services like head and shoulder massage and foot massage. Some of the dhabas have interesting little shops selling things like music CDs and DVDs, ‘chooran’ and even fashion accessories,” says Aman Jaiswal, a frequent traveller on the dhaba trail.
Going on a dhaba trail is a great way to understand the culture of the local people and also to meet interesting people especially fellow travellers. It’s a great and inexpensive way to taste the local food specially in the winter months when its nice and cool and makes for a comfortable outdoor dining experience.