Are you on a trip to India? Then you just cannot afford to overlook the Dhaba!
What is a Dhaba?
The Dhaba is form of restaurant traditionally found on highways famous for catering authentic Punjabi cuisine typically for Punjabi truck drivers. Dhabas are prominently located near or next to petrol pumps or the gas stations.
Some special features of a typical Dhaba that make it different from restaurants:
• Roadside eating place usually found on highways.
• Tasty and nourishing food yet very economical.
• Traditionally the ambience here is very different. Fresh air, big earthen oven called ‘tandoor’, the smell of tandoor, the Punjabi music, traditional bamboo cots called ‘chaarpai’ to sit and a wooden plank placed perpendicularly in the centre of the chaarpai that serves as the purpose of the table.
Though the food served in Dhaba is Punjabi, these can be found across India catering local culture and food. These are open 24/7 to meet the needs of truck drivers who are also on duty at night. Dhabas these days are not just the favourites of truck drivers but has also succeeded in attracting travellers on two wheelers and four wheelers.
With time these traditional Dhabas have taken the shape of modern restaurants. Seeing the popularity of Dhabas, many restaurants have come up with this concept in a more sophisticated way. Some of the restaurants across India have even been named after them. One such example is ‘The Dhaba’ restaurant in Bangalore which serves great Punjabi food, the ambience has been recreated to match the modern needs along with the feel of traditional Dhaba. But the price you pay in such Dhaba style restaurants is far more compared to the traditional Dhabas.
The Dhaba cuisine!
Punjabi cuisine is popular for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indian food. The key ingredients in a typical Punjabi food are – wide range of masalas, onion, garlic, tomatoes, milk and milk products like cottage cheese or paneer, full cream, butter, ghee or clarified butter and curds or yogurt.
Non-vegetarian food in Dhaba
Tandoori Chicken: Prepared in tandoor after marinating chicken in yogurt and spices (typically known as tandoori masala). Tandoori chicken resembles the taste of grilled chicken with a twist of spices!
Butter Chicken: This is known as Murgh Makani. It is a side dish served with tandoori roti, naan or steamed rice. As the name suggests butter chicken is prepared in oodles of butter with rich gravy. The gravy or the sauce is rich with butter, cashew paste, tomatoes, various spices and Kasuri methi (one of the key ingredient of the dish). The marinated chicken is cooked in tandoor with or without bones and mixed well in the sauce.
Rogan Josh (Lamb curry): The core ingredient is Lamb. The sauce is red in colour which is achieved by adding the Kashmir chilli powder. The sauce is prepared using curds and various spices. The meat is marinated and cooked in sauce to perfection.
Biryanis: Biryani can be chicken or mutton (Lamb) biryani. Biryani is a rice dish served with raita (a curd based side dish with a lot of variations). The rice used for biryani is basmati rice. Spices, curds, kesar and marinated lamb or chicken are the key ingredients along with others.
Vegetarian food in Dhaba
Sarson da saag and makki di roti: Sarson da saag prepared with mustard leaves and spices is a side dish served with makki di roti a form of bread prepared with corn flour. One is incomplete without the other.
Dal makhani: This is a side dish prepared with whole black lentil and red kidney beans. It is not only rich in taste but also has high nutrient value along with added extra calories in the form of makhan (cream) and butter. Tomato puree, ginger, garlic and spices are the other ingredients in the dish.
Rajma: This is a side dish served with Indian bread and rice. Rajma is prepared with red kidney beans which are soaked over-night and cooked. The cooked rajma goes into a thick gravy or sauce prepared with ginger, garlic, tomato puree, onion and a few spices usually whole spices and not the powdered masala.
Parathas/Rotis: Paraths are the Indian breads. They take a wide variety of shapes, sizes and ingredients. Starting from plane roti, butter roti, naan, and tandoori roti; you may try the stuffed parathas which are stuffed with potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, paneer, etc.
Shahi paneer, Chole, Palak paneer and Channa masala are other famous dishes you may want to try.
Desserts/Drinks: Your date with Dhaba would be incomplete without a tall glass of Punjabi Lassi! Lassi is made of curds, sweetened with sugar and garnished with dry fruits. There is also a salted version of lassi or the butter milk. Phirni, Jalebi, Malpua, etc are some of the other sweet savouries for that unforgettable indulgence.