On the roads of Punjab and Haryana it is hard to miss them…the ubiquitous ‘dhaba clusters’ that line either side of the road every few kilometres. The ‘dhabas’ originally sprung up to cater to the needs of the trucks plying through this area that was known as the ‘granary of India’ Temporary shacks with ‘charpais’ strewn around for customers to sit on, they served simple ‘dal, roti, sabzi ‘ with pickle and salad thrown in for extra measure. Over the years other road travellers discovered the great tasting food served by some and through word of mouth reputations were built. Some special ‘dhabas’ became icons in themselves and i have childhood memories of how part of the journey planning by our parents involved figuring out which good roadside ‘dhaba’ to stop at for a lip smacking meal. From those humble beginnings some have reinvented themselves as full scale gastronomical hubs that serve everything from Italian to Chinese dishes in a very contemporary setting and with all modern comforts.
Once upon a time on the Delhi-Chandigarh highway was a gem called ‘Sukhdev da dhaba’ or SDD as many called it and you stopped there for his ‘tandoori stuffed parathas’ served with fresh butter. The menu card today runs into 8 to 10 pages; the interiors have become trendy; the taste however continues to draw over 12 to 15 thousand people on an average on any given day (figures shared by their billing desk!!) A meal stopover there is an experience but can you really call it a ‘dhaba’ anymore…one wonders!!