Dhabas have always occupied a special place in the rich and diverse, culinary history of the subcontinent. Their distinct, smoky flavors make us abandon the crème de la crème of fine-dining luncheonettes, compelling us to ditch the costliest dishes served in the most upscale series and uber-expensive chophouses. There is virtually nothing that could ever dare to surpass the soul-appeasing satisfaction of spooning the quintessentially Indian, kali daal; customarily enhanced with a dollop of white butter; into a crisp, brown tandoori naan on unforgiving, cold winter noon.
FROM CHATRAM TO DHABA: AN EVENTFUL JOURNEY
The dhabas was never considered as a mere, non-descript eatery by a highway but being the perfect microcosm of palatable north Indian cuisine they never failed to attract the awe-inspiring respect from the Indian populace and were worshipped as gastronomic stopovers by the same.
They do have an intriguing tale to tell us all and that is to shed light on how the concept of the Haba came into existence. Centuries ago every single town routinely maintained a chatroom which was essentially a choultry for the exhausted travelers and the weary souls were provided food, a place for resting and were also allowed to take a bath for freshening up and carry on the rest of their journey.
THE VERY FIRST DHABAS CAME UP ON THE GRAND TRUNK ROAD
The historical origin of these culinary signal posts was indeed destined to be nebulous. It is argued that they surfaced on either edge of the GTR (Grand Trunk Road) and other highways at the onset of the twentieth century for serving the truckers. The menu was a candid reflection of the very fact that the majority of the truck drivers came from the Pre-independent Punjab. Pretty interestingly, several dhabas of iconic stature are not situated on the highway, such as the renowned Kesar da Dhaba of Amritsar was founded in the year nineteen-sixteen in the Sheikhupura of Colonial Pakistan and eventually migrated to the walled Amritsar city after the partition. Today, the diners are greeted with savory dal fry along with chapatis by waiters in red tees.
THE CRÈME DE LA CRÈME
Many dhaba have now acquired a cult status; for instance, the Puran Singh ka Mashhoor Vishal Dhaba (adjacent to the Ambala cantonment bus stop), Sukhdev Dhaba (Murthal), Sharma Dhaba (Jaipur-Sikar road), Pehelwan Dhaba,Fauji Dhaba, Sher-e-Punjab, and the one of a kind Shudh Vaishnav Dhabas that are exclusively found on religious trails, offering freshly prepared food free of any onion and garlic.
DHABAS ARE PLAYING A PIVOTAL ROLE IN GROWING THE DESI ECONOMY
The upward mobility and growing prosperity of the dhabas have truly played an instrumental role in the colossal, larger Indian success story. Charpoys have eventually made way for ostentatious plastic chair-table sets at several places and some are even known to have incorporated a separate enclosure solely for air-conditioned dining. Many of them have upgraded their cutlery and tableware while diversifying and expanding their menus in due course of time. Several five-star restaurants and gourmet eateries have also started to replicate the rustic dhaba look.
With the myriad of choices for irresistibly tasty, spiced up comfort meals and traditional dishes like mooli keparanthe, butter naan, ande ki bhurji, and goat rice curry, to name a few; there is simply no match for the engaging ambiance and earthy hospitality they have been offering for ages.