The roadside food in India may be much looked down by some but the majority does not hesitate to fulfill their gastronomic desire here. Cheeep & Baiste! The dhabas of North and Central India carry a typical flavor of roasting flour and spices. The sizzling tadka dominates and along with the aroma of roasting flour in tandoor is an appetite booster. The ever pervasive aroma awakens your sensory buds and olfactory faculties to increase hunger fourfold. The friendly and loose atmosphere is another positive factor.
Nothing beats the tandoori roti daal and shak (vegetable curry) combination. To top it these roadside joints serve best tandoori delights from chicken to various types of Indian breads. From within the dingy set up emerges mouth watering savory dishes that tease your taste buds no end. Most of the recipes tend to be hot, loaded with masalas, red chili and green chili. Eat me if you can kind of challenge is thrown to those with weak digestive system or ulcerated innards.
Another characteristic flavor of the eateries is Indian chai which is consumed in morning and evening hours with aloo paratha and curd. This pan fried paratha is a wonder Indian bread stuffed with spicy potato mash, onions and coriander seeds. The accompaniments are curd and red hot acidic pickles.
The khats (rough woven beds), wooden table and chairs that tipple over every time you lean on them. These are typical furniture associated with these eateries. It is sad to see these places replacing original furniture with plastic one's. The cob web decor on the roof interior, side walls and near the chula certify the originality of the place. Modern joints in shape of dhabas are a no no.
It is only the dhabawala who can appease your gluttonous appetite. The real thing man! The inveterate dhaba connoisseur is sticky about these things. He also notes the watery waste that flows around him through a complex system of intricate canals. Nothing is complete without a shade tree, a pan shop nearby, and bunch of ubiquitous flies that accord purpose to your gastronomic indulgence. Care Hell! Bring on the hot curry man!
The dhabawala is usually a garish man from North India with or without a huge turban. The paunch tells it all, the larger it is the better the offerings. He sits/stands in one visible corner hooked to the wooden counter and drawer full of money hard earned. There are a series of pictures of Gods and Goddess he has utmost faith in. He is totally ignorant of the rest of the surroundings but not his customers mind you. He keeps and eye on the platter to see if things are going right.
The waiters are rickety lot emaciated to the bones with no mannerism accept a loud raucous voice. They gel perfectly with the surroundings, crude and ill mannered but expert at serving hot curries and tandoori rotis. They have memory of a matriarch pachyderm and can serve each and every item as ordered.
The only instrument of hygiene is the thousand year old rag that swishes around your table to dispose of remnants of last recipients. With the same swing of hand the tin plates are cleaned off. Bingo There!
The tandoor wala is the kitchen manager, he dwells in a world of extreme heat and clamor, and there is a constant flow of rivers of sweat from all over his bodies. He is unmindful, busy churning out rotis, frying daal, heating curries and the tadka without which the masalas do not attack your nostrils! Food! His workshop is a mud baked platform with rows of utensils and Kadais (metal cauldron) lined up to deliver their contents on thin metal, badly pimpled plates. If you look on the surface of the platform, you will fine two large holes looking back at you. One could be the tandoor - the mud baked oven, the other could be the fireplace fed by wood. Another must is the large tawa meant to roast tawa rotis, paratha and what not. In large eatries a huge kadai meant for deep frying can be seen.
The lightening is archaic lanterns or laltains as they are called in Hindi, or old cob web ridden bulb barely performing its function. The modern lightening system is a serious no no, though things are moving towards them especially in the garden dhabas - poor copy of the original. The ambiance is the woven Khats or beds placed in the veranda or outside, meant for greater relaxation and fresh air. In an instant they convert into dining table whence a wooden slab is placed on them sideways.
Balancing the paraphernalia, steel plate, glass, spoon, salt shaker, pickle katori, salad plate, papad plate, food plates and Lassi is an arduous exercise. Eating on these platters is an art mastered by the truck drivers and their lot. The urban upper class diner is visibly at odds with this system but nevertheless the outdoors compensate for the trouble.
Central to all dhabas are the pie dogs and ravaging cows looking for tit bits underneath the table, on the ground and in the canals. The scenario is not complete without peels of onion, lime and leftover salad littering the whole place.
This is what a dhaba is, if you can tackle the red and the food is smacky eat happily all the way. Yes do not forget the earthy aroma of the soil that acts as an invite. Step in Saar!
Ooof! not to forget! My kudos to titu da dhaba, rinku the dhaba, Munna dhaba, Shera da dhaba, Delhi restarant, guddo cafe, Punjabi Dhaba, Rajasthan Misthan Bhandar and all. Thanks for such wonderful culinery recipes that make our highway travel an absolute delight.