Dhaba or Punjabi dhaba is a roadside restaurant in the Indian subcontinent. They are on highways, generally serve local cuisine, and also serve as truck stops. They are most commonly found next to petrol stations, and most are open 24 hours a day. Since many truck drivers in the Indian subcontinent are of Punjabi descent, and Punjabi food and music are popular throughout the Indian subcontinent, the word dhaba has come to represent any restaurant that serves Punjabi food, especially the heavily spiced and fried Punjabi fare preferred by many truck drivers.
Dhaba roadside eateries are a common feature on Punjab's national and state highways. Earlier frequented only by truck drivers, today eating at a dhaba—urban or roadside—is a trend. Thus, Punjabi dhaba has become a part of the culture of the Punjabi people.
It is said that "The dhaba moves wherever a Punjabi goes." The first Punjabi dhaba was probably established soon after the linking of the cities of India by highways (national, state and village roads). Though no records can be cited as to the first Punjabi dhaba, it can reasonably be assumed that such restaurants first flourished along the Grand Trunk Road which ran from Peshawar through Amritsar and Delhi to Calcutta.
There is now a large network of the Punjabi immigrant community worldwide, and many Punjabis have opened dhabas in far lands (such as at service stations on the Trans-Canada Highway network).
Dhabas were characterized by mud structures and cots to sit upon (charpai) while eating. A wooden plank would be placed across the width of the cot on which to place the dishes. With time, the cots were replaced by tables. The food is typically inexpensive and has a 'homemade' feel to it.
Punjabi food served in dhabas is wholesome and full of rustic flavour. Food is served on big brass or steel thali (plates) and drinks – water, lassi, milk (of several varieties), or tea, as well as shorbas (soups) – are served.
Two types of food are served in the Punjabi dhabas – non-vegetarian cuisine (which is the most popular) and vegetarian fare termed vaishno dhabas (where food is cooked in pure ghee or clarified white butter). Dal makhni is a popular dish in the vegetarian dhaba.
The tandoor (also called ‘tandooria’ or dhatti) is a barrel-shaped clay or earthenware oven, which makes Punjabi cuisine special. It is a versatile kitchen appliance for making rotis and naans and a social institution. In rural Punjab, the community tandoor, dug in the ground and either coal-fired or (more recently) electrically heated, is a meeting place for women, who bring the kneaded atta (dough) and sometimes marinated meats to have them cooked while socializing. Until a few years ago, this phenomenon existed in urban neighbourhoods, too. Even today, a few neighbourhoods in Delhi and Lahore have a community tandoor.
Most Punjabi menus are made according to the season. The universal favourite is chole bhature which is a year-round item and is available at every wayside dhaba; it originated in Northern India but is now found anywhere in the Indian subcontinent or other countries where the South Asian diaspora have migrated in large numbers. But, the pride of the Punjabi winter cuisine is sarson da saag (curry made out of mustard leaves) served with blobs of white butter accompanied by makki ki roti and lassi.
Some dishes that make up the delicious Punjabi cuisine are:
- Wheat and maize (the staple food grains), all lentils, especially black gram and yellow gram, rajma (kidney beans), and chana.
- Popular spices in Punjabi cuisine are coriander, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, red chili powder, turmeric, and mustard. One of the main crops of Punjab is mustard or sarson: Its leaves are used to make sarson da-saag curry while its seeds are used for tempering and for making mustard oil, which is widely used as a cooking medium.
- Milk is synonymous with Punjab (the land of five rivers) and dairy products such as dahi, paneer cream, butter and ghee are used. Butter is an important cooking medium apart from being consumed raw along with the food.
- Non-vegetarian food, especially chicken, is a favorite. Mutton and fish are also cooked.
- All types of vegetables
The simple vegetarian meal served could be a paratha of many kinds depending on the type of vegetable stuffing one wishes to have – the aloo parathas is the most popular. Parathas stuffed with cooked, mashed and spiced vegetables such as cauliflower are popular for breakfast with curds or tea.
The basic gravy used for vegetables and meat dishes is onion-tomato-garlic-ginger.
A predominantly wheat-eating people, the Punjabis cook rice only on special occasions. Rice is rarely cooked plain or steamed and is always made with a flavouring of cumin or fried onions. Sada chawal – plain rice – is served with other wheat-based dishes. Vegetable biryani (fried veg rice) is also a favorite dish.
In winter, is rice cooked with jaggery is gurwala chawal, or rao ki kheer delicacy when cooked on slow fire for hours with sugarcane juice, and sometimes rice is also cooked with green peas.
Authentic items include kadhai murg, tandoori chicken, tali machali amritsar, rara gosht, chicken tikka masala, peppery tandoori chicken., anda paneer (egg curry), seek kebabs, butter chicken, vegetarian and non-vegetarian kathi rolls, etc.
Murg yakhni shorba and chicken shorba are popular soups.
Most meat delicacies are eaten with plain rice, phulka or tandoori roti without ghee or butter.
Sweets or desserts
Sweets include firni or phirni (a sweet dish made of milk, rice flour, and sugar and chilled in earthenware bowls), gulab jamun and burfi. The desserts include fresh hot jalebi with vanilla ice cream, rasmalai and kesari kheer.
The saffron-mixed buttermilk (lassi) of Amritsar; milk boiled with almonds, pistachio, and dry-dates in winter; and the same mix boiled into a thick liquid and then solidified in a banana-shaped mould in the form of a kulfi are desserts. Panjiri, whole wheat flour fried in sugar and ghee, heavily laced with dry-fruits and herbal gums is in eaten in the winters to ward off cold.
Haryana has dhabas all over and dhabas of Murthal, Sonipat on Grand Trunk Road are famous for delicacies including Murthal Paratha, Haryanvi Daal, Cheese Bread Pakora and more. "Garam Dharam" (Hot Dharam) vegetarian dhaba based on Sholay theme at Murthal Sonipat, with fruit parathas as one of its speciality, is owned by the Bollywood action hero Dharmendra.
- Balasubramaniam, Chitra (February 2, 2013). "Food Safari: In search of Murthal ke paranthe". The Hindu. Retrieved June 26, 2015.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- vaishali tripathi (4 October 2013). Dhabe Ka Khana: Delight of Punjabi Dhaba [vegetarian]. Partridge Publishing India. ISBN 978-1-4828-1176-6.
- Dhabas of Murthal and Haryana, The Tribune, 2004
- Food Safari: In search of Murthal Paratha, The Hindu, 2 Feb 2013
- Highway Bits: Dhabas versus food chains, Times of India, 7 Sept 2015]
- GOOGLE ENGLISH TRANSLATION India's action hero Dharmendra opened Dhaba in Murthal, named Hot Dharam and ORIGINAL NEWS मुरथल में इंडिया के एक्शन हीरो धर्मेंद्र ने खोला ढाबा, नाम रखा है 'गरम धरम', Zee News 24 Feb 2018.