A roadside food stall in north India is called a dhaba. Often located along highways, dhabas came about to serve as a dining and resting place for truck drivers ferrying good from one part of the country to another. However, soon, the fresh, hot and flavoursome food provided by the dhabas began to attract other travellers on the highways and even city dwellers who, today, take a trip to these eateries just for the food. Not surprisingly, today, dhabas have become a cultural part of every road trip taken in north India – the delightful Punjabi food served oftentimes on matted jute beds called charpaois, jumpy music playing in the background and a general air of constant activity no matter what time of the day, has come to be an integral part of the travel experience.
National Highway (NH) 22 is a 459 Km road that runs from the city of Ambala in Haryana right up to Khab near the Indo-Chinese border in Himachal Pradesh. It is also known as the Hindustan Tibet Road and is extremely popular among anyone traveling from Delhi and Punjab to the many beautiful destinations in the Himalayas, located in the state of Himachal. It sees both Indian and foreign traffic. This highway is home to some of the best dhabas in north India. Here’s a list of the top ten dhabas on this highway that would make for delicious food stops for do-not-miss Punjabi food.
Puran Singh ka Dhaba, Ambala:
Puran Singh ka Dhaba started five decades ago, when the owner migrated from Pakistan post-partition. This Dhaba serves three dishes – Keema Kaleji, Mutton Masala, and Chicken Masala. Keema Kaleji is the most sold dish – large chunks of goat liver is minced with onion and tomato gravy and is served hot with tandoori rotis and a generous amount of home made makkhan (butter). Mango pickle and raw onions are accompaniments for each dish. The masalas used in their dishes are ground at home by Mrs Puran Singh, thus ensuring consistent quality and rich flavours.
Note: Over the years a lot of dhabas with the same name have sprung up. Make sure you eat at the original one. The best way to find that out is to ask any rikshawala (auto driver).
Must Try: Keema Kaliji
Also Taste: Mutton Masala
Sethi Dhaba, Zirakpur:
Stop at Sethi Dhaba for a taste of authentic Punjabi ambiance. Dedicated to Gurdas Maan, a popular Punjabi folk singer, it has seen the singer visit it on many occasions. The paranthas served here are exceptionally good. Paneer Parantha, Gobi Parantha and Lachha Parantha are a must-try along with a pitcher full of lassi (buttermilk). Dal Makhani and Sarso ka Saag are also reflective of the original Punjabi flavor. A spoonful of desi ghee to go along with your paranthas adds immense taste to the meal.
Note: Drop in some change in the charity box. The owner of Sethi Dhaba is a philanthropist and every penny in the box goes out to the needy.
Must have: Paneer parantha
Also try: Gobi parantha
Pal Dhaba, Chandigarh:
Located in Sector 28 D in Chandigarh, Pal Dhaba is located a little beyond NH22. This implies a short detour of five to ten minutes into the beautiful city of Chandigarh, which might be a great experience in itself. The Butter chicken served here comes with the heavenly aroma of freshly ground spices and is generously served with a topping of fresh cream. For vegetarians, the Shahi paneer, Channa masala, and Dal fry with a typical Punjabi tadka, is hugely sought after. Also available in winters is the traditional Makki ki roti with Sarson ka saag, a typical Punjabi dish that one must not leave without trying. The meal ends with a serving of saunf (fennel seeds) and jaggery, both of which are traditionally known to be digestives.
Note: This is one of the best places for breakfast in Chandigarh. Freshly cooked food is available even at 5 am.
Must have: Butter chicken, Shahi Paneer, Dal Tadka
Also try: Makki ki roti and Sarson ka saag
Tehal Singh Dhaba, Chandigarh
The owner of this dhaba was once a small street hawker selling fish and kebab. The magic in the food he prepared was quite evident to the local folk, and when he went on to open a Dhaba on NH 22, it was famous in a very short span of time! Kalmi Kebab, Fish Kebabs, Tangri Kebabs and Tandoori Chicken are some of this eateries most loved dishes. For vegetarians, Paneer Tikka, Haryali Kebab, and Kadhai Paneer are some of the must-try options though clearly it is more popular for its non-vegetarian fare.
Note: Your order might take some time, because of the large crowds that the dhaba attracts.
Must have: Kalmi kebab
Also try: Tandoori chicken
Ishwar sweets, Jabli
This small dhaba is among the more recent additions to the line up of delicious food along NH 22. However, its malai kulfi is famous already. It must be had along with some ras malai and jalebi, other traditional north-Indian sweets that are difficult to resist. It also serves piping hot pakoras, samosas, channa bhaturas and tikki chaat.
Note: Do get a box of sweets packed for the journey ahead. Those who don’t are known to regret later. 😉
Must have: Malai kulfi
Also try: Chole bhature
Modern Dhaba, Dharampur
Traditional breakfast in this part of the country consists of a hot, flavoursome, stuffed parantha or kulcha, made fresh in the tandoor, an earthen oven. It is usually served with 25gms of butter and fresh, homemade curd. Modern Dhaba is a perfect stop for breakfast though it serves delicious food all day long. Surrounded by outlets such as McDonalds and Café Coffee Day that have sprung up around it recently, it still holds onto its popularity. Tandoori paranthas with a variety of stuffings are on offer – Aloo, Gobi, and Paneer – are especially popular.
For lunch and dinner, Modern Dhaba offers a vegetarian thali, a wholesome meal consisting of dal, a gravy dish, a dry vegetable, chapattis, salad, raita and rice.
Note: Breakfast is its specialty.
Must have: Tandoori paranthas – aloo, gobi, paneer
Also try: Veg. thali
Giani da Dhaba, Dharampur
Giani da Dhaba is one of the oldest dhabas on the Shimla-Kalka Highway. Especially well known for its paranthas and non-vegetarian delicacies, they serve a special parantha called the Mirchi parantha – stuffed with green chilies, it is a must try for those who like their food hot and spicy. It goes perfectly with a chilled pitcher of lassi on a hot day. They also serve a much-sought-after sweet – kheer – a milk sweet served garnished with coconut.
Unique to Giani da Dhaba is their Murga ka achaar, a rare pickle served with their chicken curry, another highly recommended item on their menu.
Note: Given its popularity, the eatery is likely to be crowded at most times through the day. Expect a short waiting time.
Must have: Murg ka achaar
Also try: Mirchi parantha
Sahini’s food corner, Shimla
This is one of the lesser known eateries in Shimla, given that it opened recently. Located about 500ms from NH 22, the food prepared by its polite and hospitable owner, is so tasty that it begs to be had again and again.
From chicken curry to chilly paneer, from fish curry to fish chips, Sahini’s serves a wide variety of food items. Chicken curry and fish chips makes for a good non-veg combo for first time visitors. Their fried chicken is extremely popular with the locals and regulars. Small pieces of marinated chicken are fried in butter and served with green pudina or mint chutney. Vegetarians should try the crispy paneer tikka and mixed noodles.
Note: To customize dishes, the friendly owner often lets customers taste their order before serving.
Must have: Crisp chicken tikka, Chicken curry
Also try: Tandoori chicken
Himkiran Pappi ka Dhaba, Shimla
Famously known as Pappijee’s, this dhaba opened in 1975. The pictures of celebrities, who have enjoyed meals here, adorning the walls are testimony to the popularity of the outlet. Named after Pappijee, who manages the cooking at the front counter herself, it is a perfect stop for an evening snack. Paneer pakoras (chunks of cottage cheese dipped in a besan (gram flour) batter and deep fried) and noodle samosas, coupled with a cup of ginger chai is just the pick-me-up that works after the long drive. There is a wide variety of pakoras on offer – spinach, onions, cauliflower, potatoes and even chilies. by dipping them in a seasoned batter of besan and then deep-frying.
Note: What started as one dhaba are today two adjacent eateries by the same name, run by two brothers. Both are equally good.
Must have: Paneer pakoda
Also try: Noodle Samosa
Negi’s Dhaba, Narkanda
Further down the highway, beyond Shimla, the number of eateries decreases. But even amidst the thick deodar forests lies the rustic Negi Dhaba, providing home-like-comfort with its hot, refreshing food. Comfort food such as maggi noodles are available in 5-6 different options. A typical pahadi meal of rajma chawal is highly recommended as are the mushroom dishes. It also serves freshly brewed coffee, making it quite the perfect hangout to enjoy the wilderness while eating a scrumptious local meal.
Note: Narkanda is located 3000m above sea level an needs a little acclimatizing.
Must have: Rajma Chawal, Mushrooms
Also try: Maggi