It’s the Dhaba Way on the HighWay !!

Dhaba is an unsophisticated version of a standard Indian restaurant. These are local open restaurants dotting the highways in a rustic setting and have a native flavour  to them. Most Indian highways play host to these roadside restaurants. They serve local cuisine and are mostly found near gas stations. They run 24 hours. In the old days, dhabas used to cater mainly to truckers and long-distance travelers.

In those days, dhabas were characterized by mud structures or a shed like building where the food was cooked in an open kitchen and cots were laid to sit upon (called ‘chaarpai’ in Hindi) while eating. A wooden plank or a table was placed across the cot on which the dishes would be served. With time, the cots have been now replaced by plastic chairs and tables. There is however no particular arrangement and everything looks just so random. The food is relatively inexpensive and has a  homemade feel to it because its made right in front of you in an open kitchen and served steaming hot and fresh.

The word Dhaba is synonymous with Punjabi food. Punjabis are known to be fiery, passionate, aggressive people and big time foodies. Centuries ago, dhabas originated in the highways of Punjab, when people there ventured into the transportation business. It became essential to have some kind of food and shelter facility at regular intervals during travel. That’s how Dhabas emerged as these humble roadside stopovers, where travelers mostly stopped for refreshment. They could have a hearty meal and even catch a nap over there on a charpai if they were too tired.

Back in those days, people used to think of a dhaba as an unhygienic place in the open, loaded with flies, and selling cheap food. A place where you’d go only when the need be and not by choice. However that notion is fast changing as Dhabas are a lot better these days. Times have today changed to a point where dhabas aren’t really looked down upon. People today eat at a Dhaba unabashedly, social status notwithstanding. So nowadays its not just trucks but you could even spot a Merc and a BMW or some other fancy car parked right outside a famous dhaba.

Dhabas these days are especially much sought after by thousands of students who recurrently face shortage of funds. Finger licking authentic food is being served here at a fractional price compared to a standard hotel or restaurant.

But they still retain their original rustic feel. The place is loud and buzzing. There is a whole lot of drama because everyone is just so animated. Nothing fancy, but it’s the crowd that’s over the top, unrestrained and with no inhibitions. The food is yummy with excess butter or desi ghee dripping from your paranthas or naans( Indian breads) and  you are most likely to get your clothes stained. The menu would be a simple one, and nothing comprehensive.  Most of the times it’s a single page  just having the most loved and sought after dishes like dal makhani, butter chicken, shahi paneer, rogan josh with paranthas and lassi ( an authentic Punjabi refreshing beverage made from yogurt or sweetened buttermilk). All over North India, especially Punjab, a meal comprising makki di roti and sarson da saag with lots of butter and lassi is almost legendary.

In a typical dhaba, the hospitality would not be fancy and the place would be unclean and messed up to look at. You may have to shu away a couple of dogs and scare away loads of flies so that they leave you and your food alone, but after having the first bite, I can bet you will feel, its all worth it. Ironically, a typical highway dhaba will have the most uncomfortable seating and average service. Nonetheless, it will still have the BEST food.

There’s something so real about the simple, unpretentious and wholesome food served there. No flamboyance, no artificiality, just straight from the heart ! The unmatched indigenous preparation will make you fall in love with simple pleasures of life.

So next time, you pass through a dhaba, don’t hold yourself back. Don’t feel belittled just because the decor and service is an alien concept over there. Your chair might be broken and there may be water spilled on the table, but have no suppositions and no impositions. Just go with the flow. Enthrall yourself with every bite that enters your mouth and count your blessings. Uphold the Punjabi Pride. No matter where you come from and who you are, fact is that there is nothing that can outshine a meal comprising of a parantha, dal makhani, murg makhani and an extra large glass of lassi to go with it.

Being a true Punjabi, I give 2 Thumbs Up for DHABA !!  Chak de phatte !!!

Dhaba pictures

Author: Richa Arora


  1. Thumbs Up !!! Bravo Article … 🙂
    Its really good to know that Dhaba Scenario has actually gone up & people are readily going down those highways to eat that mouth-watering tandoori chicken & Dal Tadka.
    Found one more vid: – which really inspired me to search for highway dhabas in India..
    Thanks. – N this is not spam :p so please do read my comment ..
    Ameya Khandekar

  2. Richa Arora says:

    Merci Ameya.
    I am glad you liked it. Thanks for your kind words.
    Yup, Dhabas really have come a long way. Great way to stay grounded as they remind you of your roots. Plus it is so much FUN being there. Lovely food, Real people, Low Price..what more can you ask for ??

    Your video’s great. Thanks for posting it here.


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