Haryana’s Murthal, about 45 km from the Capital on National Highway 1, is also known as the mecca of street food lovers.
There are about 60 dhabas in this dusty highway town, many of them more than 75 years old. But, of late, the dhabas — once mud and tin structures that served as resting and eating corners for truck drivers — have undergone a makeover to serve a new clientele.
So, instead of just ramshackle trucks parked in front of them, one can see sleek cars and sport utility vehicles (SUVs).
“Today our clients include tourists, families from Delhi and corporate groups,” says Gulshan Kukreja, 45, who owns Gulshan Dhaba. It was started by Kukreja’s grandfather in 1950.
Six months ago, Kukreja built two centrally air-conditioned lounges with upholstered sofas and fancy teak dining tables in the dhaba to cater to his new clientele.
The ambience of these lounges could give any restaurant in the Capital a run for its money. So, why not call it a restaurant?
“The fact that we have added a few facilities to the dhaba does not mean we should start calling ourselves a restaurant. What sets us apart from a restaurant is our food, which continues to have that typical dhaba flavour,” says Kukreja.
His dhaba attracts around 1,000 people on weekends. “There is nothing quite like eating alongside the highway. The food here has a flavour of its own,” says Rajesh Malhotra, 40, from Pitampura. Malhotra comes to Murthal with his family at least once a month.
Not far from Gulshan Dhaba is Sukhdev Dhaba. Set up in 1956, this one serves a large number of NRIs on their way to Punjab from the Delhi airport.
The dhaba has a huge dining hall, where about 300 people can eat together. Besides, it boasts of a dozen shops selling assorted items. The waiters in this dhaba could be seen dressed in red and speaking English.
“Around 40% of our clients are Punjabi NRIs. Many of them want to stay here for the night,” says Amrik Singh, 43, who runs the dhaba with his younger brother.
Apart from assorted paranthas and dal makhni, which has been the specialty of most Murthal dhabas for decades — all of which are open 24x7 and strictly offer vegetarian fare — Sukhdev Dhaba has recently added pizzas to its menu.
“We have to cater to various people. After all, ours is the only dhaba in the country where you can see NRIs and truck drivers sharing the same space,” Singh says, adding that VIPs like Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Union renewable energy minister Farooq Abdullah and actor Shakti Kapoor, too, have been their guests.
Another famous dhaba here is Pahlwan Dhaba, which is run by the husband-wife duo of Dayanand and Sudesh Sandhu.
It is currently in the process of adding more air-conditioned halls. It also has CCTV cameras installed. “There are several dhabas on the highway, but I am the only woman running one here. I do the day shift, while my husband looks after it during the night,” says Sudesh.