Warning: you won’t be able to go through these top 7 dhaba reccos without salivating at the mouth.
1: Hotel Ummiya Annapurna Kathiyawad
Where: Anand. Once a popular stop along the highway. It has now been bypassed with the new expressway. Technically it is still on NH8.
The food: Most of the food is cooked over wood fires, and the rustic flavour mixes well with the delicate combination of spices. The rotis called bhakris have a distinct flavour after they are cooked on clay tavdi. Be ready for some serious spice and remember this is powerhouse Kathiyawad cuisine, it is NOT sweet Gujarati cuisine. This one bites right back.
Must-haves: The delicious lassan aloo, sevtamatar, besangatta, and the ever present rotla (local bread). This is served with white jaggery and ghee. The accompaniments are equally good and include the papads, fried green chillies, onions, and some tasty achaars (pickles).
Anand district, NH 8, Gujarat
2: Sharma Dhaba
Where: As you head out of Jaipur towards Sikar you will come to the grand Sharma Dhaba. Starting as a small hole in the wall, it is now a large, well lit, smoothly run, efficient, and successful dhaba serving excellent Rajasthani food.
Run by the ever-present and sage-like Puranmal Sharma, the place has everything you could want from a dhaba. They pride themselves on the freshness of their ingredients. The naan is cooked in milk brought fresh from cows owned by them and is their speciality. Mr Sharma can proudly rattle off the names of all the film stars who stop at his place. He can tell you many stories, his favourite being about the legendary eating abilities of the Bollywood he-man, Dharmendra.
Must-haves: The mawa naan or mawaroti. This bread is rare to find simply because of the difficulty with which it is made. It sells for Rs 100 per piece.
NH11, Jaipur, contact Raj. 09413341753
3: Hotel Gurukripa
Where: Gunnavante. Hotel Gurukripa is a local legend. Ask anyone for Bhattjee’s famous ghee dosa place and they will guide you to a small dosa eatery by the side of the road whose fame stretches at least a hundred kilometres in each direction.
Must-have: All you get with your ghee dosa is coconut chutney. Cooked over a wood fire on a basic metal plate, the first thing that hits you is the remarkable amount of ghee used to make these dosas. Most are satiated with one dosa, maybe two. We ate seven each. Another option is the plain poha with yoghurt and sugar.
Something on the side: The owner Manjunath Shankar Bhatt is a very religious man. There are pictures of gods and gurus all over one wall, while another is adorned with images of bodybuilders and muscular men. Born of these two cults is the holy and powerful ghee dosa.
Sea Face Road, Nani Daman, Gunnavante, Karnataka. 0260-6452494
4: Chilika Dhaba
Where: Barkul. Chilika Dhaba has the distinction of being Rocky’s favourite dhaba in the world. This is a major stop for buses and is large, open, and well lit with massive wooden tables and plastic chairs. You can sit or lie on the manji while waiters rattle off the menu from memory and spoil you with the choice.
The food: It’s a high energy sort of place serving tasty vegetarian food and prawns, crabs, fish curries, and just about every type of seafood.
The mighty Chilika Lake is walking distance ensuring that all the food served is fresh. Each preparation is made dhaba style which means plenty of spices, plenty of colour, and a lot of deep frying. A two kg giant crab for Rs 300 and the chilli prawns, about ten of them for Rs 140, make this supremely affordable seafood.
Near Chilika Lake, past the railway line towards Behrampur,
Barkul, NH 5, Orissa. 09861264714
5: Samaroh En Dees Dhaba
Where: Tezpur. This invitingly named dhaba owned by Nitul Das (hence the ‘En Dees’ in the name) right by the highway is a refreshing sight for travel-weary eyes. Set among the paddy fields, the entire dhaba is constructed from brightly painted bamboo and cane set up high on wooden stilts as is customary in the tribe that Nitul belongs to.
The food: The menu is very extensive with over 150 items available and, amazingly, every item mentioned on the menu is actually available. The pigeon curry has potato chunks along with the meat floating in a sea of oil. It is a tangy, spicy dish cooked with lots of turmeric, coriander, and garlic and the meat is somewhere between chicken and mutton in taste and consistency. The duck cooked with heaps of black pepper and green chilli is a gamey dish very strong in flavour. The joha rice has a strong, characteristic aroma. The boiled vegetables are strong with the flavour of ginger, garlic, and chilli making for a pretty exotic taste. The real winners are the side dishes accompanying each meal. The aloo pithika made by mixing mashed potatoes with fresh ground mustard and sprinkled with finely diced onions and coriander is delicious.
Bhomoraguri, Sonitpur, Assam
6: Cheetal Grand
Where: Khatauli. Mr Rana, the owner, claims that this is the most popular amongst the more than 200 dhabas on the Delhi-Dehradun highway.
The food: This ranges from the typical roti, dal, gobi, paneer, parantha, etc, to western style breakfast food including omelettes, sandwiches, fries, cutlets etc. and South Indian delicacies like dosas, idlis, and lots more. They do an unusual tubular omelette and a really good cold coffee with or without ice cream. The grilled cheese sandwich, paneer pakodas, and cold coffee are highly recommended.
Something on the side: Mr Rana tells us the restaurant’s success is due to the personal touch that he and his family bring to this enterprise. It may be that, or the hundreds of plants and flowers planted on the premises, the giant cages with beautiful, exotic multi-coloured birds, the clean bathrooms, and the choice of indoor or outdoor seating.
Enjoy not just the ambience and the food but also the stern signs with messages such as ‘What you bring from home Eat at home’, ‘No loitering’ and our personal favourite, ‘Leave The Birds Alone’.
Khatauli, Uttar Pradesh. 01396-272468
7: Manipuzha Vysali Family Restaurant
Where: Kottayam in Kerala.
The food: Although the restaurant serves Naadan, Chinese, and Continental foods, stick with the Naadan. Start with the aviyal and dig into the beans and sambar along with all the tasty chutneys and dals they offer. Eat everything with a glass of moru or buttermilk. We highly recommend the crab Naadan style, cooked with lots of onions with raw curry leaves sprinkled on top. Also recommended are the konju (tiger prawns) cooked with cashews. Try the naimeen molee (seer fish) which is a local favourite.
M.C Road, Kadimatha, Kottayam, Kerala . 0481 - 2362486/ 2360486
-Rocky and Mayur host Highway on my Plate on NDTV Good Times. They are also authors of a book by the same name.
- From HT Brunch, February 27
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