I’m a huge fan of the show Highway on my Plate (HOMP). Two very funny guys drive along India’s highways eating at dhabas (food/rest stops) and visiting the nearby towns. Since we take plenty of road trips, eating at dhabas and way side shacks is something we do every vacation. For the last 3 years we’ve been travelling down the middle of Andhra Pradesh, passing at least 7 major towns and hundreds of villages on the National Highway 5. I have to say that the dhaba scene is abysmal. It’s so sparse that even the HOMP guys have had to leave the highway and go in to the towns of Nellore and Ongole on their coastal journey to find food. But when you’ve got a destination to get to, one can’t be meandering in to terribly busy towns for food – to the highway we must anchor.
We’ve driven the 1200kms from Chennai to Mumbai twice, once through the heart of Karnataka and the other time hugging the Konkan coast.The DH has recently travelled through Gujarat.On all these car journeys we’ve been spoilt for choice when it comes to highway dhabas. The dhabas along the Delhi-Agra road (before it became all fancy and 6 laned) as I remember them in the late nineties were just what you imagine a dhaba should be. Charpois out front (straw beds), one large tree, a few plastic or wooden chairs and tables, steaming hot paranthas doused in ghee and often not much to accompany it but dahi and homemade pickle, offered to you by a big burly Punjabi. I wonder if they are still there or if these humble eateries have been ousted, having to make way for the highway that once gave them their livelihood.
Gujurat has made an industry out of wayside dhabas. These are more like food courts, some air-conditioned with a range of stalls selling food and driving accessories, clothes, sunglasses, magazines etc, inside a large complex. There are between 60 to 100 of these, one every 5 kms on the Gandhinagar-Jamnagar highway. Some have built up such a reputation that they’ve been featured India Today magazine.
On our way back home earlier this year, looking around for lunch we found very little on NH 5 through Andhra, that was ‘decent’ and not a sleeping shack for truckers. Eventually we had to eat and we stopped at this place. Run by migrant labourers who had come from UP some ten years ago, they set up shop once the jobs they had originally come for, ran dry.
This place, as you can see had very little to offer. There was no much on the menu, there was no menu.They did have a fridge but they said the electricity was infrequent so I didn’t want to trust the condition of the milk or the dahi. This is a typical dhaba though – corrugated roof, wood fire and some indistinguishable curries.
Out the back there was a cluster of large mango trees and a big tank with water. Many truckers stop here and they were enjoying a cool down,
Even if a dhaba has not much to offer, you can be assured of eggs and rotis.
Very flat dusty phulkas (chappati/roti) being flipped.
Masala scrambled eggs/ egg burji with lots of green chilli and curry leaves.
Considering that NH5 is in such good condition, I’m surprised by the paucity of dhabas. Maybe it’s not an Andhra thing? I’m not sure what it is but in 3 years driving along this highway we’ve not seen much change. But I’m infinitely glad that we don’t have those horrible characterless chain rest-stops like in the UK, RoadChef serving up slop, each rest stop made to look exactly the same with mind numbing strip lighting so that by the end of it you have no idea where you really are. Convenient though they might be, there’s nothing in there I ever wanted to eat out of choice.
While this dhaba was one of the few around and we really only had a choice of rice and dal or eggs and rotis, we have a lovely chat with the owner about themselves and some casual banter about the state of the nation. We got to stop in the outdoors and appreciate the countryside we’d been whizzing by as our rotis browned over the wood fire. I just wish there were more such entrepreneurs around or else we’ll be making way for the RoadChef chains on India’s roads too.