Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Highway Dhabha’s of North India: Delhi - Punjab - Himanchal

All right, this one is about dhabha’s. Now for majority of my readers, I am sure you would know what a Dhabha is, if you are from India and more specifically from North India. Well, for those, who don’t, Dhabha are basically road side eateries. If you are driving around in India on the highways and are feeling hungry, Dhabha’s are small places in the middle of nowhere, where you can come in stop your car, relax, take a break and have food.

Dhabha’s have evolved and modernized in the last decade themselves. I recall as a kid when I would travel with my dad, Dhabha’s always had a stereotyped image which has still stuck to my mind. On the highway, there is a large area on the side which is evened out , where cars come in and park. There are chaar payees with fatta’s for siting and relaxing. Then there is a small shop or sort of a room/ building where the cooking is done. There would be a hand pump by one side for people to go and wash their face/ hands.  Behind the dhabha there would be large endless farms.  Dhabha’s would also have a few trucks standing by the side, and truckers sitting down and devouring the food.  Well so much for my image of a stereotyped image.  

Over the years in all my travel across north India and to some extent, perhaps its only Punjab which goes well with the dhabha’s. If you are travelling down in UP, HP, Haryana, J&K or Rajasthan, they do have some road side eateries, but not the traditional dhabha’s. Dhabha’s for me has been a stereotyped Punjab thing. 

Over the years, dhabha’s have modernized, have AC’s, serve continental cuisines, have shopping complexes etc. In fact the Dhabha’s became such popular concepts that even in the cities, there are restaurants which have opened, which try to recreate the ambience and concept of Dhabha.

Anyways, lets start with my write up of various eating out options as I travel from Delhi towards Ambala and Punjab. Usually we commence driving from Gurgaon at morning 6 or 7. After crossing Delhi as we drive on towards Panipat.

Haveli- Panipat, Karnal, Jallandhar
The first place for stopping is the Haveli.  Haveli is a chain of restaurants, which have opened up at the Panipat, Karnal and Jallandhar. These restaurants are more concept based, which celebrate the dhabha concept in a stereotyped manner. It also focusses on the typical Punjabi villages and culture.  If you are in a Haveli for the morning, try out their parantha’s, poori sabji’s and chai. For lunch, they have the full vegetarian punjabi fanfare. 

Dal Makhani, Zeera Aloo , paneer makhani etc. You can have the thali’s as well. To be honest, the food is descent, tasty, and the bigger reassurance is that it is hygienic and clean. A good stop for anyone on this highway. At the Karnal joint, they have two sections, one for the regular food and lunch and the other for fast food. The fast food serves a chicken and cheese sandwich which is yum. This is not really a dhabha but a good place for a stop. They also have rooms for staying overnight at Karnal and some shopping options as well.


Murthal Parantha’s
As you approach Murthal, you will see a series of restaurant on your left while coming from Delhi. These dhabhas are large and are famus for their parantha’s. The likes of Ahuja Dhabha, Pahalwan Dhabha, Gulshan Dhabha. All these have been there for many years now. As a kid I recall going there to Gulshan Dhabha with my dad, and perhaps that is the one which was the original one for me. Over the years a number of them have opened up and no one knows which one is the original one. What to have here. The Tandoori Parantha’s. In variants of aloo(potato), pyaaz(onion), gobhi(cualiflwower), mooli (raddish). Have the regular tawa parantha’s or the tandorri parantha’s with loads of white or amul butter. Lovely and perfect. A must stop.

Karnal- Zilmil/ Karna Lake
If you are in Karnal, the first option is the haveli which I have already mentioned. For many years before when haveli was not there, the other option was the Haryana Tourism restaurant at Karna lake. Still old school and reminds you of the era in the 1980’s-1990’s when state tourism run joints were famous. For me they still remind me of the 80’s era, as they are still preserved in the same way. They may not be too popular these days in comparison to McDonalds, and Haveli’s, but pretty good Id say. A bit more relaxing and a good place to sit down, have a view of the lake and have parantha’s in the morning.

The other one at Karnal is the ZilMil Dhabha’s. Right on the highway, and more of a run of the mil dhabha, but perhaps closer to the real dhabha’s. The food is pretty descent. On one occasion while returning from Amritsar, we stopped here and tried the kadi, dal and the chicken curry and trust me, it was just about ok. A bit crude and nothing for me to come back again. I’d rather go to Murthal or to Karna Lake complex to be honest.  My verdict is that its probably ok ok types.

Ambala: Puran Singh Da Dhabha & Deluxe Dhabha
As we drive further, the next city is Ambala. Well, at Ambala, there are two joints. Don’t take the flyover that goes over the city. Take the road below the flyover. Right opposite to the Ambala Cantt Railway station, there is Puran Singh Da Dhabha. Many years back as a kid in the 1980’s I remember visiting this joint with my dad when he was on his business tours. I recently visited a about 4 years back and somehow the shop with the white door and black filmed glass wasn’t around. On the contrary, there were a number of asli, real Puran Singh da Dhabha.  There have been a number of shops which have spruced up and claim to be the real Puran Singh. I called up a few friends and apparently one of them was the real deal. Checking on the internet, it seems the real one as per Rocky and Mayurs Highway on my plate book, the real one is the Puran Singh ka Mashoor Dhabha. The ambience is not really great and it is more like a small store in the middle of the city. The cicken curry and mutton curry are recommended. The hygiene is pretty bad and I would probably recommend doing a take away.

The next joint in the vicinity is the Deluxe Dhabha. Again, right opposite the railways station, you see a road going in perpendicular. On that road, barely 100mts ahead, the deluxe dhabha is also a good one. Serving the chicken curry and the Sandhu Dal which is quite famous over here again. Staff Rd, Ambala Cantt, Ambala Sadar, Haryana 133001, India

Ludhiana: Zamindara Dhabha
Now as we move ahead of Ambala, there is an intersections for different places.  One route is towards Chandigarh via Zirakpur and the other is towards Ludhiana onto Amritsar. Well if you keep moving on towards the Ludhiana highway, another dhabha worth recommending is the Zamindara Dhabha. This has always been a must stop for me and my dad way back in the 80’s and 90’s. The kadhi chawal, the sandhu daal. Must have. Although, like every other dhabha, it does serve the regular fare of choles, rajma, paneer etc. But good food.  Recently when I searched for it, it is now called the New Zimidara Baba Neem Wala Dhabha. Well Highly recommended, and perhaps for retaining the same touch of a real dhabha and not having changed too much.

Towards Hoshiarpur: DS Dhabha and Hasiarpurian Da Dhabha

Another two Dhabha’s, which for me has been the find for the last few years is the DS Dhabha and Hoshiarpurian Da Dhaba at BP pump at Balachaur. When you drive ahead of Ambala, at the border of Punjab and Haryana, called the Shambhu Border, you will see a road going on the right hand side. Take this road and it goes from Banur, Kharar, Ropar. It by passes chandigarh and Mohali from the outskirts. At the intersection of ropar, there is a road on the left that goes towards Garh Shankar Balacahur. Take this road.

At Balachaur there is the Hoshiarpurian Da Dhaba at BP pump  on the right hand side, when you are going from ropar towards hoshiarpur. What I can say about this place is to try out their famous kadhi pakoda. The distinguishing thing about this place is the barfi made from pure milk and their besann burfis from desi ghee. These are divine and out of the world.
As you move ahead on this highway, cross Garhshankar and move towards hoshiarpur. You will come across the DS Dhabha on your left side of the road. Man, this has been the find. Amazing food. I remember stopping here on my way to Dharamshala. The daal makhani, mix veg, and roti’s. Amazing. The chai was pretty good as well.

Delhi Shimla Highway NH 22.
If you go on the highway towards Shimla and Kasauli, then it is worth mentioning the small little shops that come out around before Kasauli. They are unique in the sense that they sell non vegetarian pickles- mutton and chicken pickles. I have been told there is a place called Tilli, where the pickle is really famous.  But you can find it all thorough out this highway. You can stop taste and decide if you like it best. Going further ahead on the Shimla, just after the cut for Kasauli, you have Giani di Dhabha, which is famous for its lemon chicken.

These are probably the dhabha’s on the Punjab & HP highways that I love and recall. If you have any other dhabha’s worth sharing do let me know. As a true foodie, always looking out for the next place to try out. Perhaps in my next visit to India, I can go trying out and write about them and share the love.


  1. Good One PK- Amit Chaudhry.On Delhi Shiml road there is Giani da Dhaba on NH22 at Dharampur. Went there 3 years ago. Would classify it "good" and "value for money".It was a very cold day and the thing i enjoyed most was the ginger tea and remember it till today -:). I think that is the primary function of dhaba good clean simple food for weary travelers.

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