Like a seasoned traveler with a vast life experience would say, “Ghat Ghat ka Paani Piya hai” (I’ve tasted waters from different riverbanks), I can proudly proclaim “Dhabe Dhabe ka khana Khaya hai”.
My father being in the Army, I remember travelling the length and breadth of the country at the shortest of notice. Those times (almost 35 years back), highways used to be deserted and desi dhabas were the only options available to have food enroute. Amongst the few that I remember are Puran Singh ka Dhaba in Ambala, Satyam Dhaba in Mhow, Fauji Dhaba in Indore, Pal Dhaba in Chandigarh, Gyani Dhaba on the Kasauli-Shimla Highway, the names of dhabas which I am sure most faujis and their kids will be familiar with. Of course, there were many many more, where stops had been made for food, whose names have been long forgotten but memories of great time and good food linger on. For me, nothing till date can beat the experience of sitting crossed legged on a charpoy, with a wooden plank placed across the width of the cot to serve as a table, savoring 'tarke wali dal' and hot rotis straight out of the tandoor. It wasn’t just the delicious food that one enjoyed but the rustic charm of the ambience and the warmth and hospitality it was being served with.
My tryst with travelling and dhabas continues till date, as I have got married to a fauji who too is extremely fond of both road trips and dhaba food.
An invite from "Paranda", the speciality Indian Restaurant at Vivanta By Taj, Surajkund, which takes it inspiration from Highway eateries from North India, had me more than ready to travel down memory lane once again.
'Paranda', which in actual is the colorful hanging worn by Punjabi women in their hair, is a restaurant that oozes rustic charm. The first thing that greets you as you enter the restaurant, is a huge truck parked right at the entrance. As you walk in, you are completely mesmerized by the little artifacts placed throughout to spark an old world charm. I just loved the interiors. An antique looking camera in one corner, an old radio mounted on a wall (which I remember my grandmom having), jhumkis hanging from the ceiling, ornaments, brass utensils, charpoys, multicolored parandas, chunnis and bangles giving the whole place a colorful and vibrant feel, perfectly complementing the food being served. I actually felt like a kid let loose in a candy shop, wanting to fawn over and capture each and every detail in my camera.
After admiring everything and clicking to our hearts content, we were seated back at the table to start our highway journey. We started with Matha shots followed by Golgappas. The matha was salted and spiced with crushed cumin and ginger. The Golgappas were filled with potatoes and chickpeas and served with tangy cumin water. Both of them were refreshing and a perfect start to our meal.
We were also joined on the table by the hotel's executive Chef Ganesh Joshi. He explained how the menu features dishes from the Indian Highway eateries and reflects robust, earthy dishes that have evolved from the province of Punj(five) Ab(water)- the land of five rivers. Chef Ganesh Joshi was a constant presence throughout our lunch, walking his way in and out of his kitchen, graciously taking timeout to share interesting stories about how the dishes on the menu were evolved.
Amidst the interesting conversation, Magan Murg Shorba for the non vegetarians and Dal Dhaniye ka Shorba was served for the vegetarians. The chicken shorba unfortunately was too salty - to the extent that we had to leave it untouched. Sad as otherwise it would have been delicious.
From our tables, we could see the kebabs being prepared in the show kitchen, making us all salivate while we waited for them to complete their journey towards our table.
The kebas were beautifully soft, succulent and melt in the mouth tender. Out of all the kebabs in the platter my favorite was the Bhutta Malai Jhinga. Plump and fresh the prawn was grilled to perfection.
Though most of us on the table did feel that the kebabs were a tad under-spiced and didn't have the spicy punjabi punch and were more suited towards the palate of foreigners. We spoke to Chef Ganesh Joshi about it and he explained the reason so. According to him the spices in the kebabs were deliberately toned down and kept mild as he wanted to build a journey of flavors for us. Giving something strongly spiced right in the beginning of the meal would tend to overpower the palate with spices, resulting in one not being able to enjoy the flavors of food later on.
The main course started with Sood de dhabey di dal and Palak kofta Makhni Wala with Pudina Parantha and Mirchi and Pyaaz Parantha. As told by the chef "the recipe of the Dal was an inspiration from a small but very busy eatery in Ferozpur with the name of Sood Da Dhaba where people come to eat Roti & Dal". The dal was delicious - rich and creamy and served with a dollop of white butter on top, it was remniscent of dals served in the dhabas. You could make out that it had been slow cooked on the fire for a couple of hours to get its smooth blended consistency.
Palak Kofta Makhni Wala were little balls of spinach served in a tomato based creamy buttery gravy. The Makhani gravy was appetizing with the flavors being spot on. What was a let down were the Palak koftas. They were not as soft as they should have been and somehow the beautiful flavors of the Makhani gravy had not seeped into the koftas leaving them bland.
Next to be served was Bhatta Aloo Shimla Mirch and Mushroom Matar. Both the dishes were prepared quite well and reminded one of home cooked flavors. They combined well with the Mirchi and Pyaaz Parantha and Pudina Parantha.
Sector 7 ka Mutton was again an excellent preparation.The Chef told us that the recipe for this dish was inspired by a local eatery in Sector-7 in Ambala. The mutton served in a mildly spiced thick gravy was tender and cooked to perfection. For me, this dish was without a doubt the 'Star dish of the day'.
We ended with Zeera Pyaz Pulao served garnished with fried onions were aromatic and full of flavor. Beautifully prepared, it got a big thumbs up from everyone on the table.
We wrapped up our meal with the desserts. The Malai Chamcham and Anjeer Ki Kulfi looked colorful and beautiful, presented on a plate decorated with rose petals with the Gulab Jamun served alongside in a small bowl. Not much of a dessert person, I could not help but being partial towards the Anjeer Ki Kulfi which was fantastic. It was rich and creamy with just the right amount of sweetness for me.
Overall it was a enjoyable experience. The traditional charm, the authentic ambiance and the earthy food was certainly a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me.
If you too want to experience the flavours of Highway eatery, Paranda at Vivanta by Taj, Surajkund is where you should head to.
Thank you Vivanta By Taj and Chef Ganesh Joshi for your hospitality. We had an amazing time.