Dhaba delights


The dhaba as we all know is a trucker’s stop where, besides choice food, one got 25, 50 and a 100 mile teas, which meant that the driver would have, say, a Tandoori chicken and a 50 mile tea laced with plenty of sugar and horrific amount of cream and milk — enough to last

50 miles to the next stop, when the process might be repeated.

In Nepal, Mungling and Thankot produce excellent dhaba food. In town, there are a number of dhabas that invite sampling.

There are some great restaurants on the Kathmandu side of the Bagmati bridge where the seekh kababs and naans make for delicious take aways. All with a “homepack system”.

Up near Pani Pokhari, there are a few dhabas where the specialty is the black dal. My favourite dhaba of the moment is The Corner Kabab where the momos are taken away by Plan International for visiting dignitaries and the butter naan and curries are wonderful. This is opposite Saleways and the telephone number is 5528408, 5552824.

My friend Rajan Maharjan, who helps me write all my articles and is the Principal of Moonlight English Language Institute, favours chicken chilli and fried momos at Roof Top restaurant in Jawalakhel (near NTC and the Jawalakhel football ground — 5527889), or the Himal restaurant (5537622) in Lagankhel where he says the spring rolls spring to mind.

In Delhi, in 1952 dhabas were made respectable by Moti Mahal where the tandoori chicken was invented. It is now too upmarket to be a dhaba but my generous friend Kiran Sant, who owns Exotic Tours and sends thousands of French people to Nepal, puts a car driven by Satya at my disposal, and Satya introduced me to another 1950’s dhaba that is still going strong.

Subash restaurant has 32 chairs and 16 tables looked after by two friendly Chettris from Nepal who handle Germans, French, Buddhist monks and taxi drivers with speed, smiles and the most incredible mutton saagwala or meat with spinach ever created. The dish is a Moghul recipe that is brought to fantasy levels with cinnamon, cloves and cardamom; a little yoghurt blends the flavours.

The dal makhani is unusual because it combines (as it should traditionally) beans, black dal and cream. You inevitably ask for seconds. Located in Khan market, Subash is a melting pot like Delhi itself.

Everyone goes to Subash and the added bonus are the Nepalis who tend to give you extra if you are from their country. Phone 2469 3831, if you are in Delhi.

The Punjabis have a dish sarson ka saag that is a spicy mustard spinach and is marvelously interpreted at the Khalsa restaurant in RK Puram (telephone: 26184427).

The dish is eaten with maize bread or makki ki roti with great gobs of butter on it. The mustard spinach has turnips, ordinary spinach, radish, dill and maize flour and asafoetida or hing in it. Says Leila Daphtary, a wizard cook: “The more you put in the more taste you get out of the dish.”

The restaurant has a line of Mercedes, BMW’s queued to carry away its specialty. The Sikh gentleman who owns it goes everyday to the Gurdwara to offer thanks. When I want a particularly earthy meal, I send to the dhabas of Kathmandu for momos or palak paneer, spinach with cottage cheese and sometimes tandoori chicken and naan, and everytime I do, I join the owner of Khalsa restaurant in thanking heaven for the delights of a dhaba.