Dhaba: Food from the Punjab and Mughal Delhi


Dhaba is about adjacent palates and Nepal and Punjab and Mughal Delhi have somewhat similar food roots that have developed over the centuries,” said owner Sharad Satyal.

The Punjabi Baigan Ka Bhartha is as good as in a Dhaba anywhere. The Bhartha is skinned, mashed, spiced brinjals that have to be just right. And the dish was musky with laid back spices quickened with chilly at the Dhaba restaurant near Maitighar in the grounds of the old Tian Rui Chinese restaurant.

Dhaba is packed most nights the vegetarian food as much of a draw as the non-veg. Tandoori Cauliflower and Tandoori Shimla Mirch stuffed with potatoes and paneer are as inviting as the Rogan Josh, the meat dish from Kashmir. The great food writer Camellia Punjabi, “The hallmark of the dish as cooked in Kashmir is the liberal use of the true Kashmiri red chilli, which has a mild flavour but gives a bright red colour.” The owner of Dhaba, soft spoken Sharad Satyal said, “We add ghee to give the dish extra body”. A taste made of onions, cloves and cardamom pervades. Rogan Josh means meat cooked in clarified butter

at intense heat in Persian.

It was brought to India by the Mughals as were many kebabs.

Megh Tamang, the manager of the restaurant brought on the gorgeous tasting, strangely named Chicken 65 from Hyderabad which is a delicious mix of malt vinegar, royal cumin and fenugreek or methi. One account claims that an “enterprising hotelier” targeted macho diners with a 65- chilli recipe and named the dish accordingly. Another credits former president Lyndon B Johnson for coining the term Chicken 65. He had it on a good will tour of India and claimed it gave him 65 bad consequences the next day. It makes a wonderful snack with drinks as does the dal and meat mixed Shami Kebabs (Shami Kebab means Syrian Kebab in Arabic) of which the famous chef Madhur Jaffrey says they should be shallow fried and are traditionally spicy hamburger like patties made from finely minced meat. At Dhaba the Shami has a taste of cardamom and is lighter and tastier than usual. “We use meat from the leg from lamb or chicken because it is best for the food we cook,” said the young chef Ram Shrestha who conjures miracles.

The Boti Kebab which Madhur Jaffrey declares as “Excellent nibbling fare” has a marinade of mixed spices, yoghurt and javitri, the flower from the mace family. “The kebab is brushed with butter in the tandoor to seal in the juices,” said Sharad as we bit into the Boti and flavours burst in our mouth.

But the Seekh Kebabs were the most unusual in town. Minced meat mixed with cumin or jeera, home-made chilly powder and a few other secrets gave the skewered kebabs a charcoal grilled taste. They are easily the juiciest, plumpest, best Seekh kebabs around.

The peas are very green in the Keema Matar of which Madhur Jaffrey says, “I associate the dish with very pleasurable family picnics which we had.” The mince and the peas bespeak ginger, chilly, coriander and cumin. Bliss.

The Kadhai Chicken originated in Peshawar no water is used in the Kadhai or dish, only thick tomato based spices or masalas finished with fenugreek. It is dry-cooked, as hot as you want, and flavoursome with the fenugreek and coriander.

Notice the little touches in Dhaba like the earthenware containers for the tea, the biryani pots and delicious gulab jamun ‘cups’. “We are still evolving”, says Sharad Satyal, “I want more dishes and authentic ones”. For deliciousness call 4243078, 4100510.