Treasuring Dhabas – Indian Roadside Eateries

These rustic roadside North-Indian restaurants (dhabas) are the perfect foodie pit-stop.

A traditional Punjabi dhaba
A traditional Punjabi dhaba

What are Dhabas?

Dining at a Dhaba, relishing a good tandoori roti, and taking a nap on one of their ‘charpais’ (a traditional bamboo cot) is the highlight of any Indian road trip. But what really are they?

Dhaba owner and traditional Dhaba plates

Dhabas, are rustic roadside restaurants, found along the highways of North India that serve local specialties. Often found near petrol stations, dhabas are generally simple establishments with minimal furnishings that have never been updated, but this is part of their rustic charm. They remain a part of an older, more traditional India, that is, an India without McDonald’s. Open 24/7, they are an essential and often necessary stop for anyone passing through, from locals to tourists and lorry drivers. 

A Short History of Dhabas

A typical dhaba setup
A typical dhaba setup

Dhabas were originally opened to provide for the tired Punjabi lorry drivers after a long day of transporting goods. While the exact origin of these rustic dwellings is unknown, some say the first one opened on the Grand Trunk Road, an ancient trading route connecting Southern and Central Asia. The 2,500km route starts in Chittagong Bangladesh and ends in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thanks to their convenience and delicious food, dhabas soon became popular amongst all kinds of travellers, although they never lost their loyal large-vehicled customers.

Traditional Indian Trucks
Traditional Indian Trucks

What to Order at a Dhaba

Food in dhabas can be summed up in three words: affordable, simple, and tasty. In true Punjabi fashion, a typical meal at a dhaba will always be served with a lassi (sweetened blended yogurt) or a masala chai.

A dhaba owner pouring steaming hot masala chai
A dhaba owner pouring steaming hot masala chai

Incase you ever find yourself on a roadtrip around Northern India, we took the liberty of putting together a list of must-try dhaba dishes:

Rajma Chawal – rajma is the Hindi word for Kidney beans, which are the star of this typical Punjabi dish. Usually served over rice or with roti, Rajma Chawal is a lightly spiced, creamy vegetarian curry made with onions, garlic, fragrant spices, tomatoes and of course, kidney beans.

Punjabi Kadhi – another traditional North-Indian dish, Punjabi Kadhi is a slow-cooked yogurt sauce flavoured with turmeric, that onion or spinach fritters are added to.

Dhaba Chicken – a warm, fragrant chicken curry with just the right amount of spice. Sound good? Try our Cookaway Classic Dhaba Chicken with jeera matar pulao rice.

The Cookaway's Dhaba Chicken
The Cookaway’s Dhaba Chicken

Egg Curry – a comforting Indian dish made with boiled eggs simmered in a spicy onion and tomato gravy bursting with flavour from the various spices added to the sauce. Best served with tandoori naan, plain parathas or jeera rice.

Sarson ka Saag – Peppery, pungent and deeply nutritious is made with slow-cooked pureed spinach and mustard leaves and is a favourite amongst locals during the winter months.

Curries served at a dhaba
Curries served at a dhaba

Makki ki Roti – one for a fan of flatbreads. Makki ki Roti is a corn-based unleavened flatbread. The corn makes it slightly sweet in taste and it goes down a treat with Sarson ka Saag (see above).

If you want to learn more about authentic Indian cuisine and food culture, join our Ultimate Biriyani Banquet Cookalong with Indian Cookaway Chef and Founder Nidhi Verma. Explore our range of Indian Cookaway menus.

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