An inventive food promotion brings a whiff of Punjab to Delhi, says neeta lal
One of my favorite TV food shows has its two goofy protagonists tucking into highway cuisine at dhabas (roadside eateries) cosseted along the country&’s highways. Having envied their jobs for long, I’ve often wished to partake of such a "moveable feast" myself. Well, the plum opportunity fell into my lap this weekend, and that too without me having to travel to any highway. Truck along the Trunk ~ an inventive food promotion at Dhaba, The Claridges (on till September 15) ~ serves up signature dishes from the most popular dhabas on Grand Trunk Karnal Road. Also known as National Highway or NH1, this strip of tar ~ that runs from Delhi to Amristar via Panipat, Karnal, Ambala and Ludhiana ~ is renowned for its atmospheric dhabas. Although a formidable bastion of the kukkad (chicken, for the uninitiated), Dhaba&’s intrepid chefs have pushed the envelope by including an array of meats (mutton, fish, even brain) into the festival’s repertoire. The result is mouthwatering eclecticism. For instance, the eponymous “Puran Singh ka kukkad” is a nod to the decade-old recipe of one Puran Singh, referred to as "Ambala&’s pride". Similarly, “Redi wale soyabean masala” (soya nuggets napped with cottage cheese and spices) recreates a specialty of Guru Bazaar opposite Amristar&’s Golden Temple. Also from Amristsar is "Surjeet di tali machchi", batter-fried trout crisped up to a golden hue and served with a squirt of lemon, onion roundels and mint chutney. Scrumptious!
“Langar di dal” (black dal from the kitchen of the Golden Temple) is also a soul satisfying number studded with onions and tomatoes. However, it was the flavour-charged “Chajju ka mutton”, which I relished the most. Boneless pieces of mutton, cooked in a heavy cast iron pan for hours impart this dish its signature brownish-black color. Needless to say, the tender meat and its tomato-ey gravy, mopped up with soft breads delivered instant nirvana!
Another winner was the "Keema champ", shallow fried mutton mince kebab cooked to a golden crispiness. “Battaley da maghaz masala”, a luscious lamb brain curry made with freshly roasted garam masala (not for the faint-hearted), is another worthy concoction. The bread baskets deserve a special mention. From mint-flecked paranthas, flaky tandoori rotis to garlic-encrusted naan and amritsari kulchas (their innards bursting with the goodness of a spicy spud batter), there&’s a veritable feast here. The level of authenticity showcased at the festival apparently wasn’t easy to achieve. Dhaba&’s chefs undertook a gastronomic tour along GT Road to unearth the secret recipes and signature dishes of the dhabas by eating there and engaging with the cooks. “These chefs are very wary of sharing recipes, so it was a challenge to wiggle things out of them,” explains chef Jyot Singh Rana. Be that as it may, the effort seems worth it as Truck along the Trunk succeeds in bringing a whiff of Punjab to Delhi. To show my appreciation further, despite not being a dessert person, I reached out for "Roh di kheer" (rice cooked with sugarcane juice) and Khasta pinni, a dry-fruits-encrusted Punjabi confection popularly called the "Energy Bomb"! Sufficiently "energized", I trundled car park-wards, slumped in and snoozed all the way back home!
Neeta Lal is a New Delhi-based senior journalist; write to her at [email protected]