While on a long road trip, I find the lure of the dhaba irresistible. It’s not necessarily because I’m hungry, but for the sheer joy that the thought of an un-scheduled dhaba-stop evokes. The chaos, the continuous natter of “alu matar, paneer gobhi, butter naan, alu naan, dal tarka, butter chicken, chicken fry…”, the banter, the chips shops. I love it. Imagine my happiness when I stepped into a restaurant Delhi’s Rajouri Garden, where the theme is the ubiquitous road-side dhaba. Called NH-44, quite aptly, my expectations were sky high. After all, with dhaba cuisine, you can’t go wrong!
So I settled down for some highway on my plate. The NH-44 is, of course, the longest highway in India, all of 3,745 km of tarmac stretching from Srinagar to Kanyakumari. If you look at it that way, a drive down this particular highway would take you through the cuisines of 11 states. That’s quite a gastronomical adventure. Needless to say, I was looking forward to a lot of food.
I started my journey with something from J&K—the heeng seekh kabab. Now I do have an aversion to the smell of asafoetida, but my fears were put to rest as soon as the kabab was served. It’s a delicious delicacy cooked in the Kashmiri style, mild yet full of flavour. Emboldened, I breezed through Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, UP and MP with a whole cast of seekhs, shahis, galautis, lababdars, palaks and paneers. But I wanted to test the depth of the menu, so I called for their hara bhara kabab. It was great, the usual goodness of the greens pervading the perfectly cooked and spiced kababs. My next stop was Maharashtra. I had a hankering for aamchi Mumbai’s vada pav, and the mildly spiced potato patties in ‘home-made’ buns didn’t disappoint, complete with fried green chillies and green chilli chutney. Moving on to Andhra and the Konkan coast, I opted for the famous Chettinad chicken—a hot and spicy chicken curry cooked with the choicest spices. As I bit into the chicken, my senses were replete with the beautiful flavour of roasted cardamom, coriander, cumin, pepper corn, cloves and cinnamon. The dish is very spicy, but one can’t ignore the warmth of the hot spices that linger inside, a most happy feeling.
The menu is the brain-child of Chef Sanjeev Takyar, and I had pretty much turned over the choice of my extended meal to him. So when he insisted I try the aloogadda vepudu (baby potatoes with curry leaves and pepper corns), I was only too happy to oblige. With it, I ordered a plate of Kancheepuram Idli (stuffed with peppercorn and, um, asafoetida), as the final stop on my culinary adventure. I tossed the tiny vepudus into my mouth like little popcorns. Comfort food is what I’ll call it.
Well, that was enough food to last me a week, but the chef wouldn’t let me leave without trying out something sweet. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but surrendered to the chef’s choices—bite-sized portions of warm beetroot halwa and gil-e-bahisht, the in-house specialty, a delicious blend of kalakand, rabri and phirni.
And so, the verdict. NH-44 is not a restaurant that’s loudly kitschy, yet poor on flavour. In fact the restaurant is its very opposite. It seeks to keep the essence and the taste of the regional food alive. And the food is great!
Where: C-13, Vishal Enclave, Rajouri Garden
Cost for two: About Rs1,100 with alcohol
Contact: 011 33106179 (booking is recommended)