Ready to Travel in Orissa after Awesome food in Dhabas

Grey smoke coming from Thatched roofs, Chullas glowing with red hot Charcoal, sound of Chillies and Onions crackling in hot pans, dialogues of latest Jatra ( Theatre)oozing out from localy made Sound Systems, Tata and Leyland Trucks lined up for repairing and refuelling..welcome to a phenomena called as “ Dhaba”. This write-up is dedicated to those infamous cooks who over the years have fed millions of hungry drivers responsible for taking trucks from North to South and East to West of India. As i sit in my cosy drawing room in Pune and enjoy the much awaited showers of Monsoon, one thing that surely I am missing is that all time favourite dish of mine- Anda Tadka, found in almost all the roadside dhabas of Orissa. Mixture of Boiled lentils of various types and fried eggs with handful of Raw ,lightly battered Garlic ,a splash of Chicken Gravy ,sprinkle of dried Methi and green Coriander leaves gives birth to this tongue arousing dish called Anda Tadka. Dhabas in Orissa are almost synonymous with Tadka and has to be the one of the essential dishes during a full lunch or dinner. How many times, i would have biked on lonely highways along with my friends to gulp down Tadka, Chicken fry, Mutton curry in one of those numerous roadside dhabas on state and national Highways. Amidst lush green forests with Cuckooing sounds of Cuckoo , sitting on a roped cot with wooden plank in between for eating purpose, and with all khati friends, one can only say that Life was so beautiful and easy. Though I would say, it’s still is.

I have had experience of having food in Dhabas in different parts of Orissa and can tell you that kind of Mutton Curry that you get in eateries in and around Western Orissa and Northern Orissa is better than that you get in Costal Orissa. I am not sure of the logic but one of my friends tells me that quality of meat from Goats that graze in Hilly areas is of better quality as compared to that of Goats that graze in plains. One of the best mutton curries I had was in a small Dhaba near Rourkela. About 20 kms from Rourkela and on the way to Rajamunda, you have this small dhaba at Lathikata. For mere 60 Rupees you get awesome Curry over there and quantity is simply unmatchable. And there is some aura about this place. Green Sal trees all around,NH 215 in front and the Railway Track (line to Barsuan) on the Rear, one gets a feeling of a complete picture on canvas. Another place that I had good experience was at Sukha Dhaba on the way to Bargarh.

But score settles when it comes to Fish ,Prawn and Crab Items. First of all you will not get Crabs and Prawns in Dhabas of Western Orissa. Secondly preparation is not of that standard as you find in Dhabas of Costal Orissa.For example ,kind of fish items that you get at Chilika Dhaba on the way to Balugaon is out of the world.Okay some foodies may argue that Chilika Lake being near to the place you get fresh products but still then I have my opinions reserved.

But disappointing places as against my expectations and kind of food fame that they hold in foodies circle has been dhabas like “ Yuvraj” and all those places near Khuntuni on the Dhenkanal stretch. Same way it has been always a bad experience on the Deogarh-Kendujhar Stretch of NH6. Virtually you get nothing except for Usuna Bhata(Boiled Rice) ,Dal and Mixture(mixed vegetables curry) on this stretch. And how can I forget the Rajamunda Circle. There are so many of these dhabas but they will not meet your expectations; be it quality of food or santitation. May be one of the hypothesis that I can draw is that roads on these stretches are mainly used by Dumpers which are used for transporting of Iron Ores. And kind of payment Dumper drivers get is quite less. So Dhaba owners strategise by selling only Rice, Dal and Mixture. At best you will get Fish curry and Chicken Curry. But they taste as if some body has dipped Bolied fish in Red Chilly water.

And then the stretch of Sathipur- Balasore, where you not only get food but also great milk products. Have a good lunch and then go for a Glass of hot milk or Rabri. Try out Rabri of Balia Dhaba near Sathipur.
In good old days when there were no Inns or Roadside good quality restaurants like you see the Reliance A1s, there would be huge dhabas with all the facilities. A small tank with water for bathing and cleaning purpose of the Drivers, cots lined up for them to sleep. You would see Sardarjis taking out cans of Desi Ghees brought from Punjab and coating the Rotis till it starts over flowing like their never ending jokes on Prostitutes of GT Road .It would be the only time when they would get some time to discuss about their farmlands back in Punjab, their children, dacoity near the Jamshola Ghat and the bravery with which they would have fought the Dacoits, Makei ki roti and Sarso ka saag, Army Canteen’s Bagpiper and Buxom Punjabi female folk singers. Some of the Dhabas have also been raided many times by Police for running parallel business of Prostitution. This is not that common in Orissa as compared to some of the other states. Many of Sardarjis who run Dhabas on Angul section of NH6 were some time or the other Drivers. Perhaps they were destined to be part of Orissa and make it new homeland. You will find n number of them in Kendujhar running garages and dhabas.

There has been many stories of good Cooks who would show Entrepreneurial Skills and would start their own ventures. In most of the cases it would be the Dhaba in front of the old employer’s joint making mockery of the old employer. Drivers who would be regular on the route end up making friendship with the good cooks and eventually stop at only those dhabas where these people worked ensuring that they get good food and original whiskies.

I would end the article with some peculiar things about the Dhabas. Don’t get astonished if an Oriya calls a 16 wheeler something like “Line Truck” or “ Andhra Truck” that’s because they have seen trucks moving in line and most of being from Andhra Pradesh. If you ask me to design an universally applicable logo to symbolise Dhabas, then I would go for a logo of some chiilies placed on salt laden plate. These plates can be seen on the Tables and the wooden planks kept on the cots in almost dhabas. In almost all the plates you would find some of the chillies standing apart after having turned reddish. If there is a Ghat road, be sure that it would start with a line of Dhabas and end with three four. This is because the gigantic 16 wheelers (peculiarly called in Oriya as Solah Chakia) and Trailers would require to gather some breath and then proceed. I have watched these scenes numerous times at Suakathi, beginning of Kanjipani Ghat from Pallalahara side on NH 6. Drivers and helpers would sip cups of Tea and locally baked biscuits, popularly known as Nadua. Helpers would tap the tyres with a spanner to check the resonating sound. A good vibration means tyres are perfect and there are no flat ones in making. It’s time to move on with full throttle. Trucks will go on roaring while climbing the Ghat leaving behind a trail of Black smoke and one would be able to see from behind those famous lines “ Buri Nazar Waale......Tera Moonh Kala”.