(A monthly column published in Car N Style magazine).
'Highway Cuisine' at
Rang De Basanti Dhaba
By Ravi V. Chhabra
It was the ‘navratras’ eve and the family had made up its mind to go out for its ‘last’ scrumptious non-vegetarian dinner. After midnight, we would be vegetarian for next 9-days in obeisance to the venerated deity Vaishno Devi. We were in unison to not go for anything short of an abundant platter of meaty affair for dinner, I guess like most Delhi Punjabis. A consensus was reached over the choice of meal - it had to be the veritable north Indian dhaba cuisine and at a place not too far from ours and which we had not visited before. We didn’t want to make it late for two reasons – tad too hungry to linger on our decision and most folks fasting the next day, they had to wake up early in the morning.
My wife kept throwing up names of eateries close by and we finally decided on Rang De Basanti Dhaba (RDBD) - known for its typical highway-style north Indian food, fine ambience and quick service (south extension market). We reached at 9.30 pm and were lucky to find ample car-park in front of the restaurant. A few steps up, we realized the rather ‘modern dhaba’ had a meticulous interior with a blend of the rustic and avant-garde show pieces.
The yellow tractor parked inside RDBD affirmed that increasingly theme restaurants were parking automobiles inside their premises for the stylish and racy effect. The ‘shesham’ wooden tables lent it a sturdy, yet spacious look but the chair base got a bit uncomfortable after a while; the soft colourful cushions for back-rest came as a great relief.
The restaurant includes a well-stocked bar at the entrance.
We began our evening with two pint bottles of Budweiser light and ordered the Lal Surakh Jheenga (deep red/roasted orawns) half-plate (Rs. 325). On the side were the typical Indian assortment of pickled onions that included the spring onions, vinegared onions, freshly cut onion- ringlets as well and the ubiquitous fresh mint chutney. Our waiter Gopal Khatri from Nepal was overzealous and polite and told us to try the Dhaba chicken soup (Rs 90). Within minutes, it arrived in mid-sized glasses. The thick soup was refreshingly different with minute pieces of chicken inside that were easy to tackle with a spoon.
The RDBD menu is simply exhaustive and the range of dishes – both vegetarian and non-vegetarian and sweet dishes are overwhelming. The starters that we tried included: kesar kali-mirch chicken tikka, mutton boti din-raat, mutton burra, mutton chaampen aur burrah and the Amritsari fish (Sole fried fish) Rs. 325.
A mutton dish that I recommend is the ‘Gobi-wadi-gosht’ – it has thick gravy with softest cauliflower and mutton pieces (Rs. 445). While the mutton roghan josh was also the typical Punjabi dhaba style, juicy but low on oil and spices. The breads section is replete with paranthas, naans, rotis, romalis, lachcha parantha, kulchas but what I found so completely unique was the ‘hari-mirch ki roti’ – (aromatic and green-chilly stuffed tandoori roti) that’s crisp yet non-spicy!
Once the mainstay at most Punjabi dhabas in north India, the rarity that is wonderfully prepared at RDBD in a thick, onion-based gravy is the ‘Masala gurde-kapoore’ (kidneys and testicles of goat) priced at Rs. 425, the meat-dish is said to have aphrodisiacal properties! I believe this is an endeared preparation in the North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan and a favourite with the pathans. It had a thick and creamy texture and added the real Punjabi dhaba essence to our meal. There is also the ‘bheja fry’ – a mutton dish made with goat brain. The chicken bharta (Rs. 425) a boneless chicken dish that could have tasted better with romali rotis - which I forgot to order.
Good Punjabi meals for me never end without a helping of fine rice. Thus, I went for the Hyderabadi parda biryani (chicken) with complimentary raita and salan. Priced reasonably at just Rs. 225 for full portion, it was enough for two – more so, after all those filling dishes, we had had. The parda (flour curtain that doubles as a lid on the clay pot) keeps its rich flavours intact till the biryani is served onto the plates. With no room left for the sweets, we ignored that section in the menu card - for another time.
The Rang De Basanti Dhaba is a part of the Zing Restaurants owned by Abhimanyu Maheshwari who hails from Kolkata. The restaurant is on its way to opening two more branches at Sarojini Nagar, New Delhi and the other at Kolkata. It is popular with youngsters who love to nosh in the evenings. Between 4:00-7:00pm the restaurant serves rolls of all kinds – veg, paneer, egg, chicken and mutton ranging from Rs. 115 to Rs. 195. An ideal place to drop in for the chicken soup in winter evenings and a must for those who like great Punjabi food that's reasonably priced in a chic environment.