Every week, a few people come to the Dhaba looking for the real thing—a place where you can get good food without the price or the frills you get in more conventional restaurants. Most of these visitors leave disappointed—we are, after all, a virtual dhaba, and the “fresh green” stuff we serve is green in the idiomatic sense of the word only.
So this summer, I thought it would be fun to review a few of Delhi’s many real-life, brick and motor (or brick and tarp) dhabas. After all, dhabas the ultimate in low-tech greentech, and if you think about it, most of them have an environmental impact that is almost non-existent, compared to fancier eating establishments. If dhabas aren’t sustainable, then it's hard to imagine what would be.
Our Best Delhi Dhaba series starts on the road just outside Sitaram Hospital in the Qutab Institutional Area, behind the Qutab Hotel. Mrs. Batti and I had just emerged from the doctor’s office and a cup of tea seemed just the thing to pick us up.
As you come out of Sitaram, and turn to the left, there is a row of dhabas on the side of the road. We sat down at the first. It doesn’t really have a name, but it is run by a man named Sanjay, so we’ll call it Sanjay’s.
This dhaba offers outdoor seating under the shade of large trees and a plastic tarp. There was no electric fan and no cooler, but a light breeze made the seating comfortable enough even at 11:00 am on a June morning.
The décor was mixed. I didn’t care much for the large Coca Cola advertisement under the counter. But I liked the shoe that hung from the ceiling above. On it was written that charm, commonly found on the back of trucks: Buri Nazar Wale Tera Mooh Kaala.
On the morning we ate, the spoken menu included a number of items, including bread omelet, alu paratha, and various kinds of biscuits and namkeen. In addition to chai, cold drinks and water from a matka were also available.
We ordered a cup of tea each (Rs. 5) and an alu paratha to share (Rs. 10). The tea was fine—standard dhaba fare, served in a plastic cup. We had to wait 10-15 minutes for the paratha, but it was well worth it. It was large, steaming hot, and not too oily. It was served on a steel plate with a generous portion of pickle. The picture you see to the right is after we’d eaten about half of it--it was so good, we couldn't wait for me to figure out how to use the low-quality camera on my wife's phone.
Mrs. Batti, who is not easy to please when it comes to parathas, agreed with me about the quality of this one—she declared it “excellent” and said some nice things about the heat of the pan and the variety and freshness of the fillings.
Looking at this dhaba from an environmental point of view, it looses some points for the plastic cups and bottles it uses. And not only are the contents of those foil packs of gutka and paan bad for you (which is why I quit buying them a long time ago in spite of their addictive qualities) the packages are, quite simply, just little pieces of litter waiting to happen.
On the positive side, this being Delhi, most of the plastic will end up getting recycled, and in the long run, it would be easy to replace those plastic cups with clay ones. The low-tech, open air structure didn’t take much energy to build, and it takes very little energy to operate and maintain. As for the food, most of it consists of atta, eggs, and fresh vegetables cooked over a gas stove—it’s hard to object to that!
So if you find yourself killing time at Sitaram’s and you want to have a low-tech, green tech kind of breakfast, then I’d say you will be hard pressed to find a better place to eat than this. Convenient location, low prices, decent service—and some of the best alu parathas in South Delhi—make this one of Delhi’s Best Dhabas.