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Dhabas were first believed to have sprung up along the Grand Trunk road to feed weary truckers plying from Lahore to Kolkata. Centered around a tandoor and dishing out comfort food, their rustic fare was an oasis for tired drivers and their crew.
Even as some legendary highway dhabas continue to flourish in North India, down south in Chennai every Punjabi eatery is worth its desi ghee charades around as a dhaba. I searched long and found it hard to find legitimate eateries that reflect the heritage of a true dhaba, the flag-bearer of food from Punjab.
Icarus Punjabi Dhaba, Egmore
The moment you walk into Icarus, you know you are in a Dhaba. This is surprisingly hard to find, no-frills eatery opposite the Museum Theatre in Egmore. Started by Jaswant Singh Chadha two decades ago to introduce authentic Punjabi cuisine in Chennai, he also runs Bhangra lessons and Punjabi classes out of Icarus. Order homely staples such as dal tadka, rajma chawal, kheer and their signature Jalandhar-style rara chicken. As for the imaginative name, it is derived from the baaz (falcon), often seen around Guru Gobind Singh.
Lucky da Punjabi Dhaba, Perungudi
Popular among office-goers at the RMZ Millenium Park, Lucky da Dhaba is a compact eatery from the Parwani duo, who also run Pind and Bhatinda Xpress in Velachery. It carries forward the same kitsch dhaba décor and has a crowd-pleasing, mediocre menu. Still your best bet near the city’s IT hub, order their rich chicken Patiala and kulhad di lassi.
Babal da Punjabi Dhaba, Egmore
Reminiscent of family restaurants from the 90s, Babal Da Dhaba is unpretentiously ensconced from that era of finger bowls and amber lighting. You will usually spot the restaurant matron, Mrs. Anu Singh at the counter, who has made sure that the food is as close to Karol Bagh as it can get in Chennai. Babal da Dhaba excels in classic Punjabi restaurant dishes such as their silken dal makhani, the luscious butter chicken and fluffy phulkas. Round off your meal with their toothsome rabri – do ask for a little extra khurchan.
Follow Amit @iamitp
A self proclaimed food geek and coffee nerd, Amit Patnaik enjoys his time in the kitchen as much as he loves dining out. He runs the food blog Pursuit of Yummyness and contributes to The Hindu in Chennai.