What does highway food mean to you? If you are someone like me, who has not taken too many road trips then you will possibly associate it with the food of dhaabas and, based on what you have seen in your city, these would be Punjabi-run places selling butter/tandoori chicken, paneer lababdar, kaali dal, roti and saag paneer. There is a lot more to the food found across our highways.
This struck me during my recent travels in the east; travels outside Kolkata and Guwahati, when I had the ‘torka’ dal for example. You get this in Odisha too – a dish that has admittedly originated from Punjabi dhaaba dal tadka, but is now unique to the east of India. Made with green moong and black urad dal, often with eggs or meat added to it, it’s a dish that folks from Punjab may not even recognise, as tud dal is largely used for the anda dal in the dhaabas there and not green moong.
Then there were my travels on the Ranchi-Jamshedpur highway, where I had alu, alu parwal and alu bhindi bhujia – at the heart of which lie long sliced potatoes, stir fried with or without other vegetables, in mustard oil and tossed with green chillies and sliced onions. It pairs beautifully with freshly made rotis and plates of hot and smoky yellow dal and rice – all cooked on coal fire.
I asked around on my social media channels for other examples of local food which are relished during road trips and the answers I got were truly enlightening. Here’s a sample of the dishes and the names of those who contributed to the story:
Assam(and across northeast): Tekeli pitha (rice cakes) and lal cha for breakfast, kumura di hanhor (duck cooked in ash gourd), tupola bhaat (sticky rice steamed in banana or taro leaves) served with boiled chicken/pork/fish, stir fried pork or light pork curries, masor tenga (light fish curry soured with elephant apple, tomatoes etc)…
From Ishani Nath, Sunayana Hazarika, Sisir Kumar, Mitali G Dutta
Bihar: Litti chokha, kheer, chana churra (spicy black gram curry topped with chopped onions and chillies, served with crispy chura/poha/chidwa).
From Shubhra Chaterjee, Debjani Banerji, Shubhankar Ghosh
Odisha:Mati handi mutton (mutton slow cooked in earthen pots) and thick rice.
From Monalisa Dani, Siddhartha Karmakar
Maharashtra (where eateries are called khanaval and not dhaaba): Zunka, pitla and bhaakri (millet rotis with onion and besan, onion- and garlic-based dry and wet side dishes), thecha (chilli-based chutneys), the very spicy saoji mutton or chicken (Nagpur), misal (of various degrees of chilli heat), including the chulivarchi misal of Igatpur and Nashik (slow cooked on cow dung and coal fire ovens and further smoked with coal), gavran chicken slow cooked on coal fire (coconut and garlic-based in Konkan, kaala masala based in Aurungabad, Beed & Khandesh), batata vada with a ‘sambar’ that’s different from the sambar of south India. It’s more like the white pea and sprouts-based ussal of the state.
From Jayesh Paranjape, Anagha Deshpande, Rahul Shobhana Banerjee, Siddharth Kumar Singh, Rupal Vidya, Anjali Koli
Gujarat:Khichdi kadhi, kebabs and mutton curry (at Chikhli), ulta matka undhiyu in winter (around Navsari). From Shubhra Chatterjee, Amar Gutta
Goa:Ros omelette (omelettes added to the previous day’s chicken cafreal curry gravy), cutlet pav, patal bhaaji.
From Sanchita Banerjee Rodrigues, Suhaas Shetty, Archana
Karnataka:Akki rotti and gassi (coconut-based Mangalorean curry), chicken bhaakri.
From Radhika Dossa D’Cruz
Kerala: Porotta and beef, kozhi varuthathu (chicken fry), appam and idiappam with chicken curry at Thattu Kadas (small eateries)
From Liji Joseph, Alakananda Sen
Tamil Nadu: Stalls that sell ragi kanji, paniryaram and dosas and idlis
Rajasthan:Ker sangri, malai piyaz ke sabzi, papad sabzi, gatte ka sabzi, laal maas, Marwari vegetarian thalis with mangodi, green vegetables, rice and phulkas at ‘vasas’ near temple towns, sweet shops selling kachoris, bhujiyas, namkeen and sweets.
Amrita Sengupta, Rupa Banerjee, Ratika & Richa
The list of dishes I received was way more than what I have highlighted. I want to thank all those I could not mention here. It is clear that highways across India are doing yeoman’s service to the cause of highlighting regional Indian food. Please keep your stories coming.
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