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Making roti at an Indian dhaba

If you’ve travelled by road in India you’ll be all too aware of the thousands of trucks on the roads. You’ll also be aware of the almost as numerous roadside truck stop restaurants. These welcome rest stops are called ‘dhabas‘.

Whilst not exclusively for ‘truckers’ they tend to be used as truck stops and are most commonly found close to petrol stations. Older dhabas are often mud structures with cots to sit on with wooden planks for tables.

Think of a dhaba as like a 24 hour fast food restaurant with a constant flow of customers and constant flow of food to keep up with demand. To be honest many of these restaurants might not look like a good place to eat, but you’ve got to try them out – you’ll be surprised. The food is usually freshly cooked and in my experience tasty too… the rapid turn over means that the food is constantly being cooked fresh.

The best thing to do is order a few dishes and some bread (usually chapati or roti). Once your food arrives the bread and other dishes get refilled, so you’ll never leave hungry and there is not much wastage either. The bread is usually fresh too as its being made constantly, either in a traditional tandoor (oven) or on a more modern oven (hot plate or gas powered grill).

After a few of these lunch stops I got curious about what went on in the kitchen and at one dhaba they let me into the kitchen to see how the roti was being cooked.
Roti is often made in a clay oven called a tandoor, but is also made over flame. In this particular dhaba the bread was cooked over burning gas.

The cook in this dhaba had already made his dough (flour, salt and warm water) and divided it into golf ball size balls. He then took his rolling pin and rolled out one of the balls to make a roughly round, flat bread. He then picked it up and slapped around in his hands before passing it to another man who placed it onto a large flat hot iron plate and began cooking it on one side.

Next comes the magic!

The man scoops it up and tosses it onto the flames and within seconds the roti puffs up as if it were about to explode. The man turns it a couple of times to ensure it is cooked then places it on a pile of other roti – it is ready to eat. The puffing up part amazes me every time I see it!

Have you eaten at a dhaba? What did you think?

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