Things you should know before eating at a dhaba


A dhaba, road-side eatery, in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh


Dhabas, the road-side eateries in north India, are common along the highways, including those connecting the Himalayas with the rest of the country. Since fine dining options are almost non-existent along the highways, understanding dhaba traits is useful for the adventure travelers planning a trip to the mountain range.

Guests and timing

Dhabas host all types of travelers. Many of these eateries serve round the clock.

Dhabas serve as truck stops

The eateries also serve as truck stops. Therefore, you may find several big and small trucks parked next to the eateries. Another common sight showcases the drivers bathing in open, cleaning the vehicles, and / or relaxing.

Dhabas practice minimalism 

Minimalism is of the essence. The eateries without any kind of frills offer the basics only.

Simple seating arrangement features cots with benches that double as a table and / or plastic / wooden chairs and tables.

Dhabas, big or small, or dark or bright, generally do not feature air conditioners (AC). Many of the highway dhabas are open air structures or partly constructed.

Dhaba kitchen and menu 

The menu features delicious vegetarian and / or non-vegetarian food. Many vegetarian eateries referred to as Vashanav dhabas. But all vegetarian dhabas do not feature signboards reading Vashanav.

Although commonly the menu consists of north Indian food such as curry, parantha (fried Indian flat bread), dry fried vegetables, kadi chawal (boiled / steamed rice with curds-based gram flour curry with fritters), rajma chawal (boiled / steamed rice with red kidney beans), and tandoori roti (plain Indian bread) in the Himalayas, variations are possible. The menu may also include ready-to-eat snacks and cold drinks.

Some dhabas offer both alfresco and indoor dining options.

The open kitchens are common. A traditional tandoor with multiple cooking fires is usually at the entry. Each fire may support a big brass / aluminum cooking pot. The cutlery is cheap.  You can eat with hands, but spoons are also available.

Dhaba hygiene 

Dhabas are quite clean and the food is fresh. Especially, the dhabas hosting more guests often guarantee fresh food. On the contrary, the dhabas not doing good business may serve stale food.

Do remember that dust brings flies with it due to the road-side location, requiring extra care and shooing the flies away while eating.

Washrooms in Dhabas 

Most of the dhabas feature toilets. Some have gender specific toilets others have a common toilet. But do not expect much from the just okay toilets. Many a time the latches are either broken or do not exist at all. In such situations, you need help from your companion who can patiently stand guard outside the door.

Dhabas in villages, remote areas, cities, towns 

Dhabas are also a common sight in the small villages and remote areas where fine dining options are unimaginable.

Dhabas in cities and towns may have better facilities without compromising on the traditions.

Tipping in dhabas 

Tipping is not a practice. So, do not pamper the waiters.