It’s 4.30 on a Sunday evening and we’re somewhere in the middle of Mira Road visiting a relative. The elders are so drowned in the flood of gossip that lunch in a restaurant we’d been planning for long has gone awry. Who serves lunch at 4.30 anyway?! So, after the last bits of goodbyes are done and the elders finally peeled from each others embraces, we plan on tea. In my case, coffee. The stomach doesn’t know the difference between lunch or tea; it only knows to make spectacularly embarrassing noises when empty.
The man of the house has a particular place in mind, the name of which he cannot recollect. The Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway is lined with host of road-side dhabas, big and small, catering to cravings of almost all kinds – Punjabi, Gujarati, Rajasthani, Mughlai, Maharashtrian – you name it, you have it. Armed with information like that – no name, not even the alphabet to give an idea – we decide to drive down the highway and hunt it down. Task of looking for a ‘good-looking’ dhaba was given to the ones stuck to three windows (except the driver, who also was the conceiver of this ridiculously mind-blowing plan). He was to keep his eyes on the road. The only issue was, nearly all of them were good-looking.
We keep driving and looking and relaying the info to the man on the wheel. I’ve started getting agitated and terrified with the long snaking jam to the right, the Mumbai bound ones. And when we’re barely few meters away from Vasai – my birthplace and home to my parents – he suddenly pulls the car over to the side, with no word whatsoever. Seatbelts intact, we turn our heads to the windows expecting a cop and wondering if we jumped signal, IF there was a signal. He steps out and gestures for us to follow him. So we do.
Here we are, standing in front of a tiny entrance with a great big signboard with great big “Bhiwandi Dhaba” painted in white. We ask him if this was the place he had in mind. “Hmm” is all we get. Satisfied with the car parked safe, he walks through the entrance, us in toe, still wondering if this was the one…
The entrance opens to an incredible view, rays of setting sun streaming through the crannies in bamboo walls and filling up the vastly spread dining area. This place has everything one would expect of a Dhaba. Super high, tiled roof supported by wood and bamboos, cushioned chairs and sofas made of cane, bulbs and lanterns hung over every seating, all give a very nostalgic feeling of being in the countryside.
There’s a treehouse dining made of bamboo and there’s a non-smoking zone also made of bamboo. The place is a cool haven, far cry from the blistering heat we’ve just escaped. Everything here appeals to the senses in a way they crave to be appealed.
Parched from heat and travel, we order for a Mix Fruit Mocktail. In less than ten minutes, what comes to the table is something we’ve never seen before. A chilled huge jug, artistically lined with painstakingly cut fruits of vivid colours and filled with brilliant red drink. Ice-cubes float on the surface alongside halved black and green grapes and pieces of watermelon.
Irshad fills our glasses which are gulped down in no time. Marveling at this work of art, I enquire about its creator. Chef Azad, the expert in mocktails and other drinks hails from Uttar Pradesh and has worked in one of the famous restaurants in Mumbai before shifting his loyalties to Bhiwandi Dhaba. His colleagues, Irshad and Ibrahim, who take orders and serve food also have their hometown in Uttar Pradesh.
Lunch time gone long past, we’ve pinned our hopes on tea and snacks. But Irshad sweetens our ears saying, it’s no problem cooking lunch menu. He suggests Pahadi and Angara Kebabs for starters.
But since the order would take time, he brings a plate of scrumptious deep fried garlic cloves and peanuts. While I start chomping on garlic, squeezing the sweet, delish flesh one clove at a time, the others are awed at someone eating garlic at this pace. Soon, they too follow suit.
Kebabs arrive in the next ten minutes (that’s barely any time, no). These are creamy, succulent and cooked to perfection. Angara Kebabs find themselves under a blanket of a frothy egg preparation I’ve never encountered anywhere before.
The jug of mocktail is refilled and order for Butter Chicken is placed. While the sun continues his journey southwards, the rays streaming in are now of flaming read and orange hues instead of the afternoon yellows and the air inside starts getting cold. Bulbs and lanterns are lit and suddenly the whole ambience shifts to give a feeling that dark is soon setting in.
Man of the house has loosened his belt and the elders are shifting their weights from one leg to the other. My state is no different. With this kind of gustatory delight already downed, there’s barely any space for the main course; evidenced with wincing and grimacing faces.
But the Butter Chicken looks irresistibly soporific and inviting and the parathas are dripping butter. Can anyone ever have the heart to restrain?!
So, we end our meal with couple of caramel puddings and ask for the check. It’s 6.15 when we try to squeeze ourselves out, after nearly two hours of giggles and gossips and celebration of food in one of the most beautiful settings I’ve been.
Azad, Ibrahim, Irshad, and everyone in the kitchen… guys, thankyou wholeheartedly for going that extra mile to create this memory for gluttons like us who turn up at such ridiculous hours.
P.S.: We’re still wondering if Bhiwandi Dhaba was the one on his mind or he just pulled over when he was about to give up. He wont tell and we’ll never know 🙂
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