There is nothing more quintessentially north Indian than heading out on an impromptu road trip, driving for a hundred kilometres before halting at a roadside food stall – or dhaba, as we like to call it – and unwinding an entire day’s worth of exhaustion on the wooden charpais that almost always make your back hurt, but who’s complaining? For me, it was all about the food. That sinful combination of butter chicken, garlic naan, and dal tadka. My father, owing to his huge appetite, would opt for kulchas instead. This was followed by a couple of gulab jamuns for all of us and a glass of chaas (buttermilk) for when my stomach would start erupting. Delicious, economical, and appetising – in a way only food served at a roadside dhaba can be.
So when I found myself at a so-called ‘dhaba’ located amidst the hustle and bustle of Sion, I was a little sceptical, to say the least. The decrepit wooden benches, pots full of simmering oil, and blue paint scraping off the walls — the place exuded that dilapidated charm I was familiar with. But it wasn’t until the tantalising aroma of freshly prepared chole hit me that I was sure of my decision to visit this famous Punjabi food joint.
Chawla’s, a small eatery located in Sion Koliwada, has an interesting reputation. It is known for its Punjabi food – both in flavour as well as in spirit. The latter reflected in the enthusiasm of the Chawla brothers – two Sikhs – who run this place. I take a seat on the far left, away from the city’s madness but close enough to not miss out on its magic. It’s also very strategically located for I manage to get a good look at all the visitors who have wandered in hoping to satiate their north Indian food cravings.
Even before looking at the menu, I know what I am going to try: I immediately ask for a plate of Chole Bhature. In my opinion, there is no better litmus test for the authenticity of a Punjabi eatery. The menu at Chawla’s is made to attract the kind of local crowd it does. From a steaming bowl of Rajma rice priced at INR 50 to a plate of Paneer Kulcha for just INR 70 — the prices are unbelievable, and the portions even more so. And the taste, I would soon realise, is exactly like authentic Punjabi food.
Once the food arrives, I am mind blown by the burst of flavour in my mouth, even as I struggle to soak the oil off the kulcha — it’s a small sacrifice for food that tastes this good, I tell myself. The chole is neither raw nor overcooked, and the kulcha has a beautiful earthy taste to it from having been cooked in a clay tandoor. Unfortunately, this wholesome goodness serving mouthwatering north Indian dishes is only available until 3 PM every afternoon, for after that Chawla’s has a double life to live. The evenings, at Chawla’s, are reserved for a cuisine that’s often referred to as ‘Indian Chinese’ – something I’m not personally fond of but wouldn’t mind trying just to see what other culinary tricks the Chawla brothers have hidden up their sleeves.
Chawla’s is located on GTB Road, near Satyam Shivom Mandi in Sion Koliwada. It might be a little difficult to find, so look out for Guru Nanak College Of Arts, Commerce And Science.
Feature Image Courtesy: WithFloats (L) and Justdial.com (R)
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