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After many years, RAHUL VERMA revisits the dhaba in Naiwada and comes back thrilled

The strangest of thoughts hit you at the oddest of moments. One afternoon, while driving through Central Delhi, I abruptly took a swerve towards West Delhi. All of a sudden, I had been reminded of Pinka. He was – and still is, I am sure – a very helpful man. Many years ago, when I lived in Central Delhi, he took care of all my automobile problems. A very able mechanic, he knew the insides of a car and always came to the aid of a spluttering engine or a stubborn gear box.

Going back in time

One day many years ago, I had gone to Karol Bagh with Pinka and my then troublesome car. We went to the area where auto parts are sold and our business was transacted with the minimum of fuss. When the work was done, Pinka took me to a dhaba for lunch. So, when I turned westward that sunny afternoon last week, the thought of the dhaba – and the wonderful meal that I once had there – hit my mind. I drove up to Karol Bagh from Pusa Road, and once I entered the area, I took the second turn right. This is known as ‘Naiwada’, or the lane of barbers. My memory had served me well – for the dhaba was right there. It’s called ‘Sai Lal ka Dhaba’, though there is no sign to indicate the name.

A gentleman called Kuki runs the dhaba. There is a tandoor out on the pavement where I saw fresh rotis being baked. In front of the shop, several steel containers had been lined up. Inside, there is space for a few people to sit and eat. I quickly packed a plate each of dal makhni, saag-paneer, kathal (jackfruit) ki sabzi and eight rotis. While my rotis were being tossed in the tandoor, I went and got a new pair of windshield wipers for my car. Then, when the food was done, I went back to Central Delhi with my lunch. And a few of us sat down and ate it with real gusto.

Eccentric cook

The rotis were nice and soft, for they had been made out of aata and not the rubbery maida. The kathal, which is a difficult vegetable to clean and cook, for it leaves a gummy substance in your hands, was excellent. It had been cooked just right and the big seeds, which sometimes stay a bit hard, were soft and crunchy. The dal hadn’t been overwhelmed with cream or butter, and was light and tasty. The paneer was also excellent. And for all this, I paid the princely sum of Rs.82. Kuki is a talented but eccentric cook, so you may not get the same fare every day. His vegetables depend on his mood, and what’s fresh in the market. Apparently he had thought of cooking a yellow dal the day I had gone there, and ended up with kathal. The paneer dishes are usually there, but the other veggies vary. The food was tasty and the prices incredibly reasonable. His clientele generally consists of shopkeepers or people who go there for spare parts. I think once they’ve had a meal there, they purr contentedly like a well-oiled engine.

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