Authentic Punjabi Dhaba in Chennai

In 2001, post completing my MBA in Marketing, I joined a leading MNC group who were popularizing the retail finance boom for the emerging middle-class with high aspirations but constrained means. We were into all segments ranging from Consumer Durables, Two Wheelers, Auto Loans, Personal Loans and Pre-Owned cars. The team was young and ambitious living by the mantra of ‘Work Hard and Party Harder’.

Most of my colleagues were bachelors who were from North India who found south indian food and Chennai Auto drivers to be two major pain areas in life. So imagine our delight in find an old Punjabi dhaba right in the middle of the city – it became our hang out for the revered Friday nights.

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Monday to Friday office routine was fairly steady and the gang would end up having at least a group lunch on 2-3 days every week at the nearby Udupi joints. Rice would dominate the menu and the choices would revolve around Mini meals, proper meals, snack items and on desperate occasions Vada Pav concocted in Southern style. The limited options would get on the nerves of my friends while it was not much of an issue for me as being a Tamilian, rice was a staple item of our diet. All the same I shared their tastes since I grew up in the West and preferred the Roti-Sabji routine more than anything else.

For the weekends my friends had better options – most of them involved trips to Pondicherry. Friday nights were hunting grounds where the group would try to friend newer and better options for food, drinks and entertainment. By sheer serendipity one of blokes found a perfect Punjabi joint in the heart of the city. Run by two brothers, the cuisine was authentic and the rotis were the genuine article. The guys understood when you lovingly spoke about Naan, Kulcha, Missi roti, Rumali roti and dishes like Sarson Da Saag and Dal Makhani.

We became regular clients and the association grew. By Chennai standards, the diners finished rather early typically by 11 pm. The fun would truly begin then for us. One of the brothers was a decent singer and would regale us with his rendition of ghazals and popular Punjabi songs including those of Bhagwant Mann. The other brother was a great mimic and had an endless repertoire of anecdotes that he used share with us.

He truly understood our unstated needs to unwind as being in a sales job was a high pressure game and the targets were never-ending. In fact we used to even celebrate our wins and success at the joint. The Sardarjis were good-humored and would also entertain us with their version of Tamil. My friends could freely vent their ire against the Auto drivers and other local denizens who refused to engage in Hindi or even English. Most of my friends would be high on spirits and the party would end up turning maudlin as all the pent-up emotions were spent. It was different for me as I was a teetotaler but still went along with the spirit of the party.

One is amused to recall the wild adventures of ones youth where things could be so brazen – I particularly remember a rather embarrassing episode when one of my friends had been dumped by a his girl friend, who was a South Indian girl, and the guy went wild with invective and vitriol against the local community. It was insensitive and spiteful to say the least but none of us quite knew how to handle the situation as it unravelled.The Sardarjis knew that little of this made sense but they had the patience and judgement to counsel him when he was sober and in a state to accept their advice. Love failure and a broken heart do need to be tended with care.

I tried to visit the place during my last visit but to my embarrassment I guess I had forgotten the exact location and I could not quite find a place run by the 2 Sardarji brothers. I just had the memory of the place and no names came to my mind. May be they even sold out since I visited them nearly 13 years ago but I will always cherish the lingering images of the younger brother singing while the older one humored him as a rather drunk gang cheered on the whole show.

Photographer:The India Today Group / Contributor Collection:The India Today Group Credit:India Today Group/Getty Images
Photographer:The India Today Group / Contributor
Collection:The India Today Group
Credit:India Today Group/Getty Images

2 Replies to “Authentic Punjabi Dhaba in Chennai”

    1. Dear Sandeep,
      The picture is of Dhaba Express – picked it from the Getty Images website.
      I remember going for the Rs. 51 special ‘ Veg Buffet’ meals with you and gang over the weekend, near your home in Nandanam.
      But the dhaba I am referring to in the post is a different place – small and personalised. A strong memory I have is that it was at the bottom of a one way flyover bridge.(Near Alwarpet – Peters Road area).
      Do keep reading.


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