City Food – Pandit Vaishno Dhaba, Sadar Bazar, Gurgaon
A veggie affair.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A passerby on the crowded market street abruptly freezes in mid-motion. The head turns, the nose sniffs the air aggressively. Can that be desi ghee? Where’s the smell coming from? A pang of hunger rams through like a sweet ache.
And then the eyes spot a sooty black wall, the sooty black windows, and under the windows, a pile of woods. On coming closer, a miasma of scents come forward. There’s the hint of dal, of some subzi, and of ghee-smeared rotis.
If smells can evoke places and memories, then here you might summon your childhood home’s most formative recollections.
Pandit Vaishno Dhaba in Gurgaon’s Sadar Bazar is a simple vegetarian eatery, specialising in homey dishes and wood-fired chulhe ki roti. This is not some flat roti, it is the puffy swollen garma-garam phulka.
This afternoon, cooks Dilip Kumar and Phagu Ram are rustling out the rush hour phulkas from the chulha. The daylight from the window is slamming into the burning wood like beams of gold. All the five tables are occupied. The meal comprises of an unpretentious thali with three katoris.
The dining section is small, but the ambiance is rich in details. The wall is decorated with sacred images of Ram Durbar, of Bhagwan Shiv with Devi Parvati, of Devi Durga with Saraswati. A clock bears the insignia of Neeraj Tea. The place derives its principal sense of legacy from a black-and-white portrait of Pandit Ram Chander Sharma. He founded the establishment in 1951. In the photo, he is wearing a turban. Following his demise in 1992, the eatery passed on to his two sons, and their children.
The Vaishno Dhaba received a slight makeover following the second pandemic-ridden lockdown in the form of a more elaborate chimney, with a super-long exhaust pipe, which releases the wood-smoke high up into the smoggy air. It stands out like a post-modern contraption in an otherwise decades-old edifice. Hopefully, no renovation will replace the chulha, which majorly contributes to the phulka’s aromatic deliciousness.
Now cook Durga Nand prepares a new set of thalis. An array of katoris are filled with dal and subzi. Each bowl is subjected to a chhowk (tempering) of desi ghee; each time a hissing sound of chhhh rushes out with the steam. The scent is irresistible. Somebody walking on the street outside is bound to freeze in mid-motion.
PS: Lunch is from 11am to 4pm, dinner is from 7pm to 10.30pm.
Some roti romance