Lately, I’ve come to the conclusion that everything exciting happens on or next to roads in India.
India’s biggest tourist attraction, other than the Taj Mahal, can be found on the roads… curious to know what I’m talking about? Click the link.
We begin with the road-side Dhabas (eateries). They are known for some of the tastiest food you will find in India.
In fact, one of my favourite – Chabbra Hotel – makes for a wonderful drive whenever we feel like eating in a more rustic setting.
The food is pretty much farm to table and there is a certain flavour to the dishes that you cannot find in the most expensive of restaurants around the world.
Granted, from a hygienic point of view, every time you eat at one, you are likely to spend the entire day worrying if at all you will get sick. Fear not though, there is a very good chance you will not.
Then there are the roadside Thekas (liquor shops) that can be found in a number of places usually just off the busy roads.
These come in handy especially on celebratory days when the alcohol tends to finish as when the party gets going.
On National Dry Days (when it is illegal to sell liquor) if you have a good repo with one of the shops, you can always sneak a bottle or two from a tiny window on the backside.
But, no visit to one of these thekas during after-hours is complete without a run-in with a shoddy character. There’s always someone, lurking around who makes you uncomfortable.
However, the State I reside in allows BYOB styled restaurants next to such shops which means that instead of people buying liquor and drinking it in cars or by the road, they can actually sit in a restaurant and have it.
One of the most frequented roadside business and I guess it is stuff like this that makes it “incredible India” are the Fruit and Sabji Wallas (fruit and vegetable sellers).
These temporary stalls, which have everything from permanent electricity to telephone connections, but not proper ceilings, can be found all across India and are the primary source of daily fruit and vegetable supplies.
Although, with time, more established shops in proper malls and community centres have started keeping these daily necessities, the variety of fruits/veggies and the quality is usually better at these roadside establishments.
Situated around heavily populated residential areas, a number of times people prefer these establishments because they are friendlier. You can joke with the fruit seller, bargain on the price, and eventually, once they know where you live (they do deliveries too), they will keep a tab for you as well.
During the hot summer months, I especially frequent these stalls to pick up coconuts which are cut open there and then for some cool, refreshing, and healthy coconut water.
There is the question of hygiene. Not only are these stands next to roads where pollution due to traffic is ample, but the surroundings aren’t always the cleanest.
You are likely to find flies around the food (since everything is in the open) and that is the last thing anyone would want to see when buying eatables.
Having said that, it does feel better knowing and seeing the food stored in front of your eyes. With the up-market shops, we can only presume that they keep the food in cleaner spaces.
Let’s face it, in the end, no matter where we buy the food, it does come down to cleaning it properly once we get it home, and that needs to be done extra carefully.
Lastly there are the Thelas (hawkers) that can be found at stop lights, outside touristy spots, or basically, anywhere there is a possibility of a large number of people passing by.
Although these sometimes mobile stations are used to sell all sorts of paraphernalia, food is the most popular commodity.
The food can either comprise of hot meals and comfort food like egg rolls or else quick bites that are spicy and usually filled with an explosion of flavours.
Now, some might say that Begging is a roadside business too, and I agree, it is. No longer just about the needy asking for money begging has become a well-oiled money-making scheme.
That is why I personally believe that the only help you can give these people is to not give them money or any commodity that can be sold off.
So, next time you want to buy some of your “daily fives” or maybe a chilled beer, stop at one of the many roadside businesses that are a common aspect of life on the roads in India.