Saturday, February 9, 2013

Murthal ke Paranthe

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Murthal Ke paranthe

Paranthas or paronthe (in Punjabi) are what ideal mid morning brunches are made of during the cold winter days. Thus paranthas are made everywhere with all kinds of winter vegetables and eaten with gusto. So can such an ubiquitous parantha actually give a little non-descript town its prominence or better still make people drive all the the way 70 kms (I drove 82 kms one way to be precise with a friend in tow), just to taste the paranthas. The answer is an Unbelievable YES, when it comes to Murthal Dhabbas and its typical die hard favourite - the paranthas with the excellent kali dal. Murthal is actually one big village which falls on NH 1 linking Delhi to Punjab. It is beyond Sonepat and on the way to Panipat.

The Dhabas appear on the left side as you travel from Delhi towards Punjab. To reach the dhabas, avoid the newly built flyover which makes you shoot the profusion of dhabas, instead take the little road next to the flyover. And there stands clusters of dhabas - 50 or so some on the other side as well.

These are not your usual dhabas where you sit under the sky in the typical Manji (charpoys) with prompt service by Chotu the server boy. Instead, most of the dhabas have tin sheet cover fitted with fans, with uniformed servers (prompter than Chotu), eating is on very clean laminated tables and chairs, tissues on hand, ac restaurant is available, there are wash basins with electrical hand dryers, clean granite loos and like shops in a petrol pump there are several selling churans (digestive aids), pickles and even stuffed toys.

The Dhabas started around 1948 or so, to offer food for truck drivers passing by. Since there were limited options for the truck drivers, this stop proved to be popular. At that time, there were only 3 – 4 dhabas. Ahuja Dhaba around 64 years old is the oldest one around, followed by Gulshan which was started in 1950. No one knows how paranthas came to be associated with this place. The usual say is that crisp fried Paranthas a typical Punjabi staple breakfast item had with lassi and dahi was served throughout the day caught the fancy of the drivers and of course the passing traveler. Since paranthas are not so readily available the ones here caught on. Most people say, the dhabas were around from the time the road was a huge single road.

The first stop was at the much touted Gulshan ka dhaba and it did live up to its name. A cursory nod to an alu pyaaz parantha and my chit chat about the paranthas was rudely interrupted with “aap ke paranthe tande ho rahe hain! (your paranthas are getting cold). We were amazed, in a matter of a few minutes there was piping hot paranthas with dollops of home made white butter (it is milk country where largest sizes of washing machines have been known to churn out butter!), with kali dal (whole urad dal fried almost home made). This is accompanied by pachranga pickle, sirce wali pyaaz (baby onions pickled in vinegar) and fresh green chillies to bite into. The paranthas are not the typical ghee fried but made on Tandoor. I enquire on the typical ghee paranthas, to be told “who has ghee paranthas anymore.” Hearing this Manoj Gulshan, one of the owners of the Dhaba thinking me to a co-enthusiastic fan of ghee paranthas asked, “Do you want to try the ghee paranthas? It will just take 10 minutes.” Given his enthusiasm, I was much persuaded, only to see my friend glaring at me with an expression, “how can you think of ghee after so much of butter.” I mumble a quick, “no thanks.” Manoj explained, “originally the paranthas were shallow fried in pure ghee. It is this new health consciousness where people do not take pure ghee paranthas that 15 or so years ago we switched over to the tandoor ones. Those are real paranthas, I still have one made that way everyday. I do not enjoy the tandoor ones and feel they are slightly under cooked.”

Another advantage is that in the absence of non-vegetarian food and eggs, Tandoori paranthas go very well with liquor which is served in plenty.  All the dhabas in the area are Vaishno or pure vegetarian. The tale behind their being vegetarian is equally charming. It is said that in that about 60 years ago, a Naga Sadhu appeared here, some say he blessed the people, others say, he cursed the place. The dictat he issued was any commercial establishment selling non-vegetarian food including eggs 10 kms either side from the spot he sat would be ruined. All those adhering to this norm would be very successful and flourish. The words came true. To my query as to whether it was just a myth or was there some substantive truth was met with. “We have seen countless establishment who opened dhabas in scant disregard with a too hoots attitude, suffer loses and close down in the next 3 – 6 months.”

The paranthas offered include – aloo pyaz, mixed vegetables, gobi, paneer, mooli.. and cost Rs. 35 onwards each. The next stop is at Sukhdev. It is more on the lines of a restaurant than the humble dhaba with sweet corns and other branded on sale. Started in 1956, it is very popular given the hoards of cars parked around it. Then there is Phelwan dhaba, Ahuja, Jhilmil…The various kinds of paranthas offered is the same everywhere. On a scale of 20, the quality of paranthas everywhere is between 17-19, Sukhdev did not have hari mirch in it, but the dough was slightly more, at Gulshan, the green chillies are a problem, though they make it without it, at Jhilmil the paranthas cracked. We lost our heart to the first alu pyaaz parantha, probably we were hungry after travelling a good two hours or the piping hot paranthas served with so much care and friendliness took our hearts away.

Process: Approximately each parantha takes 80 – 90 gms of flour. The flour used is a mix of the chakki ka atta and that of the flour mill. The dough made is slightly loose unlike the tight way of kneading it for rotis. In the filling apart from the vegetable which is finely chopped, a fair amount of green chillies, salt, coriander leaves are added. The potato is boiled and mashed to which raw onions are added. This roasts deliciously in the hot coal tandoors to impart its own particular flavor. Around 20 gms of white butter is placed on it and voila it is ready to be served.

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