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Punjabi Khana:
Chef Sweety Singh





Sweety Singh’s delicately flavoured creations strike a chord.

What is it about a dhaba that makes the food taste so good?

The fact that you sit on a charpoy, or on a basic wooden bench, and eat food cooked with minimum of fuss? Is it the plate of raw onions in front of you, the sight of shiny utensils, or the aroma of fresh rotis making their way out of a red hot tandoor?

I don’t know what it is, but dhaba food gladdens my heart.

I say this despite the fact that dhabas have changed dramatically over the years. Now you find them with liveried staffers who place before you a huge multi-course menu card while you sit in the comfort of an air conditioned room. Still, because dhabas evoke nostalgic memories in me of long drives to the hills, they always wield magic.

One of the few old dhabas in Delhi still going strong is Punjabi Khana on Asaf Ali Road. It started out as a small hand cart selling food, went on to become a flourishing dhaba and is today quite a restaurant.

The man who now runs it is Sweety Singh, who has made a remarkable name for himself in the food industry. He is much sought after, travels from city to city, cooking for special festivals and training other chefs.

And he is now at The Claridges in Delhi, with a lip-smacking Punjabi food festival.

I love Punjabi food, but not the dishes that you get in restaurants which try to tell you that the food they serve is authentic Punjabi. I have eaten at the Punjabi homes of some of my closest friends, and know that their regular fare is certainly not the onion-garlic-tomato heaped dishes that restaurants spew out.

Their dishes are delicately flavoured, with a bit of cumin, or mustard, and a few spices here and there. That, Sweety Singh tells me, is what he has been trying to promote, too.

The Dhaba is not your regular dhaba, of course. But I like the way it highlights some of the symbols that you associate with a dhaba. There is a truck standing there, the lights are like lanterns, the food is served in old styled steel utensils and you’ll even find a cot placed behind some tables.

Sweety Singh sat with us and talked about how his father’s dhaba grew over time. And, every now and then, he rushed to the kitchen and came back with a delicious dish in hand.

He has given his own touch to old Punjabi dishes, and I don’t mind that, for the outcome is happy.

The kesar malai lassi was thick, creamy and delightful.

Of the appetisers -- bhatti da murgh, anaari murgh tikka, meat diyan seekhaan, tandoori bhuniya meat, tandoori ajwaini jheenga and machhi de tikke -- the ones I liked the most were the sweet and tart anaari murgh and the meat seekh which had a very subtle flavour of mild spices and had been cooked without the red chillies that seekhs come blanketed with these days. The prawn had a sharp taste of ajwain, which was rather nice.

I tried out a spoonful or so of some of the main dishes, and loved his daal makhni, cooked without the mandatory cream, and the very light gravy of the kharorey (trotters). The Amritsari meat dish, on the other hand, was deliciously rich, with a spicy and thick sauce flavoured with ghee. I am very, very fond of brain curry, but this was one dish that didn’t work for me.

If you are as fond of Punjabi food as I am, you could go there for either lunch or dinner. And don’t forget to chat with Sweety Singh, who loves to interact with the clients.

I find that his smile is reflected in the food.

[Courtesy: The Hindu Newspaper. Edited for]
March 9, 2016

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Chef Sweety Singh"

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