A while ago, we ran a feature “Amid a record driver shortage, Indian-American Sikhs are taking to trucking”
With thousands of desi truck drivers taking to Californian roads, a few dhabas are now catering to this niche. A recent New York Times article features a family-run Punjabi Dhaba operating out of a truck stop in Bakersfield, serving simple fare, like parathas stuffed with a mix of vegetables, to a growing population of Californian truckers with roots in Punjab.
The NYT article “A Taste of Home for California’s Punjabi Truck Drivers” features
Next to a truck wash and a repair shop, Punjabi Dhaba is reminiscent of dhabas in India and Pakistan, the absolutely-no-frills roadside restaurants that cater to truckers and others passing through with cheap, hearty dishes of chole — chickpeas soaked in a gingery tomato sauce — and slick parathas.
Punjabi Dhaba caters to the growing community of Punjabi truckers with ample space to park semi trucks and a stack of free Punjabi Trucking magazines, filled with bilingual articles and ads. (A green-eyed cat comes around and naps on this occasionally.)
The kitchen is run by several fast-moving, masterly women who chat among themselves in Punjabi, as well as to their clientele, while handing out sweet, freshly boiled chai in Styrofoam cups.
Most of the dishes are vegetarian, but they’re still road-stop fare: thick and rich with sauces of reduced tomato and cream, and generously seasoned and spiced. The butter chicken packs heat and smoke — it’s made from the dark thigh meat and cooked in a clay tandoor. All of the food is ideal for drivers who might find themselves craving something familiar on the road, away from home for weeks at a time, moving freight up and down the highways.
A sampling of reviews of the Punjabi Dhaba
Tripadvisor review: Tasty Indian food off I-5 on way to Vegas or Los Angeles Tasty Indian food on way to Los Angeles Vegas in Bakersfield. Ample seating with tables and chairs dhaba style. They did have heaters during winter. Fastest service and all are made to order food. Nice short ride off I-5 across farms to reach this place and its worth it for the food here. Person at the counter is great. Will return back.
Yelp review: “A true Punjabi Dhaba experience in the US. If you belong to Punjab and ever miss eating at the roadside restaurants on the highways while traveling from one place to the other then this is for you. This is also great for people who have never experienced eating roadside in northwestern parts of India but want to taste the true Punjabi fare. We were driving from the Bay Area to LA. I had heard of this place and when I mapped it out, we figured we would be driving about 10-12 miles extra. I really didn’t want to stop at a chain restaurant to pick the usual food so we decided to just drive the distance. It was so worth it!