On a Sunday afternoon, Chintan Patel and his three brothers arrive on the Piplod-Dumas Road in Surat, with their assistants, and assemble their trademark food carts, each about 10-ft long and flamboyantly decorated. They connect the LPG cylinders, ready the dough and the filling. By 6 pm, Chintan begins frying the parathas on a large skillet, and then the buns for the pav bhaji. His brothers run their food carts at a distance, selling eggs, chicken curry and other non-vegetarian fare.
By 8 pm, the 10-12 km eight-lane road is packed with families. They have driven in their Audis, Range Rovers or BMWs, or squeezed themselves on scooters and motorbikes to reach Surat’s famous street of food. Once there, they plonk themselves on mats spread out on the pavements and wait for the sizzling pizza paratha or the soft and spicy pav bhaji to land on their plate. Those who want to dine in their airconditioned cars, or even have a hush-hush drink in the prohibition state, are served in their cars. Around 250 vegetarian and non-vegetarian food stalls assemble here, every weekend.
Ritesh Patel, 35, a diamond businessman, is a regular on Dumas road. From his home in Varachha, he drives down with his wife Shital and children Dev and Sonal. The Sai Paratha cart run by Chintan is their favourite haunt. “We have been coming here for the last five years. We savour the pizza parathas (a Chintan special) the most. At home, we cook pure Gujarati food, and no matter how hard I try, the parathas don’t turn out as tasty,” says Shital.
At the cost of `50-120 for a paratha, and a pav bhaji dish for ` 50-65, a family of four dines well on a shoestring budget. “Ours is only a weekend business. We keep enough stock to meet the customers’ demands, but during school vacations, business goes southward,” says Chintan.
Dumas Road lives up to Surat’s famous adage “Surat nu Jaman ane Kashi nu maran” (dine in Surat and die in Kashi).
One of the oldest patrons of Dumas Road is Govind Dholakia, owner of the diamond firm Shri Ramkrishna Exports, which employs thousands of workers. Dholakia, the son of a farmer from Amreli in Saurashtra, came to Surat in 1964, and got hooked on to its street food. “We were shocked to see people parking huge cars on the roadside and dining with families on the footpath. The idea that those who could afford to dine at good restaurants preferred eating here prompted me to try it out. Sitting on the footpath is a different experience. We can shout and laugh out loud, while we are constrained in a restaurant. Many of my friends, who run diamond and textile businesses, also dine here,” he says.
Ajay Choksi, a textile businessman, real estate developer and former Surat mayor from the BJP, heads for Dumas Road on weekends. “The trend of eating with all sections of society was started by Surtis, and I am proud of it. When we were young, our parents used to bring us here to dine, and now we continue the tradition,” he says.
Jitu Vakhariya (Surti), who runs a dyeing and printing factory in Surat, says, “Since my childhood, I am a regular at roadside stalls. Earlier, during marriages and birthday parties, people would spread mats on the streets in the old city area and settle down to dine. The trend has spread even among the well-off classes. Many of my friends used to hesitate earlier, but they have now adapted.”
Mahidarpura is one of the oldest eating areas of Surat. Khaudhra gali, as its name suggests, still exists here, just that the food carts are packed in a more congested manner. South Gujarat Hotel and Restaurant Association president Arun Shetty says there are around 80 hotels and over 100 restaurants in Surat city. All consider the roadside stalls their rivals. “They are obviously eating into our business,” he says. He says the roadside stalls owe their popularity to their expertise in a few items. “The vendors make only one or two things, but they do it well.”