The shifting demographics of the truck driving industry appears to be influencing the roadside cuisine and hot, spicy Indian restaurants are opening at America’s popular truck stops.
“The driving and the trucking is in our blood,” Raman Dhillon of the North American Punjabi Trucking Association (NAPTA). “For the last 10 years, the Punjabi trucking industry is growing very fast and very big.”
An estimated 20 percent of U.S. truckers hail from India, according to the (NAPTA). That number rose from a reported 30,000 in 2018 and the Eastern culture is having a profound effect on truck stop dining. A “record number” of eateries have already opened along busy truck transportation routes, none more notable than Truck Stop 40 at Exit 26 off Route 66 in Western Oklahoma.
“This place is right in the middle of the United States and this place is famous for our homemade Indian food,” restaurant owner Amar Singh reportedly said. “I call this place a little Punjab, little India. Everything around here is Indian. We speak our own language. It’s the American dream.”
Singh, who comes from generations of truckers, reportedly purchased the restaurant in the early 2000s. He noted it was his father’s favorite truck stop restaurant when he was on the road.
Over in the Texas Panhandle, Indian restaurants are becoming the new normal at truck stops. At Exit 30, off Route 66, in the sleepy town of Vega, a sign reads: “Punjabi Dhaba.” The Indian word Dhaba basically means eatery in English. There, the Vega Truck Stop and Indian Kitchen enjoys a large following of Indian-American truckers and everyday people who like the cuisine.
“There are many friends. It’s very big. There are 1,021 people in this group,” trucker Palwinder Singh reportedly said. Many of the Punjabis are owner-operators and they promote Indian restaurants and other cultural places through WhatsApp groups and TikTok.
Palwinder indicated he discovered the Vega dhaba through a social media group and pinned it on his Google Maps. He’s also input dhabas across the country. The Vega Truck Stop serves fresh, hot traditional meals such as butter chicken. The accompanying store sells Punjabi snacks, sweets, and even semi-truck decorations.
“When I was driving in 2009- 2012, I couldn’t find enough places to eat because some days I don’t eat meat. That was the biggest issue in our community, that the food outside was not available,” Dhillon reportedly said.
The growing number of Punjabis in the trucking industry could soon result in different menu options at more truck stops.