Monday, 2 May 2016

Food Coma from A Gujarati Thaali and my favourite restaurants

I now this might sound a little simplistic overclaim (possibly even pathetic), but perhaps some of my happiest times have been over a Gujarati Thaali. 

Yes, its true.  I have had the pleasure of eating some of the most amazing Gujarati Thaalis in India and enjoyed each one of them, and the food coma that follows – where if you are lucky you can just crash and spend this blissfully in a siesta crashing at home.  The entire experience is simply to die for… I know I am exaggerating, but its an absolutely lovely package.

We have a lot of Gujarati friends, but didn’t really socialize much with them to the extent of visiting their home much, only for Khari and addu wala chai which was still an amazing experience.  We did have to stay once at a Gujarati household down south and it was one lovely experience.  Each meal needed to involve various different foods, tastes and sensations – which didn’t necessarily meant you had to do a lot of new food preparations.  For breakfast there was poha, but along with this there was some dahi, some khakras, chutnies, and food that was to be used later in lunch as well like Dhoklas, khandvis, fafdas etc.  Your tongue would love the sensation and feel and each taste bud would come alive as it ate everything from sweet, spicy, tangy, somewhat bitter, aromatic, salty, sour in soft, spongy, fluffy to crisp, flaky to chewy, grainy – and every possible combination of these – all in one sitting!!

They’d manage to do this even with a simple offering of rotis with dal and rice = as the accompaniments and condiments would help bring in these assorted flavours and experiences – I think the pomp of the Panjabis have been overglamourised to represent India, while the gujarati thaali does it amazingly and in a quite affair.

I had taken Gujarati food for granted and had never registered the commonality of the great experiences each meal had provided me. 

One of the best known secrets about food in India is of course that the best food is home made food.  Another one is that the best food for any particular state is not available in the restaurants of that state but another one. So for e.g. the best Andhra food restaurants are not in Andhra but in Bangalore, the best Malayali restaurants especially for vegetarians is available in… Dubai, and by the same token the best Gujarati Thaalis are available in Maharashtra (at least in my limited experience).

My parents, family and I had travelled across Maharashtra’s various regions including Kolhapur,Shirdi, Sholapur, Marathwada, Konkan, Pune etc. and we never realized it, but there would be at least one Gujarati thaali restaurant that would serve such simple yet amazing food that we simply crashed in the car for the rest of the afternoon (hoping the driver didn’t have those extra helpings that induced the coma in us).  I haven’t been to Gujarat but I am sure there are great restaurants.

I forgot to add, the attraction for me is that Gujarati Thaalis are almost always – yes nearly everyone I have been to has been vegetarian, so it works great for me.

When I started working in Mumbai I was lucky enough to have a great set of folks in my office who also loved Gujarati Thaalis and took me to some of the best ones in south Mumbai, and I am not sure I can remember the names clearly but here’s some of them:

  • Status and Samrat near Nariman Point and Churchgate– absolute favourites, one of them also provided south indian food and was lovely.  A great winning combination
  • Chetana – in Kaala Ghoda which was a favourite for the bada memsaabs as it had a fabulous clothes shop next to it, and they’d have a heavy meal and then binge shop after that.  It was also possibly the only gujarati thaali restaurant that served alcohol.  It lost some of its touch when it also started offering Rajasthani, Jain, Marathi and Satwik food and then buffets and lost it.
  • Thakker bhojanalaya – I have eaten here just once, this needs a separate blogpost and will come soon. (yes, its THAT bl**y GOOD!!)

During one of my later Mumbai stays, my elder brother called me up and asked me to join him for lunch as he was visiting Mumbai for some official work.  And by then the center of gravity had moved northwards into the suburbs.  He calls me and asks him to join at a restaurant which was the suburban branch of the original in Crawford Market, famous for its silver ware – yes, the entire meal was served in silverware.  We visit the place, and I fell in love with this all over again.  This restaurant morphed into the Rajdhaani (cant remember what happened to the original) and provided great meals.  There’d be a huge queue waiting outside. In those days the price of the thaali was just about the same or a little more than what it’d cost per person for a family having a meal outside in the foodcourt or a restaurant. So Rajdhaani provided great VFM as it gave unlimited helpings.

Yes, you heard me the great selling point of a gujarati thaali is not just the spread, nearly 20+ items to taste and eat and you can have them as many times and as much as you want. And in the evenings and on weekends you can have three different types of desserts – yes, if you want to kill yourself, this should be your last meal.

Another selling point of these restaurants was how the team would communicate using sign language  - where the head waiter/ manager would personally go around each table asking them about the food and recommend more to eat. If you wanted any particular dish again he’d raise his hands and make a symbol which’d tell the team which dish to bring to the table. Its quite a show.

Across the years I have had some great food.  I eventually got to eat individual special gujarati dishes at swati snacks and the fabulous Soam restaurant – both highly recommended – but nothing beats the gujarati Thaali at these restaurants.   These are experiences you need to save for once every three months, as the indulgence will cost both your waistline to expand your wallet to shrink, but give you one blissfully great meal and siesta after….