On a thali trail...

From Gujarat: In the cultural capital of Vadodara, Kavita Kanan Chandra indulges in some delectable delicacies of Gujarati and Kathiawadi cuisines

On a thali trail...
The assortment of tangy, spicy, sweet and salty dishes that are boiled, steamed, stir-fried and deep-fried tingle my taste buds as I gorge on a Gujarati thali. The gleaming brass plate with about a dozen katoris (small bowls) containing curries, savouries and sweets looks inviting.

I am at Mandap Restaurant (in Hotel Express Tower) at the posh Alkapuri locality of Vadodara. True to its name, each table has a canopy of cloth above it like a mandap and the carved wooden jharokhas on the walls create an ambience of a wedding ceremony. The variety of lip-smacking food items like flatbreads (made of millets and wheat), rice, seasonal vegetables, pulses, sweets and snacks make for a wedding feast
indeed!

Something for everyone
A Gujarati thali conjures up images of pure vegetarian food and the reason is the strong influence of Jainism in Gujarat. So, you could find many preparations even without onion and garlic, but they taste delicious nevertheless. Millets, gram flour, seasonal vegetables, milk-based sweets, yoghurt and aamras (mango pulp) in summer are staple to a thali along with various farsan (snacks), and chhaas (buttermilk). Though spices and condiments are used, the taste is subtle. In a  Gujarati thali, sweet kadhi and dal are a must. In Gujarati homes, jaggery is used to sweeten vegetable curries too. However, commercial food joints refrain from using them to suit non-Gujarati palates.

Restaurants like Rasthal Gujarati Thali on R C Dutt Road, Gokul Thal, Aamantran and Sasuma Gujarati Thali at Alkapuri are good places for lunch and dinner. At Sasuma, you really feel special as the staff attends to every guest, and the very large steel thali with several steel katoris is a real delight to look at. There are also several dhabas and dining halls for casual dining in the city that serve sumptuous thalis at a reasonable cost. 

A typical thali consists of bajri no rotlo (pearl millet flatbread) or wheat bhakri, chhaas (buttermilk), khatti-meethi dal (sweet-sour pulses) and kadhi, varieties of shaak (vegetables), steamed rice or khichdi, pulses (moong or black-eyed peas), kathor (whole beans), sweets (any two or three of doodh paak, jalebi, mohanthal, shrikhand, basundi, puran poli, halwo, aamras, sukhadi, lado and gulab jamun) and three or four farsan items like dhokla, khaman, khandvi, muthia, pani puri, dal vada, patra (made of colocassia leaves), samosa or ghughra (either made sweet with coconut stuffing or salty with green peas).

The main course is always accompanied with titbits like lasan ni chutney, lili chutney, chundo (sweet pickle of raw mango), kachumbar salad and athano (pickles).

A Gujarati thali draws its menu from four regions of Gujarat: North Gujarat, Kathiawad, Kutch and Surat. Surat is a city that is world famous for its snacks. A visit to Surat amazed me, for citizens there would just spread a bedsheet on the roadside or park their cars, and happily eat from the numerous lorries and food stalls on the wayside. No wonder Surtis are, by default, food-lovers and thus goes the famous adage, “Surat nu jaman, kashi nu maran” (eat food in Surat and die in Kashi). Thus, the credit goes to Surat for mouthwatering farsans like Surati undhiyo, Surati locho, sev khamani, among several others.

Payal Snacks is the best place in Vadodara for undhiyo, which is a winter speciality made of eight seasonal green vegetables, root vegetables and muthia cooked in earthenware.

From Kathiawad
After having my fill of Gujarati thalis that has a balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavours, I was in search of authentic Kathiawadi food. Kathiawadi food is pertaining to Saurashtra and has its trademark lasaniya batata (garlic potato), lasaniya sev tameta, sev dungali, kathiawadi dhokli, rajwadi dhokla, bajra rotla, ringan (brinjal) bharta, tuar-baingan, bajra or makke (maize) ni rotla, Kathiawadi adad (tomatoes cooked with urad dal, ginger-garlic paste with a dash of lemon), tikhari (spicy kadhi), and masala khichdi with chhaas.

Unlike the Gujarati thali, there is no use of sugar or jaggery in shaak (vegetables) in this cuisine, so it pleases the taste buds of non-Gujaratis too.

Two best places in Vadodara to have Kathiawadi food are Shree Kathiyawadi Khadki near Tower Char Rasta at Raopura and Shiv Shakti Kathiyawadi Hotel near Vishwamitri Bridge. I opted for the new air-conditioned Kathiyawadi Khadki that has come up in the Sharnam Fortune Mall on Race Course Road. Its appealing decor in maroon with traditionally painted wood lacquered furniture, popularly known as Sankheda furniture, adds to the charm of dining here. Its growing popularity could be gauged by the queue of waiting diners even on weekdays.

Snacking bytes
It’s not only fafda or ghughra that’s eaten during festivals, but snacking is a part of Gujarat foodscape throughout the year. The energy and enthusiasm towards farsan could easily rub off on you. Vadodara also has a ‘Ratri Bazaar’ to curb your hunger pangs post-midnight.

At dawn, just wander around the railway station and chances are that the iconic Jagdish Farsan Mart is open to sell its famous lilo chevdo and bhakharwadi. Jagdamba for chevda, Shiv Shakti and Bhai Bhai Dabeli for Kuchchhi dabeli are famous farsan places, and so is Dulliram Penda.

Every market in Vadodara, old or new, has stores, food carts and even hole-in-the-wall outlets selling farsan. Mahakali Sev Usal Food Stall is a huge hit with students. It serves 25 varieties of the humble snack mixture. Nobody even bothers that Pyarelal ki Kachori comes wrapped in newspapers in Mangal Bazaar or one has to jostle with customers to grab his/her bundle of Manmohan ka Samosa at the busy Kothi Chaar Rasta.

Whether it is the labyrinthine lanes of localities such as Fatehgunj, Nizampura, Old Padra Road, Dandia Bazaar, Karelibaug or the upmarket locale of Alkapuri, Vadodara pulsates with varied food and flavours.

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