THE GUJARATI THALI

img_5634We have of necessity, become very familiar with Gujarati food.  In appearance it is similar to the Punjabi cooking we are most familiar with, but flavours are quite different.  It can be quite spicy, in fact sometimes overly so for my tender palate, but in general it makes gentle use of chilli, and depends more on such spices as cardamom, cloves, cinnamon bark, and there is often a sweet undertone.  The thali, served usually at one p.m is the main meal of the day and is an absolute bargain.  It is much like the “comida del dia” or meal of the day we found all over Latin America.  

Apologies for the doltish looking memsahib who modelled for this post, in my opinion her photographer has much to answer for.

When entering the restaurant, one is confronted by a sea of thali trays on every table.  You don’t HAVE to have the thali but anything else will be the same food and cost way more anyway.  This restaurant is in the pleasant Hotel Aram where we stayed in Jamnagar, the did a huge business in noon hour thalis, it is quite like Latin America in that many people see to eat this main meal out.

img_5637The first visitor to the table is the man with a little holder holding four vegetable dishes.  He scoops some of each into one of the four tiny bowls.  Examples are potato, lady’s fingers, mixed vegetables, beans etc.

img_5640Next comes the raita, a papadum, and a couple of types of fritter (hiding under the papad.  These are really tasty.  The pickles and relish in front are a staple and come with most meals.  We’ve never done more than sample gingerly, they are really hot!

img_5642A sweet dessert is added and our glasses filled with delicious buttermilk, most refreshing if the spice gets a bit too much. The dish of salad contains chopped cabbage, chopped red onions, a lime, sometimes cucumbers and on top the ubiquitous whole chili which your correspondents draw the line at.

img_5643Now comes the man with the “curry” a white, milky looking liquid, which contrary to expectations is sweet not spicy, and the Dahl which varies every time we get it.

img_5644Next comes the chappati, essential as this whole meal is eaten with the fingers, the spoon only necessary for scooping up the raita, curry, dahl etc to add to the dishes or to slurp up.

img_5648Here’s Doug digging in.  I have not mentioned that the essential characteristic of the thali, whether you eat it in a restaurant or in a roadside stand, is that it is bottomless.  You no sooner pick up a piece of your first chappati than the man who doles them out comes by with a basket of hot ones and adds one or two to your plate.  The little fritter appetizers are so good I can never resist getting seconds of them.  If you can’t eat any more you have to physically defend your plate and even then someone will likely swoop in and add to the bowl you have removed a few dabs from.

img_5649For Doug who adores the breads, it is a terrible temptation., which he does not bother to resist.  As you can see from the picture above, this thali includes 4 kinds of breads, a puri having been added when we thought it was all over. Unfortunately for me, one of these meals is enough for the rest of the day.  Sometimes I skip dinner, but often I try for a “light dinner” which is pretty much impossible to manage.  High class problems I realize!

img_5647It’s really the full meal deal, they come around with rice at the end to fill up any little corners in your stomach. The price varies (so far) from between $2 at a roadside place which did not have as many dishes but hit all the same bases, to $5 which the one above cost, to $15 for a glamorous dinner on the roof of the House of M.G.  To tell the truth, the one pictured was better than that one to our untutored palates.

 

I am not sure if I have mentioned a very interesting fact about Gujarat state.  It is completely dry.  In fact there are huge fines for possessing alcohol and a law is before the state legislature to impose a 10 year (yes you read that right) jail sentence on those caught in possession.  This is good news for the Botting livers and also for their budget, but a cold beer would be a welcome way to soothe the burning mouth after a run in with an errant chili.  Fortunately the buttermilk works really quite well.

 

Also most of our hotels have been completely vegetarian, and many are “pure veg” which means no eggs either.  I feel a bit protein deprived, as breakfast is a variant of the same dishes as lunch and dinner which can be a bit hard to take at times.  Usually I ask for some curd which they usually have and cut up a banana on the top.  Not bad, but when we reach a place that relaxes the egg rule, we are the first in line for an omelet!

Munching away, all in the line of research, we remain your dedicated correspondents.

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