The Gujarati Thali- A Sensory Extravaganza

If you’re confused about what to eat and want to experience a little bit of everything that is distinctively Kutchi, then the Gujarati Thali is what you must savour. An elaborate sensory extravaganza of spicy, sweet, salty and sour delicacies, this platter of assorted dishes will surely appeal to every foodies’ palate. Unlike the Amdavadi (colloquial for Ahmedabad) cuisine which is overtly sweet, due to gur/jaggery or sugar being added to most of the vegetables and curries, the Kutchis like their meals less sweet and use a generous amount of spices. Kutchi cuisine is deliciously diverse with an explosion of flavours.

Gujarati Thali for a small eater

‘Thali’ literally means a steel plate or enormous platter in which there are at least 4 small vatis or bowls in which small amounts of various vegetables, curries and sweets are ladled. No sooner have you seated yourself that a group of waiters will start serving you one dish after another starting with the farsan, followed by mains served with varieties of Indian flat bread, and sweets. A word of caution the Kutchis are known for their hospitality and will keep serving you indiscriminately so make sure to gently refuse or on second thoughts why not just cheat on your diet and eat to your heart’s content!

First in will be the farsan or snack which are like appetizers- dhokla (spongy, steamed cubes made with chickpea flour and tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves), dahi wada (ground lentil balls that are deep fried and soaked in beaten yoghurt), marcho bhajiya (chillies coated with chick pea batter and deep fried) and so on. Don’t rush and eat too much of these as there is a lot more to follow for which you will need to have room.

Next will be an array of 3-4 sorts of shaak or vegetable dishes including a kathol or pulse preparation. Ringna or brinjals grow easily in the dry, arid conditions of Kutch and it’s no surprise to find these on the menu. Sev Tamatar is a tangy and spicy dish made with chopped tomatoes, and sev/ fried chickpea vermicelli and ground spices. Bateta or potatoes are another favourite which will feature prominently on the menu. Moong (green gram whole), chana (chickpeas), chawli (black eyed beans), vaal (lima beans) in both dry and curry forms are the kathol preparations.

“Dal, Kadhi, Kadhi, Dal?”, saying so the server will enquire what you would prefer and ladle it into a katori. Dal is made of lentils and tempered with curry leaves, chillies, mustard seeds and a pinch of asafoetida. Kadhi is made from buttermilk which is then blended with chickpea flour and similarly tempered with spices. These tend to be sweetened with gur or sugar.

An assorted variety of Indian flat bread is then served. Small round puris, thin and fluffy phulkas, bajra rotlas with dollops of ghee or butter will make you want to just relish these sinful temptations and forget counting calories. Puran poli is another sweet flatbread you will devour. The Gujarati puran poli is distinct compared to the Maharashtrian version which is made with chana dal (chickpea) and jaggery while the Gujaratis use tur dal (pigeon pea) and sugar to make the puran stuffing.

Fragrant rice or khichadi (rice and lentil combination) is then served which you can have with the dal or kadhi. If you have a sweet tooth then you will not be able to resist the pretzel like jalebis which are thin and crisp or a mohanthal the Indian version of fudge made with chick pea flour, sugar and ghee or some shrikhand (sweetened yoghurt flavoured with cardamom, saffron). It is not uncommon for foodies to loosen their shalwar/trousers to accommodate the bulging waist line during the course of the meal.

Adjuncts and accompaniments are also an integral part of the thali. Papads, pickles, chutneys, salads, fried chillies all add the necessary zing and colour to an already vibrant and flavourful thali. Last but not least is the ‘Kutchi Beer’ or chaas or buttermilk which you need to have a glassful to wash down this gastronomical meal.

This Gujarati magnum opus with a medley of flavours, aromas and textures will promise to stimulate all your senses! The myriad flavours in your mouth, sometimes spicy, at other times sour and of course sweet, can be a sensory overload for first timers, but once you’ve had it I guarantee that you’ll be coming back for another thali!

~ Shameera Somani and Rafiq Somani

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