The land of Gujarat and its interesting people are generally held to two (in)famous stereotypes-
a. They’re very money minded and,
b. Their food is utterly coma inducing.
Quite honestly though, if there is one thing I would greedily stock up my proverbial gold for, it is food. So their stereotypical characteristics seem right up my alley. I won’t make fun of you, Gujjus, not as long as I get to relish your lovely food when I want to.
In Bombay, the epitome of a good Gujarati meal to me is at Shree Thaker’s. And I daresay some of the goodness is in the journey itself. Most of the time, a disgruntled cabbie will drop you right before the long, narrow lane that houses this marvel, declining to make your job any easier. And why should he? Its not like you’d offer him a meal in gratitude.
So you will have to bear the sun, a cow or two, a couple of shops right on the road, teeming people and a bunch of haphazardly positioned buildings for a few hundred metres till their comforting signboard in Gujarati is visible to your starved, searching eyes. But no. You’re not done. You then have to climb a rickety flight of stairs and patiently wait in line without biting someone’s head off in sheer ravenousness, till you’re finally welcomed into the small, air conditioned heaven, that is this Bhojanalay.
I promise you though, the meal that will follow is so so worth all the effort.
Shree Thaker’s main (and only) menu item is a Thali. To the uninitiated, a Thali is almost a mini Indian platter with a bunch of dishes, both sweet and savoury complemented by flatbreads, rice, and a barrage of flavourful pickles and chutneys. The Thali here changes everyday, save a few meal staples. New dishes are also added and removed based on the season. The seasons most important to visit this place are right before the Monsoon (May-June) for their mango specialties and during November-Jan (Calling it winter is a mockery to winter, so I won’t) for their Undhiyo, a wholesome, slow cooked mixed vegetable dish with a ground garlic stem, green pea, chilly and coriander base. We walked in on a Saturday afternoon and these were the dishes on offer:
(Bowls/Katoris from left to right)
Aloo Matar- A simple potato and pea curry in a red chilly and tomato based gravy, these pair well with heavier deep fried breads like pooris.
Matki- Slightly sprouted mothbeans in a sweet and tangy curry, that goes well with rotis and rice
Tameta Sev nu Shak- Chunks of sour raw tomatoes and sev (seasoned bits of deep fried, spiced gram flour) in a thin, savoury gravy. I loved this, and the unripened tomatoes added a whole other dimension of mild sourness to the dish
Bhindi Sabji- Stir fried okra. Simple, not spicy but oh so satisfying.
Theekhi Daal- Any Gujarati meal gives you an option of a spicy or sweet dal. I went with the spicier lentil version. Its served steaming hot and is thoroughly enjoyable with steamed rice.
Kadhi- A thick curry made with yogurt and gram flour tempered with roasted cumin. Tangy, slightly spicy and sweet this honestly requires nothing else, and can be had one bowlful after another
Madhur Milan- Any Indian dessert lover’s dream come true, this has crushed sweet boondi, slivers of roasted almond along with mini gulab jamuns on top
Plain, cooling yogurt to offer respite from the crazy sun and sweltering humidity outside
(Bowls outside the plate/thali)
Dry Fruit Shrikand- A thick sweetened yogurt with crushed almond and pistachio
Gulab Jamun- Usually served hot, it’s a sweet deep fried dough ball dunked liberally in sugar syrup. Soft and absolutely delicious when done right, the one here ticked all the boxes for us
Aamras- The hero of all the desserts being served, this is a thick pulp made from ripe, in season Pirie mangoes. It’s cold and so addictive, you can make a meal of this alone, that is, if the rest of the thali isn’t around
(Chutneys on the plate from left to right)
A simple salad of tomatoes and cucumber chunks
Stir fried shredded cabbage with a mustard seed tempering
Spicy mint and coriander chutney
Savoury and flavourful garlic and red chilly chutney
Raw mango pickle
Green chilly pickle
Slightly salted coconut chutney
A sweet and jammy date chutney
(Other dishes in the centre of the thali)
Daal Baati: Baati is a roasted savoury dough ball dipped in ghee before being smashed into little chunks and placed at the bottom of a wide bowl. A garlicky lentil gravy is then poured over it. The crisp baati and the hot and spicy daal make for a beautiful marriage of textures, guaranteed to have you wanting seconds
Dhokla: Steamed cakes made of a fermented rice and lentil batter, tempered with mustard and sesame
Pakori: Roundels of seasoned gram flour batter deep fried till golden brown
Paneer Roll: a savoury mixture of cottage cheese, coriander and chillies coated in a thick batter and fried into cylindrical bites of perfection
Papadi churi: A savoury mix of crushed papad, roasted peanuts and spices
Bajra or pearl millet rotis. These are best eaten with crushed jaggery and a dollop of clarified butter atop
As shocking as this may sound, we were also given a bunch of ghee laden rotis, steamed rice and a savoury rice and lentil porridge (khichdi) to go with all of this. And yes, you get unlimited servings of all the aforementioned dishes.
If I didn’t know any better, I would genuinely think they were trying to kill me.
The service is polite and not the kind that forces you to overeat, a trait very often seen in other Thali restaurants. It also helps that they are exceedingly generous when pour ghee over my rotis. Anyone who gives me butter or ghee that generously gets major brownie points.
The food is hearty, hot and truly spectacular. Every dish stands out from the others and the combination of it all offers a miscellany of textures and flavours to the palate. And what really draws me here is an almost homemade taste to everything they offer. No, I’m not Gujarati and I don’t have these things on the daily, but there is something very real about their flavour profile and my tastebuds don’t feel assaulted by preservative laden spice or crazy, sickly sweetness.
The beauty of it all is that there are no rules here. You’re free to eat the dishes on your thali in any manner you deem fit, and mix any of it together without a care for what anyone else would think of it.
What is paramount to them is that you enjoy your meal. And a visit to Shree Thaker’s every now and then is a clear reminder of just how much joy and happiness a really good meal can bring.