For someone who doesn’t like to shop, I find myself at the Phoenix mall near home a lot.
Of course it does help, that they have a good mix of restaurants right from your friendly neighbourhood McDonald’s to the more sophisticated establishments in the confines of the adjoining St Regis hotel.
But on the few occasions that I am there and forced to shop (courtesy, the mother) all the hours of walking have me exhausted and in no mood to savour a classy, well thought out and presented meal- as many options as there may be.
I want something homely. Something that’s easy to order and relish while my feet get a well deserved break.
And the closest thing in that mall to homecooked food for me, is Gajalee.
Gajalee’s cuisine centres around dishes from the Malvan area on the Western Coast of the country. Comprising of robust curries and accoutrements with staples of rice and seafood, their fare is comfortingly reminiscent of the Keralite food I’ve grown up eating.
After what seemed like an endless Saturday morning shopping for things I didn’t really need, I was out of the store and on my way to Gajalee the moment mom uttered the word “lunch”
A flight of stairs leads you to a moderately large space, with wide glass panes at one end letting the blazing sun light up their booths within. While the decor is understated, the real personality of the place shows in the buzzing mix of families that seem to constantly walk in for a quick no-fuss meal. I’m yet to see this place empty.
Their menu was given a spare second of attention before ordering a few Malvani staples we’ve come to love at any place serving it up. This is what we got:
A common fixture on any Maharashtrian menu, Solkadhi is a savoury drink, preferably had cold and I find it to be a great source of refreshment after a long day in the sun. The version here was faultless- you have the mild creaminess from diluted coconut milk, tang from the kokum (Garcinia Indica) which also gives the drink its prominent pink colour and spiciness from a hint of garlic. It’s perfectly balanced and I would have definitely ordered seconds, had I not been saving space for the food that was to follow.
Bombil, also known as Bombay Duck is a fish with an extremely high water content. The cleaned fillets are generally set under a heavy object to extract some of its water before it is tossed in a seasoned semolina batter and fried. Tender and positively melt in the mouth, I have loved these from the moment I first tasted them 6 years back. Gajalee does a decent version, replete with a light crunch from the batter outside and the soft flesh within, and it went surprisingly well with the ginger and onion based chutney at the table.
A multigrain dough (that includes pearl millet, amaranth and many others), specific to Maharashtra is used to make these deep fried, golden beauties and they make for a good accompaniment to spicy chicken or seafood curries.
Gajalee Special Prawn Curry and Steamed Rice
Most Malvani spots have their “special” rendition of prawn or fish curry, but even so, certain similarities are present in how the curry is made. What should be expected is a coarse coconut, tamarind and red chilly paste that is simmered with cloves of garlic, crushed ginger and other spice mixes specific to the region. The prawns or fish are then cooked in this flavourful concoction and when served, the best way to relish it is by pouring the curry liberally over hot white rice. Prawn Curry and Rice to me is comfort food at its very best, and Gajalee delivers- well, enough for us to finish every last bit that was ordered, both with rice and with the vade.
Daal is this soupy lentil gravy- generally a staple in all Indian households. The one here has a potent tempering of roasted bits of garlic, mustard seeds, cumin, green chillies and coriander. Given how satisfying this is on its own, I prefer my daal on the side, to be had in spoonfuls during the meal, but it works well served on steamed rice too.
The service is fast and efficient- I believe we had steaming food on our table within 10 minutes of placing our orders. And the food itself is simple and wholesome- everything that mom and I were looking for that afternoon.
Gajalee is never going to be in the subset of restaurants that constantly change their menus and reinvent their dishes. And for good reason. What you get here are some time tested, well executed coastal classics, and if your palate is in the mood for an “oldie but a goodie”, you know where to drop in the next time you’re at Phoenix.