September 28, 2021

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Qualified food specialists

Food: Travel through India in seven thalis

5 min read

India’s love and culture of thalis, where you find everything from fresh pickles to breads and desserts, thrives in the shadow of grandma’s recipes. And there’s nothing better than local food, that often comes with a tempering of surprises in a thali. If your love for travel matches with your fondness for food, take a large appetite along.

Presenting the best thalis I tried and you must too!

Melting pot

Mngalorean thai at Feelz, Double Tree, by Holtion Goa – Panaji

When you want the Goa vibe, not the crowds, a stay at The DoubleTree by Hilton does the trick, with its location by the Mandovi river and beautiful sunsets. After long walks around the property, we go out and enjoy a Mangalorean thali, and I start my meal with coconut water from the house… divine! For starters, the Kori ajadina aka chicken tossed with spices and fresh coconut was decadent and so was the prawns ghee roast cooked with byadgi chilli paste and ghee with a side of fresh beetroot salad. We then tried the mutton pepper fry and meen rawa fry. But what I could not get enough of was the Coorgi style pork curry, a regional speciality – something not to be missed. Its combination with Neer Dosa is a true culinary revelation. The Vorn aka a green gram pudding with jaggery and coconut milk tempts me to return. Feliz truly captures the wholesome goodness of rustic Mangalorean fare in a quaint setting.

Fishy tales

Maharashtrian Koli at Bombay State Fisheries, Mumbai

My foodie friend, Manasi Joshi Roy and her husband, Rohit, took me via winding roads to the home of Harsha Tapke, a Koli fisherwoman in Versova, where we ate baskets of fried bombil and prawns with thecha.

Our vast coastline ensured we were spoilt for choice and Tapke’s thali came with a crab curry in fiery masala, mussels, more fried fish, white pomfret fish curry, chapatis and rice. Fish is an essential part of Koli food, and Tapke likes to include fish in all meals, for example, even if it’s a vegetable, she adds some prawns or Bombay duck to it.

(Clockwise from far left) The author and her daughter with Rohit and Manasi Joshi Roy after a fulfilling Koli seafood thali; A farmer at Alila Fort Bishangarh; Harsha Tapke, a Koli fisherwoman, at her home in Versova; A peacock enjoying the monsoon at Deo Bagh, Gwalior; the stunning Leela Palace Udaipur
(Clockwise from far left) The author and her daughter with Rohit and Manasi Joshi Roy after a fulfilling Koli seafood thali; A farmer at Alila Fort Bishangarh; Harsha Tapke, a Koli fisherwoman, at her home in Versova; A peacock enjoying the monsoon at Deo Bagh, Gwalior; the stunning Leela Palace Udaipur

Meaty details

Of Bhopali mutton at Deo Bagh, Gwalior

On the third day of my stay at Deo Bagh in Gwalior – it is a beautiful place and almost a tourist spot by itself – the chef prepared a thali comprising Bhopali mutton, sag, masoor ki dal and a salad. The meal is light and while the Mughal inspiration is prominent, the food seems to have picked up aromas and undertones from the Afghans and the Turks. As I literally licked my fingers in appreciation of the decadent lunch, Narayan, the manager, promised me the famous MP Yakhni Pulao for dinner, which is cooked in broth and is extremely flavourful because of that.

Desert rose

Rajasthani Thali at Leela Palace, Udaipur

For those who live in Delhi-NCR, the easiest escape is to Udaipur. Of course, Dal Baati Choorma is a given in Rajasthan, as are the fancy eateries plating modernised versions of the fare. But the thali that everyone seems to be talking about is the one at the Leela Palace Udaipur.

It pays homage to rustic food by offering classics such as ker sangri and laal maas. It is all too heavenly – from something as simple as the sag to a complex gatta curry, everything smells great and the only tough question is what not to eat. Interestingly this thali has made the crossover from desi cliché to smart global, drawing locals and expats alike.

Coastal company

Goan thai, Planet Hollywood, Goa

It wasn’t so long ago that old-style Goan cuisine (read, vindaloo and cafreal) was entirely conquered by fast food style of cooking – deep fried at many a ‘shack’. Thankfully, the good old cuisine and fish thalis are now a rage again. The chef at Planet Hollywood, for instance, has only one rule: fresh ingredients and supreme quality. So, up for grub is a cabbage salad that is dressed with a spicy vinaigrette, a kokum rasam (tangy and balanced well with sweet-and-sour notes), a Goan fish curry (packed with flavours and spices), a Pork vindaloo (flavoured with chillies, garlic and local vinegar), chicken cafreal (cooked with dry spices and coriander), a Goan-style yellow dal, red rice and a king fish fry (marinated in a sweet Peri Peri sauce). For dessert is the scrumptious Bebinca, served with a scoop of home-made coconut ice cream. Fresh seafood and beer accompanied with a side of sea-view is an impeccable place to end the Goan getaway.

Mangalorean thali
Mangalorean thali

River-side relish

Uttarakhand breakfast at Roseate Ganges, Rishikesh

The Roseate Ganges is picture-postcard beautiful, as one would expect. What one does not expect, however, is how much of this experience includes local food! The food from Uttarakhand is full of amazing flavours and textures, and it is possible to sample it all at one delightful place right at breakfast. The breakfast thali comes with Siddu (steamed bread stuffed with potatoes and green peas), Gahat ka parantha (griddle cooked lentil flatbread), Bada (black lentil fritter) and raita with silvatte ki chutney… and that too Ganga kinaare (bankside)!

Farm feast

Farm fresh thali at Alila Fort Bishangargh

Another long food excursion that will be totally worth your while is to Alila in Bishangarh, a fort stay with a fabulous restaurant that is home to a small organic garden at the property. A table serves food from the organic farm itself, in a family-style setting. In your thali are palak pakoras, bajre ki roti, hara sag, tamatar ki subzi and some kheer. This experience puts the limelight on modest farm food.

From HT Brunch, March 14, 2021

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