Monday, January 10, 2011

Bring On The Thali

There are many things unique about our cuisine and one of them is the thaali. The word plate doesn’t do justice to the thaali – a gigantic steel tray with a smorgasbord of tiny bowls, each holding a tantalizing promise. You gleefully rub your hands, dying to dip your fingers in the glistening curries just to get a taste. You find out much toyour dismay, not all of them are lip-smacking, you screw your nose and put away the offending bowls. And then you brace yourself for the non-stop indulgence. The constant buzz of the attendants, imploring you to eat some more, insisting you are such a frugal eater. Then out of nowhere someone gives you an extra helping of rice, some more curries, you are now cursing your snug fit jeans and wheezing with exhaustion.

Has anyone of you been to the Andhra Bhawan canteen for their thali? This no frills, Udipi style restaurant has an epic following and finds a mention in Frommer’s travel guide. My first visit was aeons ago, as a newly-wed. The husband was way more compliant back then, ready to indulge the whims and fancies of his brand new wife. I have a faint recollection of that place, but what I distinctly remember is the taste- furiously spicy (the one that makes your nose runny) and delectably delicious. The husband’s delicate palate didn’t share my feelings of ecstasy though. Ever since our fiery experience, he has refused to even look at that direction despite my many entreaties. Not the type who gives up easily, I finally managed another trip nineteen years later, this time with my 16 year daughter and a close friend of mine.



The first thing you notice about the place is the mass of humanity determinedly walking towards the canteen. You realize, nearly the whole world seems to share your love for the Andhra thali. You bravely overcome your fear of crowds, the promise of a good meal being the overpowering emotion. Thankfully one doesn’t have to play musical chairs to get seated- there is a token system that takes care of it. The service is very no-nonsense, but brisk and you can forget about …Madam, you hardly eat...entreaties. They couldn’t be less bothered. The attendant literally bangs the pre plated thaali on your table. My eyes literally lit up at the array of mean-looking curries – a selection of sambhar, rasam, veggies and two non-veg dishes. The word ‘hot’ gets redefined at the Andhra Bhawan canteen. We literally collapsed half way through and had to swig cola to battle the fiery assault. But the meal is scrumptious, even a food snob like my daughter gave it a hearty thumbs up. She was a trifle disappointed though at the lack of cool guys to check out in the vicinity. Nopes, not a single dishy looking guy – even the Mum agreed. We could barely finish our meal and I walked out swaying like a drunk, a big grin pasted on my face. Yes, it is possible to get high on Rasam and all things zesty.

I have a weak spot for the Gujarati thali they serve at Rajdhani as well. Thankfully I don’t have to wait nineteen years between each visit, even though it’s just me in the Ray family who is gushy about this eatery. Every time we go to the mall I look wistfully in the direction of Rajdhani and start walking towards the restaurant as if in a trance. Baby Ray and Papa Ray exchange meaningful glances and shake their heads in mock dismay. Once in a while they do succumb or perhaps my imploring puppy look gets too much for them to bear.




Image courtesy - trekearth.com

What to do, I can’t help but love their delectable savories, the simple vegetarian fare and an assortment of karhis. And what makes the experience unique is their selection of fresh-from-the-tawa mini rotis. But that doesn’t mean I adhere to their stuff yourself to the gills motto. During the meal my hand is mostly over my thali moving in clockwise and anticlockwise direction. And if that doesn’t work I resort to a loud, emphatic nahiiin much to the amusement of the attendants. It always works- the ladles of ghee disappear magically.

It’s not as if all my experiences with the thali have been divine – some of them have been gastronomic disasters. Like the Hyderabadi thali I had in Agra in a much recommended restaurant…under salted and unspiced to suit the firang palate yet floating in kilos of oil. After my last trip to Rajasthan and having nothing but ker sangri and gatte ki sabzi I’ve sworn off Rajasthani cuisine. I steer clear of the North Indian version with its mandatory shahi paneer and dal makhani. Despite my many years in Delhi I have a special aversion to the dairy-fat fixated North Indian cuisine.

Yet it is these thalis that bring out the earthy taste of Indian cuisine. A cornucopia of delights, it’s easy on your pocket and is truly the aam admi’s meal. And for me is not just a meal but an experience that represents the true essence of our country - chaotic as hell, diverse yet immensely satisfying.
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53 comments:

  1. oooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhh and OH MY GODDDDDDD ... WHY Why O Why you had to write on foood

    makes me so hungry and miss home .. I have had thali in a lot of places on my visits to india.. Rajasthan Jaipur and agra it was wowo....

    then on way to punjab there is HAveli tasted there tooo and then i was for some time in hyderabad had thali's there

    you have written so nicely hmmmm Now my BLAND sandwhich which i was about to eat looks so BLANDDDDDdddddddddddd
    right missing Lunch and blame the pictures for that :)
    you owe me a tasty lunch now.. a THALI preferably he hehehe
    Bikram's

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  2. A very foodie post. I love 'thaali' meals too but I never manage to eat everything that has been served in the thaali.

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  3. oh... thinking of Sadya, thaali equivalent of Kerala, while reading your post. Rice with some 5 varieties of Curries and atleast 10 side dishes, a big pappadam, different varieties of pickles on plantain leaf and at last serving of one or more kind of sweet paayasam on the leaf itself... Lipsmacking.. MUMMYYY...

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  4. oh... thinking of Sadya, thaali equivalent of Kerala, while reading your post. Rice with some 5 varieties of Curries and atleast 10 side dishes, a big pappadam, different varieties of pickles on plantain leaf and at last serving of one or more kind of sweet paayasam on the leaf itself... Lipsmacking.. MUMMYYY...

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  5. Bikramjit...I remember when i was visiting London, I used to add Piri Piri sauce to jive things up. You are right, the food IS bland there. Birmingham shouldn't be any better...but you get to have divine scones there.

    I owe you a Rajdhani thali :))

    Always Happy...Me too...but still love the experience.

    Harish...You are making my mouth water!! Slurp slurp.

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  6. the concluding para was the clincher! set this apart from the regular food critiques!! lovely!!

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  7. Food articles make me hungry, but I forgive you for writing this because thankfully today my fridge is full! Going to explore the fridge now....

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  8. Wow! Just the mention of
    "thali" and I HAD TO drop by! That was a palatable post!!
    ...and right now I am so inspired, that I can't wait to set my hands on the Gujarati thali at Rajdhani! Maybe tomorrow itself ! (Yeah thats the one restaurant that has an opening here in Bhopal)

    Slurrrrrp... We bengalis LOOOOVE food... lokjon na kheye more, amra kheye mori :P

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  9. This reminds me of my hostel days when I'd swoon at the scent of a thali! It would always be a luxury compared to the food served at the mess that could put the meals served in jails to shame. Brilliant writeup.

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  10. Now, Thats a wow post!
    How do u come up with such witty topics at the first place?
    I am like always short of topics to write on!
    And Mam! I have beeen a regular "Thaali" trier for as u said it brings out the true essence.. chaotic yet satisfying..... And mam, Rajastani thaali at "MTR padhoro saa" has to be the best thaali I have ever had till date :)
    If possible , do try it !
    keep writing !

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  11. Its been a while since I had a "thaali". Such outings and presentations are rare here. Do you know if they have Bengali thaalis? I am yet to experience any.

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  12. It is a long time since I ate at Andhra Bhavan, but I remember the food there till today. I love the slightly sweetened dishes of Gujaratis too. Have you tried Maharashtrian food? The earthy jhunka-bhakri, aloo poha, the puran poli...yumm yumm.

    I read your post at the wrong time (too early for any kind of meal. It's only 6.30 in the morning!) Well, now I have to advance my breakfast, haven't I?

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  13. I'm hungry now...I miss sadya's and good Indian food...

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  14. magiceye...Not a critique but a foodie who loves her thali.

    Giribala...Hunger pangs strike!

    Enchanta..LOL@ lokjon na kheye more, amra kheye mori.
    We bongs are always looking for excuses to eat.

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  15. umashankar...How is it that all hostel messes specialize in crap food? Even the husband has some bad hostel food memories.

    Mani...You forgot to mention where MTR padharo saa is. And thank you for your sweet words.

    PreeOccupied...No thali can do justice to Bangla ranna. Prefer Oh Calcutta's Sunday brunch.

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  16. Zephyr...I did try Maharashtrian delicacies at the Dastakar Mela. It was just too yummy and so fiery.

    Blue Lotus...Awwww

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  17. AARRRGGGHHH!! #$^#%@#$*$%#$@#$@#%^&*(*&^%##

    Writing about food and .. food and .. more food: this does not help the deprived becharas of this world (like me).

    Talking about spicy food, the spiciest I've had is this Biryani at a small nondescript place in Bangalore. My eyes were watering, tongue wasn't responding, and three litres of Coke couldn't help me in any way. Yes. It was awesome.

    Great post, ji, keep them coming!

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  18. @Purba,
    what a delight it is to read your post, fast paced, racy, humor thrown in with good measure "Nopes, not a single dishy looking guy – even the Mum agreed." and yummy to say the least.

    I loved the post, the best i have read so far for sheer visual treat you have created for a foodie like me.
    I have to admit though, thalli is not really my first choice and definitely not Rajdhani which devoid of non veg falls from the pedestal straight way.

    cheers - m

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  19. Love the pictures of hearty meals that you have here, they sure look very gratifying and represent a complete course of meal.

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  20. Hmmmmm.....I have hardly eaten thalis. The main problem for me is the rice. I am not a very keen rice eater (once in a while) and usually the thalis are loaded with rice.
    The last I had was an Andhra Thali in a Darshani in Banglore.
    Have you tried the "Gun Powder" mixture?
    And yes, I stay away from thalis here because due to some unknown reason, the Punjabi restuarants have Cottage Cheese and more Cottage Cheese in their menu, despite there being other dishes too in our cuisine.
    But next time you curse the Punjabi cuisine....I will drown you in Chamcham syrup. :P

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  21. Hi Purba,

    Nice Thali Post ;) , Yup its is very special of its kind.
    Whenever I goes out I looks for thali and it always a delight to get so easily ..and at a very affordable rate.
    Yes I had heard of Andhra Bhawan from lots of people, made many plans to go there ..but still that glad day not came yet ...Like you said ..I m thinking will it be my wife who will make my Maiden visit to this awesome Bhawam(just Kidding) , marriage a distant dream as of now.

    Now as you have reminded ..Looking forward to have a early visit to that place..

    Thanks for refreshing ...the memory.

    ..
    Tc
    Vivek

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  22. Why do you guys put such droll worthy pics and posts.... :D
    I love thali meals although I can never finish them alone... :)

    Off to the kitchen, I'm hungry now... :)

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  23. Hahahahaaha...awesomely written :)
    And you have a 16 year old daughter??? Really??? :)

    I also love the Gujarati thali, they are always followed by a range of sweets, and each one of them are impossible to resist! Rajdhani is nice, but nothing like the thalis you get in Ahmedabad!!! Andhra is of course too hot me to handle :)

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  24. And not to forget the 'aamras'...summers are sadly still so far :(

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  25. You made me remember the Andhra Bhavan and Karnataka Bhavan in delhi. Now will have to go this weekend .. my mouth is watering :)

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  26. Kartikay... Oye why crib?? You are in a foodie haven.

    Mayank...The family will agree with you and that's why I'm always on the lookout for unsuspecting victims to accompany me for my thali cravings.

    KG...Yupp, the sheer variety they present :)

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  27. Prats...The Gun Powder mixture is LETHAL. And to drown me in chamcham syrup, you need to buy chamcham first :P

    Vivek...Apparently the Andhra Bhawan biryani is awesome too....yet to taste it though.

    Tanishka...LOL,the trick is to only have what you really like and dump the rest.

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  28. Siddhartha...Yupp, mom to a teen - have published two of her posts on my blog:))
    I love Gujarati farsan and have heard so much about the thalis you get in Ahemdabad. Yet to experience it though.

    And I dread summers :(

    AS..Karnataka Bhawan didn't excite me. But they do brisk business.

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  29. A delight for the eyes and palate! I just love exploring thali places where ever possible.

    I have sampled all 80 rotating menus Rajdhani has to offer!

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  30. Why Purba? Why did I open your blog at lunch time? My appetite is taking a voracious turn now.

    :) I had a very nice Udupi Thali at work yesterday. Lip Smacking!

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  31. Delhizen...You are my thali girl, where were you all my life :P

    mazingout...This is criminal, I'm now getting intense thali cravings..

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  32. eeeeksSS!! why o why dear did you not only have to write about it but add delightful pictures alongside...there goes my yoga down the drain, i think i just put on all the flab by reading this post.. :(

    i think i need a trip to india soon just to ravish myself with all its gastronomic offerings :D

    PS - Sadly, Rajdhani chain of restaurants outside of india, not that great!

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  33. thalis are really great lunch time foods . Nice post .

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  34. Wildflower...Indian cuisine abroad is always avoidable :(

    Team G Square....Great for lunch indeed.

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  35. purba everytime you wrote about food ...you just hit me with your words somewhere down my food pipes ha ha ..i am also a great fan of Andhra bhavan in jaswant singh marg and quite a regular chori chuppi whenever i get a chance to travel around ashoka marg area during lunch hours. they also serves lovely briyani's in pure hyderabadi style on sundays.

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  36. One has to be really hungry to enjoy the thali diversity...Rajdhani has sprung up in Bangalore also and is a hit with the local Kannnadigas...There is a big queue outside their outlet at UB City.
    Yummy, mouth watering post!

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  37. Andhra food is one of my fav especially the dal powder. I forget sambar, rasam and the rest and indulge on just dal powder added to piping hot rice with a lavish spread of Ghee. Yum! With papad and pickle.

    Btw, Andhra Bhavan + udipi style restaurant + spicy food? Udipi is mangalorean style food and its not spicy :S they have sweet tooth...

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  38. RK...Now I have to try their Biryani :D

    Alka...For me hunger is never a problem :)

    Lakshmi...Ooops...I should file away that piece of information for future.
    Thanks :))

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  39. For a certified foodie like me, this post was a mouth watering delight.. :D

    I love the traditional veggie thali offered at Howrah[Kolkata] railway station's Food Plaza. :)

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  40. I shouldn't have read this article at 6 in the morning. Everyone is sleeping and those close up shots made me hungry. *Puppy Face*

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  41. Satwinder...If I am in Kolkata, the last place I'll go for food is the Howrah railway-station :D

    Prateek...LOL @ puppy face

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  42. I always prefer Thali , be it Gujarati, Maharashtrian or South India.In one one go you can taste variety.

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  43. Hi Purba,
    You are truly a great foodie. Your blog evoked mouthwatering memories of my Delhi days way back in the early 1980s when we lived near Andhra Bhawan in Curzon Road Apartments and frequently relished the thali and other goodies in their canteen.
    Do come to Pune and we'll treat you to two thalis: the delicious soothing Shreyas Maharashtrian veg Thali and the lip-smacking fiery Purepur Kolhapur Non-Veg Thali.
    Looking forward to more foodie blogs from you.
    Happy New Year
    Happy Eating
    Vikram

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  44. Assorted and delicious post Purba!
    Reminded me of my favorite tamil full-course meals, which I am still a die-hard fan of. I can't hold back at the sight of a thali with Rice, Sambar, rasam, curd, papad, dal, potato fry, miscellaneous fry, etc. Honestly, when I visit my tam-brahm friends (I am a mallu btw), I usually deliberately make it to their place during lunch time, ha for obvious reasons. And I won't hesitate to ask his family, "Have you guys had lunch? FYI, I didn't. So shall we?"
    Imagine a banana leaf, instead of the stainless steel plate. Manifold pleasure! I would surely get high and prefer getting high via a fullcourse meals than via vodka!

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  45. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  46. SR....The variety is mind boggling and a trifle intimidating.

    Raksha...Awww...so sorry sweetheart.

    Vikram...So many thalis, one lil tummy....Pune here I come.
    I've only visited Pune once - went to a grill joint on Boat Club Road(disastrous experience) but had the most amazing strawberries.

    Victor....Nothing beats the experience of a meal on a banana leaf. And I love Kerala's diverse cuisine - it's gastronomic heaven for me.

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  47. yumm ...very delicious post and loved the slangs you used esp. this one ''swaying like a drunk, a big grin pasted on my face''
    thumbs up for mouth watering thali but I think one thali is enough for a family.Isn't it?

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  48. This was a wonderful description of the concept of Thali.
    Loved it..!!

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  49. Pratibha...Naa, I never share.

    Viraj...The thali is such a unique concept.

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  50. Wow ! Mouthwatering descriptions ! Alas,the rice plate,the original ,humble thali seems to be disappearing from our restaurants.

    You can check out this blog about wholesome nutritious mobile thali @http://blog.soulcare.in/?page=2

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  51. Me luv thalis too :) Gujarati thalis are better known but Rajasthani thalis are heavenly too! Of course, after that you have to beach yourself like a whale and not move for at least 24 hours!

    Cheers to a delish post!

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