Sachin and I are great thali seekers. Each time we are on a road trip from Mumbai, mostly to Goa, we look forward to stopping at a roadside restaurant to eat the piping hot, spicy misal pav and if it is lunchtime, the no-frills but absolutely delicious thalis that the Maharashtrian countryside seems to have honed into an art form. This is especially so if you ditch the National Highway and instead take the Chiplun route, then the options around lunch are endless. We typically stop at the small restaurants that dot the narrow road. Lunch hour is always a busy time and if you want quick service, the best option is the thali. Typically, the thali comes in fish, chicken, mutton and vegetarian options. We tend to go for the jugular and order the fish thali with extra fried fish on the side!
The fish thali is almost always the lady fish, a small, thorny fish, though not as thorny as the sardine. It’s absolutely delicious. The thali mostly has rice, a couple of rotis, a mackerel fish curry, the fried fish, and some greens. Sometimes, some pickle too. This basic thali is more or less uniform. In some places they may add a small katori or bowl of chicken or mutton curry, and some sol kadi, which is a refreshing drink made with kokum and coconut milk. It’s sometimes made without coconut milk too, when it is a reddish, clear drink, which is very refreshing in the summer heat. Our son relishes this fare almost as much as we do.
Now, the photo below is of a fancier thali, which we order at a restaurant near our place in Vagator, Goa, called Goan Spice. But no less delicious. In fact, a visit to Goan Spice is a ritual which we carry out with fanatic certainty, each time we visit Goa.
The Indian thali anywhere is a perfectly balanced plate of food. I find it a happy coincidence that we in Kerala favour rice, sea food and coconut in our dishes, the same as coastal Mahrashtra. Yet, the masala tastes so very different. And I love and relish both cuisines. So much so that I regularly buy the malvan masala, and always encourage my Maharashtrian cook to try out all possible recipes she knows, on us. In fact, we love visiting Malvan Katta (an absolutely no-frills restaurant) and Gomantak both of which serve their version of the Malvan thali, which also invariably features mussels.
On Good Friday last week, we set out for lunch to SodaBottleOpenerWallah at the Phoenix Mall in Lower Parel. It’s one of our favourite places to dine in and we relish the ambience as much as the food.
Much to our delight, that day, the menu featured a Parsi thali! Happily, we ordered it. It was disappointing! The mackerel fish was absolutely bland and the cutlet was quite tasteless too. (When one has sampled the cutlet served at the Paradise restaurant on Colaba Causeway, it’s a tough act to follow, I have to admit). The dhansak rice with mutton was good, though. Inexplicably, there was too much of dal which we really didn’t know what to do with and the chicken curry was nothing to write home about. It almost looked like they had just ticked the boxes:-(
I wished they had not offered the thali on the menu. For, the rest of their menu, starting from the Egg Kejriwal onwards, is superb. And I will surely visit them again, but will avoid the thali.