As you peer down at the massive steel plate accosting your olfactory senses with its array of dishes – try and resist the maddening urge to literally drop your face into the loaded thali. You’d probably be much better off spending the next few minutes polishing it off, one katori at a time. An ideal thali will generally come with at least two appetizers, two sweet dishes, four types of vegetables/curries, dal, roti and rice, not to mention the rain of papads, pickles and chutneys. And let’s not forget the buttermilk or soul kadhi either lest we upset the thali gods because once you’re done with this list, even atheists are going to agree there’s some greater power at play over here.
For a little history lesson/context--although thalis have now conquered the length and breadth of our country, the little-bit-of-everything-on-a-plate has its origins in South India, where it was oriented around rice, whereas most North Indian dishes are oriented around wheat or roti. We’ve found that a good thali hits the spot at just about any point right from the much anticipated lunch break, all the way up until that post-work search for satiation and every moment in between because it’s always when you are exactly one mishap away from throwing a fit that the glorious thali will come to your rescue, bearing its inklings of home. A reminder of a time when unlimited food was an unsaid understanding, and your plate seemed quite bottomless.
Self-confessed gluttons, we accept all thalis for the purpose of this article, limited and unlimited, vegetarian and meat-oriented, in all their well-laden glory– and you should, too! Although there is generally a certain progression of dishes that one can follow while eating the thali (you start off eating the spicier dishes and end with a raita/curd rice and a sweet dish to cool off your palate), feel free to wing it and revel in the delightful assortment on your plate. And just remember, whether your preference is spicy or sour, gujarati or seafood, we’ve covered all the ground and we’ve got your...tummy.
I. Authentic Gujarati Thali at Friends Union Joshi Club
Where: 381-A, Narottamwadi, Kalbadevi, Mumbai
This seemingly nondescript eatery, started off more than a 100 years ago, is housed on the first floor of an ancient building complete with dodgy staircase to enhance the experience. Called a ‘khanaval’ in local parlance, it initially opened shutters to cater to men who left their villages in Gujarat to come and work in Mumbai and just wanted some home-cooked food. As such, the clientele hasn’t changed too much in the past 50 years, with a lot of the tables being frequented by shopkeepers and businessmen, with lunchtime on weekdays witnessing some serious shoulder-to-shoulder dining.
The Gujarati thali here is light and pretty typical but ludicrously good of course. Four vegetables, farsan, rotis and a small bhakri come with sweet dal, rice or khichadi, chopped salad, chutney, pickle and some particularly refreshing chhaas (buttermilk), spiced to perfection. Dessert spells gulab jamun, rasgullas, or something seasonal like aam ras, but it’s something you’re going to have to shell out on your own. Fun fact--the late Dhirubhai Ambani is said to have frequented the eatery in his earlier days in the city, before his wife Kokilaben joined him here. It doesn’t get more authentic gujju than that.
II. Surmai Fish Thali at Jai Hind Lunch Home
Where: 5 Ramdas Nayak Road Hill Road | Near Police Station, Rizvi House, Bandra West.
Cuisine: Malvani (Coastal)
If you were looking for a reason to turn Pescetarian, you just found it, because seafood at this joint is the kind people write home about. Or perhaps tweet, in this day and age. The Bandra outlet that we frequent on way too regular a basis is something of a hole-in-the-wall but we can vouch for the consistency in quality at its fancier Lower Parel outlet too. But enough of the niceties. The fish thali and prawn thali here have endured as Homegrown favourites, best ordered with some neer dosa (paper-thin, rice dosa that literally soaks in every last bit of that gassi or curry you’ll probably leave to dribble down your chin) at an extra Rs 30, or just chapatti, if you want to keep it simple.
The surmai thali here is to die for, with 3 chapattis, fried surmai, the coconut-based gravy or rassa being well-spiced without being too heavy, heavenly with the steamed rice. We’re going to let you in on a secret here too: the bheja fry thali is often overlooked. the brain - creamy as hell - cooked Malvani-style with coconut, onions, tomatoes and chillies to make your eyes and mouth water simultaneously. In case you were ever skeptical about trying brain, this is your chance to be experimental. Nothing like the gorgeous pink coconut and kokam sol kadhi to wash this all down with.
III. South Indian (Banana Leaf) Thali at A. Rama Nayak’s Udipi
Where: 1st Floor, LBS Market Building, Near Matunga Central Railway Station, Matunga East.
Cuisine: Tamilian-Style South Indian
If the slightly sour, always starchy elements of home-style South Indian fare is your thing – this is the place for you. An institution by itself, it may be humble in all its non air conditioned and spartan glory but it’s refreshingly hygienic and does well to depart from the usual song and dance of idli-dosa to cater to a working class crowd. Crowd being the key word here since it’s almost always packed so make sure you arrive early to skip the queue. Light and tasty – that’s how we find we like our thalis best -- they know how to keep things simple and flavourful. The thali usually consists of three vegetable curries, the fiery lentil-based sambar, and a rasam that is both tomatoey and peppery, just the way we like it. It’s also a fantastic cure for the cold in case you’re struggling with the weather changes right about now. Two phulkas and rice plus a choice of crunchy papadum (the kind that’s just not easily available anywhere else) curd, chhaas (buttermilk) and sweet dishes accompany. This is an unlimited meal, served on a banana leaf, with limited meals also being an option for those looking to keep it really light. A tray of the various desserts they offer will be brought to you, your moment to shine, when you would do well to pick the kesari shrikhand sans regret.
IV. The Deluxe Gujarati Thali at Bhagat Tarachand
Where: Shatrughan Tower, Sector 18, Vashi, Navi Mumbai.
Cuisine: (Slightly Modernized) Gujarati
Having stood tall amidst the busiest streets in Bombay since 1978, this vegetarian eatery has been around long enough to know how good it is and actually stands on some really strong values in terms of service. The first thing to do here is to order some ‘Kutchi chhaas’, an enduring speciality, that comes in a large beer bottle and is guaranteed to assuage your thirst and still want more. “The trick to a good glass of Chaas,” say the Chawla brothers who run the chain, “is in its raw material (dahi) and the technique. This is not the job for a machine, you have to get the consistency right.”
Calorie-counters, beware: every single dish is liberally either cooked or drizzled with desi ghee and butter, giving their dishes an undeniably comforting flavour. Their thali beckons with two types of subzis ( we hear the paneer subzi is delicious), served with a lip-smacking dal tadka fry (served with a generous tadka topping and fried onions, you can forget about your aversion to oily food), a spicy-sweet dahi boondi served chilled, 4 phulkas served piping hot, one katori of rice and dessert (we’re hoping you show up on a gulab jamun day). And one more glass of chhaas to go with! Aww yeah.
V. Fish Thali at Gajalee
Where: 24, Akshay Villa, Seven Bungalow, Off JP Road, 7 Bungalows, Andheri West.
Cuisine: The. Best. Maharashtrian. Coastal.
Maharashtrian cuisine at its coastal best has kept Gajalee thronging with customers in its branches not just in Mumbai, but in Mangalore and Singapore as well. Their fish thali juggles quantity and quality with panache; where you’ll be treated to some fish masala, two pieces of bombil fry (fresh Bombay Ducks coated with a masala-based batter and fried till crisp), one bhaji, some killer coconut-and-kokam sol kadi that you should never pass up on, rice and two chapattis. Regulars tell us that their mutton and chicken thalis are pretty good too, so if you’re up for some mix and match - ordering the chicken or mutton thali with a side of their Butter Pepper Prawns, tiger prawns marinated with mild spices, butter, pepper and roasted in clay oven might not be the worst idea!
VI. Vegetarian Thali at Golden Star Thali
Where: 330, Raja Rammohan Roy Road, Opposite Charni Road Station, Charni Road.
Cuisine: Gujarati + Rajasthani = Yes.
The flavours of Guajarat and Rajasthan waft from the dishes on your plate here at Golden Star Thali, a vegetarian eatery which has been frequented by office-goers, tourists and an expat crowd, along with many a Hollywood celebrity looking for some authentic Indian fare. It has even created a buzz internationally, having been featured in the NY Times. A thali here is more like a 3D menu, arranged beautifully in a semi-circle on your steel platter, very real and very delicious. Definitely a place you want to come to when you’re absolutely famished, level: stomach rumble, because these guys don’t do miserly quantities. They want you to pass out, and they want you to do it right after a meal here.
The thali usually consists of four veggie dishes (cottage cheese, lentils, potatoes and greens), farsans (chaat, fried and steamed), Gujarati dal, dal bati, rotis, and three types of rice (plain, mixed khichadi and pulao). Don’t forget to leave some room for their hot, desi ghee jalebis, malpua rabdi and kesar puranpoli too. Hello, food coma. Also, there is nothing like the feeling of being told your mineral water is complimentary - big up, Golden Star Thali.
VII. Mixed Cuisine Unlimited Buffet Thali at Govinda’s Restaurant
This one must be a manifestation of the gods showering down their blessings upon us - and how. A large hall adorned with traditional furniture houses a monster of a buffet thali - a whopping 33 items are offered, spanning Indian, Chinese and even continental cuisine. Yep, you heard that right. Welcome drinks like chhaas, mixed fruit punch (made from fresh seasonal fruit) will make you feel like a celebrity as you walk in (after dealing with the pay upfront coupon counter anyway) and there are three starters, four subzis, four types of Indian bread, three kinds of dessert includeing ice cream or kulfi.
VIII. Chicken Dhangari Thali at Purepur Kolhapur
Where: 1, 2 Aditya Apartment, Parleshwar Road, Parleshwar Mandir, Vile Parle East.
Cuisine: Kolhapuri (Maharashtrian)
It’s not really Kolhapuri food if it doesn’t leave you steaming from the ears with its spice. Purepur Kolhapur offers up the authentic, smouldering taste of Kolhapur without compromising on the flavours in any way. Their non- vegetarian taats (thalis) are the stuff of legends, which include chicken rassa taat, chicken fry taat, mutton masala taat, egg taat and so on; the vegetarian thalis known to be equally delicious. It is the traditional Kolhapuri masala in every dish in the thali that lends it that distinct, unmistakable taste. A thali here essentially includes a pandhara rassa (white gravy made rich with coconut milk) and tambda rassa (red spicy gravy), bhakri (round, flat unleavened bread - equivalent to two chapattis - to be slathered generously in white butter) and rice along with accompaniments like salad and curd.
A chicken dhangari thali (at Rs. 270) is a good bet, as is the special fish thali (pomfret or surmai), in which the fish comes swimming to you in the curry next to a fried fish and zavla (fish/prawns sukka), and you’ll get delicious sol kadhi and onions dipped in dahi, accompanied by teekhla (inferior fish in thick red gravy). Always remember: chappatis with fish curries and bhakris with the chicken and mutton taats. The pulao which comes later is good enough to have without the curry, and it is topped with cooked masaledaar onions.
The vegetarian thali includes varand (plain dal), amti (a traditional Maharashtrian dal preparation that is an explosion of sweet, spicy and tangy), subzi, bhakri and rice along with papad and pickle. Sundays - and only Sundays - are witness to the Gavran Kombdi (country chicken) thali here, complete with egg curry to boot.
IX. Rajasthani Thali at Chetana
Where: 34 K. Dubash Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort.
Cuisine: Rajasthani, Gujarati & Maharashtrian
This Kala Ghoda legacy had left its imprint on the gastronomic landscape of the city with its combination of Rajasthani, Gujarati and Maharashtrian fare served here. While all three thalis are equally delicious, we have heard a lot of patrons express that the Mahrashtrian thali not as authentic as the other two. A thali here equals an appetizer, three starters, three vegetables, three types of rotis, three types of rice, two sweets and salad/raita. As a part of the Rajasthani thali, the Dal Bati Churma (if you haven’t tried this delicacy yet, trust us - this is the best place to start) and Churma Laddoo make things special, with the menu stating that the flour is milled in Chetana’s own kitchen, each recipe prepared in typical Rajasthani style by Maharajas (traditional male cooks attached to families). Its Gujarati Thali features the traditional speciality Undhiyo (brinjal, potatoes and raw bananas with garlic, green chillies, ginger and mix cut coriander) and the seasonal favourite aamras (freshly squeezed mango pulp). Head here on Sundays and holidays to indulge your sweet tooth when even more variety and extra sweets all vie for your hungry attention.
X. Yet Another Gujarati Thali at Thackers
Where: 1st Floor, Birla Kreeda Kendra, Chowpatty.
Cuisine: G-U-J-J-U Only.
Another old-timer, this one will have you wading through aunties and their intimidatingly large families to an unlimited Gujarati thali that you should not pass up on. This place scores further up on ambience, than other thali places in the range. Piping hot rotis/phulkas/puris accompany an army including three subzis, three farsans, one kathole (subzi made using various pulses cooked in a typical Gujarati style), kadhi, rice, dal, pulao/khichadi and papad, kachumber salad, limbu marcha and chhaas, rivers of which should perennially flow through our lands. We have to admit – food tastes that much better when relished gazing out at the sea, and the fact that they have valet doesn’t hurt either! The food isn’t as spicy as a lot of other thali places, and the food primly retains its authenticity.
XI. Teesriya (Clams) Thali at Sadiccha
Where: Opposite MIG Cricket Club, Gandhi Nagar, BKC, Bandra East.
Cuisine: Malvani At The Top Of Its Game
This quaint eatery stands as testament to another one of Mumbai’s successful family-run ventures, famous amongst the Malwani community for its delicious food. Located opposite MIG club in Kala Nagar, their seafood thalis are the torch-bearers of quality and the taste of the produce, that has had generations of patrons throng the joint over the years. The hole-in-the-wall restaurant offers every possible variety of fish as a part of the scrumptious fish thalis, that also includes rice, chapattis, a spicy chutney and a gravy. The simple décor offers a surprisingly conducive environment for some serious seafood feasting with other options including the crab thali, teesrya (Clams) thali, and prawns thali though the clams are aways our go-to thanks to their terrifyingly spicy, yet delicious flavour. If you’re not too fond of the coastal delicacies however, we suggest you stick to the mutton sukkhe or mutton liver thali or the kombi vade (a form of puri with chicken curry) because they’re just as worthy of your attention.
XII. Highway Gomantak
Where: 44/2179, Gandhi Nagar, Service Road, Bandra East.
Cuisine: Goan/ Konkani
What started as a modest 30-seater resturant has now blossomed into a full-fledged 120-seater that’s always bustling with activity and the promise of a good old home-style meal. Regardless of how fond you are of food, Highway Gomantak serves alluringly homely Goan food that you don’t want to miss out on. Personally run by Shashikala Potnis, the ambience of the place is simple and hygienic (like a lot of the places on this list). They have over 30 varieties of thalis right from more common options like the rawas/ pomfret/ tisriya thalis to you-won’t-get-it-anywhere-else varieties like the halwa curry thali or the mori (shark) masala thali, so you’d better get ready for some serious decision making.
We used to be mori thali fanatics until we read enough about just how endangered the shark really is so we’d suggest the Kolambi prawn thali for Gomantak virgins. It has all the elements needed to make you a regular, right from the crunchy, fiery prawns to the soothing curried rice. All the thalis here come with sol kadhi, chapatti/bhakri, rice, a konkan-style light yellow and the choice of non vegetarian dish set in red or brown gravy - not to forget, thecha. This green chilly chutney needs to be ‘zhanzhanit’ and has been designed with the sole intention of making you cry. Their fried bombil and prawns are worth drooling over so we’d suggest ordering a side of either with whatever thali it is that you opt for, and the chicken sukke thali is also worth a shot, with the vegetarian thali coming in at pretty mediocre.
XIII. Kingfish Thali at Goa Bhavan Canteen
Where: Gulmohar Cross Road 12, Near Fabindia, JVPD Scheme, Juhu.
This little haven, housed within the living room of a ground-floor apartment of a government guesthouse, takes their seafood very seriously, albeit there being murmurs from several patrons about the dishes not tasting particularly Goan. By no means does this prevent them for returning to revisit the soft, fleshy and tender bombil fry here, though, enveloped as it is in a crispy, non-spicy rawa batter to make angelic voices start crooning as you see it advancing towards your table; an unlikely hero that you’ll find yourself making a mental note of. Finding this home-style mess might be your biggest challenge, so instead of spending 4 hours rerouting on Google Maps, just give these guys a call and make a beeline for this non-descript canteen where avid foodies, students and foreigners jostle each other around, not expecting any kind of pampering from the waiters besides to keep their extra servings coming.
As you walk in, send out a silent thank you into the universe, to the management of the guesthouse that has opened doors to non-residents because there “isn’t any decent place to eat” in the Gulmohar Cross Road area, before you take your first bite of the generous portions. Besides their fried items, all their curries come in small bowls as a part of a thali, accompanied by two vegetables (regardless of whether you want them) plus the usual suspects of chapatti, papad, pickle, and salad. Make sure you keep track of how many extra servings you order because the waiters here are in a constant state of flux and hurry. These guys are your allies, though, so make sure you talk to them and find out what fish thalis are fresh; your fish options include king fish, pomfret, clams, prawns, bangda, bombay duck (bombil) and surmai, besides which you can also opt for a chicken, mutton or prawn thali with fried items on the side. We’re going to take a stand - a change from our general impartiality in the gastronomic sphere - and ask you to order the bangda thali along with the surmai and bombil fry. Your platter is going to accost you with mandeli, fish curry with pieces of bangda that’ll keep you happy and two subzis, that’ll have you chewing in companionable food silence with your neighbour at the table, regardless of whether you know him or her at all (chances are you won’t). Wash it all down with some fresh sol kadhi with little chunks of cucumber and try not to moan; this is often cited to be the most authentic sol kadhi in the city.
The fried prawns are succulent, and their tangy kokum-flavoured prawn curry (replenished gratis) is heavenly with the steamed rice, whereas the spicy teesriya (clams) masala is best paired with their hot and soft chapattis. The spicy chicken curry meal or the basic veg thali (served with dal and a typical home-style mustard seed and aloo subzi) are options for those who want to give the seafood a miss.
XIV. Mutton Thali With Dosa at Modern Lunch Home
Where: Harakh Niwas, Near Railway Station, Sion.
Yes, as you approach the end of the list - you’ve probably noticed that we nurse a soft spot for coastal fare, especially when it comes garnished with pocket-friendly rates. Modern Lunch Home is one of those places that has us coming back for more with their coconut-based gravies cooked with authentic spice to invoke visions of the Western coast in this small eatery, fragrant with masalas. Their seafood thalis offer up options including crab, prawns and a variety of fish (pomfret, surmai, bombil, bangda) that you must, must pair with their neer dosa (a savoury paper-thin rice dosa).
Their thalis come with chicken/mutton/fish curry or as fried items, a vegetable dish, rice, chapatis and a plain curry to balance the meal out. However, it should be noted that despite their excellent coastal fare, we’ve come back time and again for their Mutton Thali with dosa or kori roti, a crisp, rice bread, which is absolutely delicious with the spicy curry the mutton is cooked in. Fair warning--it’s not the most tender meat but the flavours are too good to question. Another dish that you can always bank on for your munchies is the tamarind-infused fish pulimunchi, packed with a spicy and tangy flavour.
XV. Special Vegetarian Maharashtrian Thali at Sujata Upahar Griha (B.Tambe)
Where: 277, Mapla House, J.S.S. Road, Thakurdwar, Girgaum.
Cuisine: Authentic Home-Style Maharashtrian
According to Korane Khandekar, the Maharashtrian food blogger who blogs at My Jhola, B. Tambe is where Maharashtrians in Girgaon go for their fix of ‘everyday fare’. Recently sold by the Tambe family, this eatery persists in carrying forward their hefty, century-old legacy of serving up some quality vegetarian Maharashtrian fare, in a building that is almost 125 years old.
While the service and ambience are mildly lacking and languorous, the restaurant continues to feed the regular patron looking for a bite of home with their thali that includes two vegetable preparations, steamed rice, two chapatis, the spicy, sweet and tangy dal-based favourite ‘aamti’, papad and curd. Daily specials in the vegetables include baingan, sukhi bhaji (a dry vegetable preparation), dalimbi (slightly sweet coconut-based curry with field bean sprouts), kaju mutter, zunka (a spicy gram flour dish best served with bhakri) and hara vatana usal.
XVI. Vegetarian South Indian Thali With A Side Of Kerala Chicken at Hotel Deluxe
Where: 10-A, Pitha Street, Opposite Lane of Citi Bank, Fort.
This South Indian joint houses an anomaly that’ll have herbivores everywhere rejoicing (although we suggest they play it cool) - most of the regulars here swear by the flagship veg thali served on a banana leaf, loaded with unlimited (yes!) rice and sambhar, coconut cabbage, green beans, potato curry, roasted chilli with the achar mixes, a shot of rasam (resplendent with spicy and tangy flavours) and payasam, a sweet dish made with semolina, milk and sugar or jaggery to sweeten the deal. And yes, this is the menu-pick that hits the spot despite the incredible non-vegetarian food being served here as well.
But if you know us, you already know we can never put the carnivore inside us to complete rest so if you’re some what similar we’d still suggest you don’t stall the meat cravings and order up a portion of the beautiful, succulent, spicy Kerala chicken plus a fluffy Kerala parotta to go with your thali. Who said you have to play by the rules? Back to the thali though, that mound of red rice is unlike anything you’ve ever eaten, what with the bubbles that pop in your mouth playfully, like some sort of fun, gastronomic experiment. The languid, no-frills eatery is clean and hygienic without making too much of a fuss about you, while making sure your banana leaf is full, making you feel comfortable and at home. Ask for the Arabian Grape juice at the end, a chunky, heavy juice that is sweet as sin and the perfect cleanser after you’ve polished off your last bite.
XVII. The Ultimate Gujarati Thali at Shree Thaker Bhojanalay
Where: 31, Dadisheth Agyari Lane, Off Kalbadevi Road, Kalbadevi.
Cuisine: One Guess.
We think that one of the best things about discovering all these fantastic thali restaurants, is how much warmth and hospitality you get to be treated with at the old-timer gems that subscribe to an unwavering ‘atithi devo bhava’ school of thought. This is most tangible at Shree Thakker Bhojanalay as their authentic Gujarati food, a legacy that they’ve upheld since they opened shutters in 1945. The waiters will answer all your questions with ingenuity and will insist that you have some extra ghee with their answers.
Starting with condiments including chutneys and pickles, the crunchy farsans or snacks (vital to a Gujju meal) they are followed by four to five vegetable preparations which are changed on a daily basis. The hot Indian breads (soft phulkas, jawar roti, bajra millet roti or the heavenly puran poli) to go with are similarly rotated each day, along with plain rice and pulao to choose from in their rice items. Mouth-watering dal and Gujarati kadhi (almost silken in texture) with curd and buttermilk accompany the thali, and the decision-making never ends when it comes to the sweet dishes - with chunky aamras, shrikhand, basundi, kesar jalebi, moon dal halwa to choose from depending on the day and season, to name just a few options. Their seasonal specialities are evidently always the best picks, so stick to the aamras during the summer and relish the Undhiyu (a mixture of beans, muthia (fenugreek-lentil dumplings), herbs, bananas and root vegetables garnished with fresh coconut, with fresh green garlic adding pungency to this melting pot) in winter.
“But it’s the khichdi here that I like the most,” says Best Eats judge and food blogger Sanjiv Khamgaonkar. “It’s soft and gooey and with a generous helping of ghee on it. Very difficult to resist.”
What’s also difficult to resist is saying no to seconds (or thirds, or fourths) to the waiters here who seriously take offence if you turn up your nose at more puran poli. Don’t be that guy.
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