Sunday 19 August 2012

Woman v Thali

Yesterday I had my first proper thali.  Which is a bit ridiculous considering that I have been here two months now.  My previous experiences of thalis were when I dined at Masala Zone near Carnaby Street in London with friends who are reading this blog.  But I have to tell you guys that now I have had a 'proper' one, I realise that we have all been mere amateurs at the thali eating game!

For folks back home who do not know what a thali is - thali is Hindi for "plate" and is an Indian meal made up of a selection of dishes served in small metal bowls on a large tray. The dishes will generally be native to a particular region.

The restaurant of choice yesterday was 'Rajdhani' in Phoenix Mills mall (we were out buying western made pillows to replace the Indian made ones that have given us bad neck ache).  Feeling peckish,  I managed to persuade Mr Jules to enter this meatless shrine to Thali with its 72 different rotating menus with 22,464 delicacies from Gujarat and Rajasthan.

The Tikka Guy...nice slippers!

After successfully dodging the tikka man who wanted to apply a red dot between our brows, we were nicely seated at our table upon which were our empty thali trays and bowls - NINE of them! When I came in I wondered why there were so many waiters milling around but it soon became very clear.  Basically each of them is consigned a dish to serve and they come one by one to fill up the bowls on your tray.

Just some of the tens of hovering waiters

Now I was wondering how I was going to explain to my readers what we actually ate as it all came by so quickly and I couldn't really understand what the waiters were saying.  But very helpfully on the Rajdhani website they list the rotating menu and the menu for the day (all 72 of them!) so I can now enlighten myself and you at the same time.  Here goes:

First of all came the accompaniments: green chutney, red chutney, mango pickles and tomato & cucumber salad (Kakadi)  This was quickly followed by the Farsans (equivalent of starters and snacks) which were a yummy vegetable samosa and khandvi which is a kind of pasta roll made from gram flour, spices and yoghurt.  Then we were given toasted papads (poppadoms). 

To begin: the accompaniments and Farsans - the Khandvi is the yellow roll on the right.

Before you've even managed to take a bite of your samosa (perhaps you are supposed to wait for the whole tray to be filled up before you start eating?), several more of our bowls were filled up with vegetable dishes (subzis).  These included a paneer kofta curry (my favourite of the day), karela sambhariya (which I think is stuffed okra?), batata kanda rassawala (Mr Jules's favourite being a potato curry) and panchkuti kathol (a delicious combo of pulses).  Then came the dhals (lentil dishes): surtu dal, yellow dhal and hari moong ki dal (cooked using whole green gram dhal). 

Not sure which one this was but it seemed to be dhal & veg mixed with biscuity bread, giving it a nice crunchy texture.

By this point my eyes were definitely feeling bigger than my stomach and I was starting to sag under the weight of the rich vegetables, dhals and appetisers.  But hang on, we're only half way there!  Breads were then added to our trays....rotis, stuffed bhaji bajra rotla (delicious roti type bread stuffed with a coconutty sweet potato mixture) and some other flat type breads which were all new to me.  Just when we thought that was it, we were asked if we wanted 'specials' - additional veg curry dishes.  But at that moment I was nearly holding up the table with my stomach so I politely refused (for information, they were bhakri and Rajasthani mirchi bhareli).

The full monty (one empty bowl as I refused the 'special')

Dahi Wada Kasmiri - I treated this like a side salad to take the edge off the curries

Now comes the side dish Dahi Wada Kasmiri (pictured above) - lentil based savoury balls topped with fresh curds (yoghurt) and sprinkled with chilli, roasted cumin and garnished with sweet and sour chutneys.  Yum.

Yet another waiter came by with the desserts - (everything gets served at the same time) - amarakhand, kala jamun and apple jalebi.  I am afraid I am not a fan of Indian sweets - they are mostly TOO sweet for the western palate - plus I don't like having them on my plate at the same time as the rest of my food.  So I also refused those but the waiter seemed perplexed that I didn't want any so eventually I agreed to one sugary apple jalebi.  But actually I gave it to Mr Jules in the end and I just had NO way of squeezing it in!

An apple jalebi - or as I would describe it, sugar deep fried in ghee!

You think that the thali is now fully served?  WRONG!  First of all, the waiters (at the direction of the big cheese head waiter who wears a smart black suit) come by one after one to re-fill our bowls and top up the breads. You can keep topping up as much as you want, it's unlimited!  But not only that, basmati rice and khichdi (a kind of Indian comfort food - rice mixed with dhal and mild spices) are plonked in the middle of your tray to finish off.  I did have another samosa and had one or two of the dhals and veg curries topped up.  This was absolutely to my detriment - I was at uncomfortable bursting point at the end of the meal.

The speed with which your dishes are topped up is astounding - and they manage to flick the food into your bowls from a distance without spilling a drop!

The aftermath...looks like a tornado hit my tray.  I couldn't eat everything, but I did give it a bloody good go!

Despite having to be physically helped out of the restaurant, I thought my first authentic thali was delicious!  Even Mr Jules was impressed. I look forward to trying different variants and hopefully ones that are slightly more 'home-cooked' at different Thali restaurants across Mumbai.

This meal cost 745 rupees £8.75/$14 for the two of us including a large bottle of mineral water. Buttermilk was also served as an accompanying drink but I didn't have any.

There are many branches of Rajdhani in Mumbai and all over India but the one we went to was at:

Level-3, Palladium,

High Street Phoenix,
Lower Parel (West),

Menus and information can be found here:


  1. Oh well done! Come traipsing with me on my thali hunts, I tried two different ones in the last two days and am feeling quite stuffed even now.

  2. You need to add it to your list of tours! I would definitely come traipsing as I didn't really know the 'etiquette' or what some of the dishes were. It would be interesting for sure!

  3. "karela" is the Hindi word for bitter gourd. Okra would be "bhindi". Nice post, BombayJules.

    I had gone to a temple in Chembur yesterday for an Upanayanam (the Hindu thread ceremony) and was subjected to a South Indian vegetarian breakfast AND lunch in the space of 3 hours. The breakfast had 8 items while the second meal had - hold your breath - 24 items served on banana leaves. Yummy food but I was so stuffed that I couldn't wait to go back home and lie down for a while. Will soon update my own blog with some pics I took.

    1. Hello J, it so good to have you around to translate for me! Thanks...I didn't think it had the texture of okra but I wasn't sure and I had to find a recipe from google (which clearly was wrong!).

      Man, I would have died if I had to each that much food...well done! I am always impressed by the number of courses or dishes that can be consumed in one sitting - plus lentils are very filling and all the breads. I have added you to my list of blogs, I look forward to reading more.

  4. Congratulations on surviving your first thali. I am an Indian and have eaten thalis quite often and still manage to get overwhelmed each time. You seem to have fared quite well :-)

  5. Hi Jules
    Enjoyed reading your post! I have been to couple of Thali restaurants in and around Mumbai and its suburbs with the entire family and its always a fun [in right sense] to enjoy so many dishes in one meal. Its not an easy job to finish the whole thali !





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