Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – India chapter Gujarat has to say about Gujarati cuisine:
“Gujarat is strong on vegetarian cuisine, partly due to the Jain influence here and the quintessential Gujarati meal is the all-veg thali. It’s sweeter, lighter and less spicy and oily than Punjabi thali and locals – who are famously particular about food – have no doubt it’s the best thali in the world.
It begins with a large stainless-steel dish, onto which teams of waiters will serve most or all of the following: curries, chutneys, pickles, kadhi (a yoghurt and gram-flour preparation), raita, rotis, rice, khichdi (a blend of lightly spiced rice and lentils), farsan (savoury nibbles), salad and one or two sweet items – to be eaten concurrently with the rest. Buttermilk is the traditional accompanying drink. Normally the rice and/or khichdi don’t come until you’ve finished the rotis. In most thali restaurants, the waiters will keep coming back until you can only say, ‘No more’.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
I’d been introduced to my first Gujarati thali a very long time ago, after visiting India with my husband Anil, and our two children in 1991. The children had to return to Canada to resume their schooling, and my husband, his work as the associate principal at their school. I was able to stay behind in order to meet up with my high school friend who was living in Saudi Arabia. I was to have visited her there, but things got royally screwed up and she decided to come to me in India. The details are interesting…but that’s another story, for another time.
While I was waiting for her to join me, I stayed with family in Mumbai, and my ‘Bhabiji’, as I called her, an affection term for any older brother’s wife, took me to a Gujarati restaurant to introduce me to Gujarati food and the thali-style of eating it. I remember the food being delicious, but sweeter than any food I’d eaten in India before. If course all dessert dishes in India are tooth-achingly sweet, but with Gujarati food, even the savoury dishes tend to have sugar added to them.
However, here we were visiting Gujarat properly for the first time, along with my sister and her husband. We were in the state capital when her birthday rolled around, so I thought it would be appropriate to treat her to a traditional thali meal in an upscale restaurant. I’d read a lot about the House of MG, in Ahmedabad, and knew that the India Moments tour company used the hotel for guests travelling with them, so I made a reservation for the four of us to eat there in the evening of her birthday.
The restaurant was located on the rooftop of the heritage building, and when we arrived, we found a large group had taken over the open-air seating area, so we were obligated to eat in the enclosed terrace. At first, we were alone, but by the time we had finished our meal, the rest of the room was filled to capacity. When we were given the menu, there was only one decision to make. Did we want the Heritage Classic (Regular) Thali, or the House of MG Special Thali?
When we compared the two, it seemed the main difference was the number of sweet desserts on offer, we chose the regular thali. Now normally I don’t talk about the price of hotels or meals when I’m writing my in my travel journals. However, I’m going to make an exception here because I want to show you the difference between the cost of a fine thali meal in the capital, Ahmedabad and in a good-sized regional city in the western part of Gujarat.
The thali at the House of MG was 1295 rupees, while the equally fine thali meal we had in Bhuj at the Prince Hotel, was 300 rupees. I have to add, that the first was an evening meal, and the second was at mid-day, but I don’t think that accounts too much for the vast difference in price.
Anyway, our tummies were full to bursting and it was time to head to the Serena Beach Resort, located just outside the city of Mandvi, on the Gulf of Kachchh. It was a pleasant drive, made slightly longer by the fact that poor Mr. Singh, our trusty driver mixed up the names of the resorts and took us to one on the far side of the mouth of the Rukmavati River. This meant that we had to travel through the entire sprawling width of the city, over a bridge that crossed the river and through the old town centre and a few kilometers along the beach to a secluded beach resort.
When we saw the name on the gate, we were a bit confused because it did not say ‘Serena’. I quickly pulled out my phone and searched on the map app, and it turns out our resort was along the beach, shortly after we entered the city’s boundary and before we crossed over the bridge. It seems Mr. Singh had never taken tourists to the Serena before, but not to worry, I could direct him there, street by street, by using my phone.
In the end, we saw the heart of Mandvi going and coming back, and that was more than enough for us to realize we didn’t need to see more. There were two sites we did want to explore, they were described in our guidebook, and the Serena resort was closer to both of them.
Flamingo Travels had at first booked us into the Serena Beach Resort for two nights, but Anil had them arrange for a third night so that we could relax and enjoy the beach and the ocean air. We were heading into the deserts of Rajasthan after finishing up in Gujarati, and it would be a long time until we saw the ocean again.