INDIA. Ahmadabad, Gujarat: It’s all about tradition when it comes to foods in India. The food habits which our ancestors followed were formulated keeping in mind the geographical locations and also what was available in the areas where we lived. In our quest to find out about these, we recently have been following various authentic thalis of different states of India and experienced Heritage Classic Gujarati Food in Kansa Thali at Agashiye at The house of Mohandas, an urban heritage hotel in Ahmadabad.
Ahmadabad is the first city that was granted the UNESCO heritage tag and we did not want to miss out on relishing a heritage Gujarati meal, a celebration of tastes. The House of MG, which is the heart of Ahmadabad, is a boutique heritage hotel built-in 1924. It once was the home of Sheth Mangaldas Girdhardas, one of the city’s foremost businessmen and philanthropists. This stately mansion was tastefully restored in the late 1990s and retains the sense of history in the air with antique wooden furniture, beautiful tiled flooring, and old photographs on the walls.
Types of thalis
The Gujarat Thali is one of the most balanced meals amongst all Indian cuisines and is usually served in metal thalis, and at Agashiye, the in-house restaurant, they have a daily menu and the two varieties of thalis – the Heritage Classic Kansa (an alloy of copper and tin) Thali, and Heritage Grand Chandi (Silver) thali.
The Thalis consist of Chaats, Juice, Salad, Pulses, Green veggies, Kadhi, Mixed veggies, Potato, Rice, Roti, Farsan, and sweet dish, mouthwash. The silver thali contains a few additional items in the sweet and dessert section and also has tea/coffee to end the meals.
They even have set etiquettes of eating as they used to do in olden times, and you are required to wash your hands before the meals. A server brings in a water jug and a bowl in which he helps you wash your hands and then the servings start. Salad and chutneys are served first.
I was curious to find out what a beetle leaf (Paan) was doing in my thali, and I was told to put the chutneys over it as they can get bitter because of the kansa thali. Adu Limbu nu Sherbat, Methi na Gota, and Khaman are served along with a salad made of cut Kakdi, Makai, Sing (peanuts), Capsicum, and an assortment of chutneys, like Vegetable Pickle, Sweet Pickle, Coriander n Peanut chutney, Khajur-imli Mithi chutney.
We finished the salad and starters quickly and waited for the main course. They were taking time to serve; the service seemed quite slow. But then we were told that the Gujaratis eat slowly to enjoy the taste of everything that is served. So we also started going slow and enjoyed savouring the roasted papads with chuntney till the main course started coming in.
Also along with the starters, we were served with sweets – once again this was a surprise for me. They were Ladu, and Savaiya Dudhpak, and eating them also kept me occupied till the main course dishes arrived.
We were treated to a three-course meal at Agashiye. The first one was two varieties of Indian bread or roti; Bhakri and Masala Parantha along with four varieties of vegetables; Bataki, Masala Parvar, Turiya Patra, and Rangunni Val and also sweet Gujarati Dal and kadhi.
I loved eating sweetened Dal and enjoyed eating my Rotis by dipping them in Dal and kadhi alternatively. For your information, a Dal is a protein-rich lentil soup and the kadhi is a seasonal yogurt and gram-flour preparation. Along with the veggies and Rotis we also loved the salted chhaas (buttermilk) that accompanied the meal.
A unique feature of the Gujarati meal
During my meals, I learned about a unique feature of the Gujarati meal, which is a sweet dish, normally hot and always freshly prepared, that is also served and enjoyed alongside the meal. In addition, there is chaat and raita (a yogurt-based preparation) too, which act as `tongue ticklers` between courses. Also, another serving of a kachumbar (salad) of fresh vegetables or raw fruit, often mixed with gram accompanies the meal.
Rice and khichadi followed, and giving rice servings a miss, I went in for the khichadi (a split lentil preparation) along with a second helping of hot dal or kadhi. On my khichadi, the waiter poured a generous helping of ghee and I mixed all that was left in my plate with the khichadi and ate it with the crisp papad.
Finishing with a dessert
When I was through, they cleared the thali and once again a waiter came around and helped me wash my hands. The dessert, a Fig flavoured homemade ice cream followed, and then my meal ended with a sweet Paan (beetle leaf), including freshly grated coconut that was served in an antique metal box. In almost all Indian meals, the paan clears your mouth of the different lingering tastes of various dishes and also acts as a digestive.
It certainly was an amazingly vibrant culinary experience for us as we travelled through Vibrant Gujarat to experience the festive season of Uttrayan and the International Kite Festival.