Gujarati Thali: Let’s Eat With Our Eyes First
Gujarat has the largest population of vegetarians in the country and their vegetarian food is one of the most delicious.
Warm steamed rice with a generous helping of Gujarati kadi and roasted papad or farsan is the kind of comfort food that will leave you asking for more. Dhokla, khandvi and theplas is a part of the daily vocabulary in western India, courtesy of Gujarati cuisine. It is said that Gujarat has the largest number of vegetarians in the country and no doubt their vegetarian food is one of the most delicious.
In search of a hearty homemade Gujarati meal, we visited the home of Sarmista Sheth in Ahmedabad who runs a successful catering business. As a purposeful 82-year-old, she has the energy of a young girl in her teens. With almost 14 items on the strictly Jain menu, she pointed out that a variation in colour is of utter importance in a Gujarati thali, especially when one is serving guests, as we eat with our eyes first.
It always begins with something sweet and the doodhpak with almond slivers and flavoured with cardamom and nutmeg whetted our appetite for what was to follow next. One would assume that a farsan or snack is the second course of the meal, but the host assured us that anything snack-y with a serving of chutney can be had intermittently. Farsan is best enjoyed while waiting for the fresh-off-the-kadhai puffy pooris to cool. Methi dhoklas and a bite-sized crispy kachori stuffed with grounded tuvar daal was part of the farsan menu.
Typically, rotis or phulkas are a regular fare, but serving guests would be incomplete without pooris. Methi rotis or Methi ka dhebra accompanied the pooris with a dry and wet sabzi. Khaman bhindi, or shredded coconut with okra, was the dry vegetable while batalu ki sabzi was the thick gravy-based item.
Khaman means coconut in Gujarati and it was also used to make the cooling salad with finely chopped cucumber and seasoned with ginger – khaman kakdi.
The pickles - Gunda ka achaar and nimboo ka athano – were intense shots of flavour. Gunda is a type of sour berry and lends itself well in a spicy pickle. The nimbo achaar was a treat for those who love a combination of tangy and sweet.
It is believed that Gujaratis almost always use sugar as one of the main ingredients while cooking, which lends a sweet flavour to even savoury dishes. The reason can be traced to the water that is used in the region which is rich in salts making it slightly hard. There is a possibility that sugar was used to tackle the hard water, therefore the gravy-based or wet items like daals and kadis are sweet.
As we were too full for dessert, steamed rice with Tuver Ni Daal and roasted papad brought the meal to a fitting end. Not to mention, the daal was sweet and there was the lip-smacking doodhpak at the beginning of the meal.
With inputs from Saurin and Vaishali Sheth who run a successful catering business in Ahmedabad.
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