Of Friends Who Opened The Gates To Gujarati Cuisine

I went to a school in suburbs where every second person was Gujarati and it was very normal that when I’d visit a friend’s place that their grandparents would assume I am a Gujarati too and would automatically start speaking to me in the language, only to be subtly told by their grandchildren that I wasn’t one. It surprised them, really.

I wasn’t alien to Gujarati cuisine and honestly if you’ve lived in Mumbai, then there’s no way that you haven’t tried their food. When my friends used to come to my house for play dates, they’d be treated to rajma-chawal, kadhi-chawal, cholle-poori etc, but when I went to their place I used to eat masala khichdi, homemade khakra, roti-shaak and those tiny Gujarati pooris (which never filled my north Indian appetite!). I wasn’t ever curious about this cuisine, because of its easy availability at my friends home and in restaurants. Somehow the restaurants always made these same dishes much sweeter than what I’d have at a friend’s place. No wonder that for people who do not have access to homemade Gujarati cuisine, it remains to be a fact that Gujarati food is sweet (literally).

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Gujarati thaali at Shital Kakad’s house

Almost about two years back I became friends with Shital Kakad, an exceptionally good home-chef and recipe developer, who has an expertise in Gujarati cuisine and also dabbles with world cuisine. The one thing I can say about her is that she LOVES to feed people. I remember the first time I went to her place for “tea”, she brought out the big guns with tea + vada pav + kanda bhajiyas + khakra chaat + homemade cookies. I was so overwhelmed by the sight of this that I wanted to cry. Goodness, never had I been treated like almost royalty where a whole spread was laid out, just for me. I repeat, just for me.

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Shital and I

Over the years we’ve become really close, where she is my friend and confidant and a person who I can call up anytime with an authority and let her know that I am hungry. Rest assured, she will take care of the rest. Haha!

Thanks to her my knowledge of Gujarati cuisine is increased and now I can almost identify which dish comes from which region of Gujarat. I read this recently, “Surat ka jaman aur Banaras ka maran” a popular saying in Gujarati which means dining at Surat and dying at Varanasi, is the way to heaven.

The people of Gujarat have perfected the art of vegetarian cooking and their cuisine is a delectable and mouth watering. Here’s how one can explain a Gujarati thaali, as mentioned on the Gujarat Tourism website:

A Gujarati thali typically comprises of  one or two steamed or fried snacks called farsans, a green vegetable, a tuber or a gourd shaak (shaaks are main courses with vegetables and spices mixed together into a curry or a spicy dry dish), a kathol (braised pulses like beans, chickpea or dry peas), one or more yogurt dishes like dahi, kadhi (yogurt and pulses soup), raita or sweet shrikhand, rice or khichdi, daal usually toor dal, and sweets like halwas, basundi or shrikhand. Accompaniments include sweet, sour and spicy chutneys, pickles, ghee and a salad of chopped vegetables served raw or may be steamed in spices.  Much detailing goes into creating a balance of tastes and textures – you could have coarse, grainy, granular, smooth, uniform, dry and wet dishes on the same platter, the sweetness, bitterness, sourness and heat of each main course would vary between dishes, and the thali has more colours than a rainbow – the yellow of turmeric, the whiteness of dairy products, the redness of tomatos, the green of leafy vegetables, the brown of pulses, and the colours of various spices, relishes and salad vegetables, are harmoniously part of a single thali. 

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Faraali menu at SOAM
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Kutchi Bhatia thaali by Rushina M. Ghildiyal

After having tasted a Gujarati thaali at Shital’s place, I can say this with conviction that I will never be able to eat one outside in a restaurant. None of those come close to her home-food. The only exceptions I can make our places like Soam in Babulnath, famous for it’s home -like Gujarati cuisine. The one thing Soam does right, is that it does not serve a thaali and instead lets you order specific dishes that act as a perfect introduction to the cuisine.

It has been fifteen years of savouring Gujarati cuisine in Mumbai and I can safely say, I am not done exploring and learning more about it. Shital, do you hear me? 🙂

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