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Let’s do lunch: thali

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A traditional western Indian dish from Gujarati Rasoi

“It’s an honest dish,” says Urvesh of the thali at Gujarati Rasoi, the sizzling skillets before us a cornucopia of vegetables and spices. “We know exactly what goes into our food, and we cook it in the way my grandmother would’ve cooked it in the village—without any of those weird, artificial things people often put into food these days,” he continues. “It’s all traditional, old-school dishes, made with whole ingredients.” These are chopped, ground and prepped in a nearby kitchen, then cycled over on what Urvesh calls his “cargo bike”, to be finished off at the stall for lunchtime service.

“The word thali translates as ‘plate’ in Gujurati as well as Hindi—that’s the cultural roots of it,” Urvesh explains. “It’s a traditional way to serve food: you get a plate and you get a little bit of everything on it. Although we don’t have the traditional metal plates here, it’s the same principle.”

It’s a hug of a dish: a base of basmati rice tempered with cumin seeds and onions, piled high with cauliflower and pea curry in a sauce of onions, tomatoes, garam masala, chilli and ginger—“all our favourite flavours,” Urvesh grins. Then comes potato with fenugreek—“a flavourful herb with a very clear signature. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll know it. It’s delicious”—and a generous helping of mugg: mung bean dal with mustard seeds, ginger, garlic, chilli, jaggery and curry leaves—“all those lovely ingredients.”

Thali

Wholly, organically vegan
Topped with sweet and sour date and tamarind sauce or a splash of fresh, cooling raita, it’s “wholesome and well-balanced, with all the food groups ticked off in one meal: protein, fibre, and carbs”—and, providing you eschew the raita, wholly, organically vegan.

There’s more still, if you’re in possession of a particularly hearty appetite: samosas and onion bhajis. “The samosas are little triangles of wheat pastry. Within it we have vegetables—potatoes, onions, carrots, peas—and spices, but more like a chaat masala, with notes of cinnamon.” The crisp, billowy bhajis, meanwhile, comprise onions, gram flour, ginger, chilli and fenugreek. “You can pick and choose—not everyone wants all of it, but if you were to have a little of everything, in a sense, you’d have a thali,” he smiles.

“People’s perception of Indian food is that it’s going to be hot—they don’t think about all the spices, they just think chilli. Heat,” says Urvesh. “What we do is not about heat—it’s a note within the food and it’s an integral part of it, but if you’re eating cauliflower, you should be able to taste the cauliflower, as well as all the other spices and flavours. Nothing should shout; it should all sing.”