Gujarat on my platter | Eating local
We got down from the bus right in front of Vishalla, welcomed by a sweet hand-painted sign in Gujarati and English.
For me, this meal was the fruit of a very long wait. I remember having searched for a good Gujrati thali the last time I was in Ahmedabad as a student. That was about 7 years back and I pretty much went back disappointed, as my friends and I couldn’t find any leads for a thali that would be worth our buck (and not leave us with an upset tummy).
Now, walking up the dimly lit path towards the dining area, I felt like I was visiting a much quieter cousin of Chokhi Dhani near Jaipur, Rajasthan. The absence of crowds around, and the promise of delicious food, sounded like a perfect combination to me, and compensated for the lack of lighting along the pathways. We were greeted with a lime-ginger juice, superb for the stomach. We washed our hands with raakh & warm water being poured by a turban-ed staff member and happily settled down in the cross-legged postures waiting for the food.
And then the show began.
The laying of the leaf-platters in-front of us marked the beginning of a synchronised performance by several staff members. Two earthern kulhads per person. Buttermilk poured in. Water poured in. Dollops of vegetables and gravies start bringing the empty platter to life. Sweets of all kinds sit timidly. Nobody here waits for dessert in the end. Why wait? Papad comes and goes. Chilli-garlic chutney being passed around. Chutney has friends. Jaggery & boiled peanuts for the table, also to be shared. Many more friends whose names are soon forgotten. Then come the breads. Thepla. Bajre ki roti. Makai ki roti. Bhakri. The butter! Oh, the butter! Light as air and absolutely heavenly in taste. The sweet (literally sweet) kadhi is waiting in a bowl on the side. Waiting for its mate, the khichdi to be served. When the khichdi finally comes, it brings with it another plus one – the ghee. A big dollop of ghee. Why did these two come in so late? They could have been a meal in themselves. What next? We don’t know. Jalebi! Unlimited refills. Phew.
Conversations slowed down almost to a halt, except for the oohs-and-aahs that we’d share as we tasted one new delicacy after another. The mud flooring, the bamboo and the wooden tables seemed to add to the flavour of the food in some way. There was no end to the eating, till my stomach really sent me an SOS alert. But the beauty is, that while I was really full, it didn’t make me feel sluggish – the way I would generally feel after a meal of these proportions. I was a bit vary of the ice-cream being served afterwards. But after tasting a bite from a friend’s scoop, this “ice cream” had me hooked. It was only slightly-sweetened, and tasted of fresh pistachios. Instead of adding to the feeling of full-ness, this freshly-made ice-cream turned out to be the perfect palette cleanser and had the same effect that a glass of cold milk has by helping digestion.
Our meal was followed by a stroll around the “Vechaar Utensils Museum”, which has been set-up inside the Vishalla complex and houses thousands of different kinds of utensils, locks of all sizes and other metal everyday-objects.
The Vishalla website proudly states that “Ayurveda suggests that after every meal, it is essential to walk for 100 steps, for good digestion. The design of Vishalla is such, that one has no choice but to walk 100 steps to get to their fancy cars also!”