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You can’t come to Mumbai and not have a thali.
Most of the famous thali joints here offer a mix of Gujarati and Rajasthani vegetarian dishes. Two of the most iconic ones, Shree Thaker Bhojanalaya and Friends Union Joshi Club, are both located in Kalbadevi in South Mumbai. These are a lot humbler in ambience that the glitzier, air-conditioned mall-based Gujarati thali joints, such as Panchavati Gaurav, Rajdhani and Maharaja Bhog, which have branches across the city. However, ardent thali lovers in the city fall into either the Thacker or the Friends Union camps and these places are always packed. Aaram, in Bandra East, is another old-school Gujarati Kutchi thali joint. It is a lot less crowded here and you are not rushed through your thali, unlike in other Gujarati thali places where there is an unrelenting array of food dished out to you.
However, there are more to thalis than just Gujarati thalis. The city’s humble Malvani restaurants serve thalis from coastal Maharashtra. You can try the mutton sukka thali at Sadicha in Bandra East. The dish is really spicy and makes you sweat, but once you go beyond that, you will love the tender mutton with the freshly made rotis.
Another great Malvani thali is the pomfret fry thali in a tiny place called Malvani Aswad, opposite Buta School in Vile Parle East. The pomfret thali is the most expensive thali here, but the fried pomfret is truly exceptional and the fish bone and fish stock curry served on the side is ethereal. Rice and rotis are served along with it, as is thecha, a chilli-based Maharashtrian pickle. Do squeeze a slice of lime on the fish. Chomp on the onions if you don’t have a date coming up.
Unlike the Gujarati thalis, however, these are not unlimited.
An invite to a Parsi wedding is much sought after in Mumbai because of the legendary food served there. You don’t need to wait for one to try a Parsi wedding feast though. You can go to Jimmy Boy at Horniman Circle. The 100-year-old India Café was relaunched as Jimmy Boy in the late 1990s, with an aim to serve lagan nu bhonu (wedding feasts). You can choose between traditional wedding dishes, such as farcha and sali chicken, saas ni machhi and patrani machhi. In addition, you can get sarya, achar, mutton pulao dar and can choose between coolfi and lagan nu custard. This comes with fixed portions, is served on a banana leaf and they don’t mind if two people share a bhonu. They have a vegetarian version too.
Talking of thalis that can be shared, there is the vegetarian Bengali Maxi Thali at Bhojohori Manna (Oshiwara, Chembur and Powai). You get the entire array of Bengali vegetarian dishes such as shukto, daal, bhaaja, and can choose between dishes such as alu posto, mochar ghonto and chochchori and get rice, pulao, doi and mishti with it. You can also order fish, prawn or meat on the side, as we do.
The vegetarian thali I enjoy the most after my native Bengali one is the Malayali Sadya at Hotel Deluxe in Fort. They serve it on a banana leaf. Portions are unlimited. The flavours of the dishes are pretty heady. If you are lucky, you can get the bouncy and fluffy red rice instead of the usual red rice. The place is packed with Malayalis, just as Bhojohori is with Bengalis. Always a good sign.
A thali that I am yet to try in Mumbai but want to is the vegetarian Andhra thali in Gonguura in the suburbs. This is a new place. The most legendary South Indian thali in Mumbai would be the one at Udipi Shree Krishna or Ramanayak Udipi in Matunga.
They say that Mumbai is the melting pot of India.
Well, this gives you a good opportunity to try out thalis from across the country here.
Follow Kalyan Karmakar @ Finelychopped
Kalyan Karmakar authors the popular award winning blog, Finely Chopped and is an authority on the food of Mumbai. His extensive knowledge of the city's food scene has been featured in publications such as Femina, Mumbai Mirror and BCC Good Food. He was one of the founding critics of EazyDiner's Mumbai team.