Picking a Gujarati thali restaurant has never been an easy task, at least in Ahmedabad—the largest city of a state known for its love for food. There are numerous thali restaurants and they all serve set plates of a regional cuisine, but it’s hardly the same meal.
For starters, consider the many bowls glimmering on the heavy metal plate. A thali meal consists of seasonal preparations of curries, dals (sweet or spicy), breads from a variety of flours (phulka, bhakri, puri), rice dishes (plain or khichdi), buttermilk, farsan (savoury snacks like khaman, dhokla, patra, kachori) and sweets. There are varying items of the day, as well as seasonal preparations. Gujaratis wait eagerly for undhiyu, made of winter vegetables cooked in an earthen pot, and for summer’s aam ras, or mango pulp. In Ahmedabad, travellers can choose between a rural meal at a village-style restaurant, a homely dining hall, and a posh thali at a swanky hotel. The servings are unlimited so make sure to go on an empty stomach.
Vishalla captures the rural charm of Gujarat. Established in 1978, the glory of Vishalla used to rest on its eco-friendly features, using no electricity and only biodegradable utensils to cook and serve food. While this has changed slightly, the restaurant retains its dimly lit, open-air, rural ambience. The food served is largely from the Kathiawar (Saurashtra) region. Don’t miss the homemade white butter and the khichdi with Gujarati kadhi (the yoghurt preparation is slightly sweeter, with tempered cloves and jeera). Guests are welcomed with buttermilk, jeera-water, and savouries in the common hall, before being ushered to the dining area with floor-seating and cane stools. Sit back for a leisurely evening, with live folk music and dance for the next three hours. Peek in the Vechaar Utensil Museum for a glance at how kitchens and their tools have evolved. The tiny museum has a large collection of pots, utensils and nutcrackers made from a variety of materials like brass, copper and silver. The vessels are mostly from south India with some from the north; a few are a 1,000 years old.
Rajwadu is another fantastic rural-style, sit-down restaurant with open-air dining. The dishes are common to rural areas in north Gujarat, deeply influenced by its border with Rajasthan. The food is less sweet, and Rajasthani staples like gatta (gram flour) sneak into the menu. Like Vishalla, Rajwadu is also a great dinner venue with good food and a dose of Gujarati folk entertainment.
Vishalla Lunch, 11a.m.-3p.m.; ₹521 for adults, ₹305 for kids; Dinner, 7.30-11p.m.; ₹683 for adults, ₹395 for kids. Museum, Mondays shut; 1-3p.m. & 5-10.30p.m.; ₹10 for adults, ₹5 for kids. Details here.
Rajwadu Lunch, 11a.m.-2.30p.m.; Dinner, 7.30-11p.m.; ₹630 for adults, ₹315 for kids. Details here.
Dining halls are fuss-free, sit-down thali restaurants known for their quick service—lunch will probably be done in half an hour. The fare is homely, what you’d expect in the five-tiered Gujarati tiffin people around Ahmedabad take to work. There’s dal, rice, and roti, and because it’s a restaurant, several vegetable dishes, fried savouries, and sweets. Atithi, Gopi, and Toran serve up delicious food. Expect high energy levels and swift service, and keep an eye open for the complicated hand signals that the waiters use to communicate what the customer wants.
Atithi Dining Hall 11a.m.-3p.m., 7-10p.m. ₹260 for adults, ₹130 for kids. Details here.
Gopi Dining Hall 10.30a.m.- 3p.m., 6.30-10.30p.m. ₹250.
Toran Dining Hall Mondays shut; 11a.m.-3p.m., 7-10p.m. ₹260 for adults, ₹145 for kids.
The rooftop restaurant at boutique heritage hotel The House of MG is named Agashiye, Gujarati for “on the terrace”. The plush restored interiors transport the diner to an unhurried, leisurely era. There is indoor seating, but the open-air section affords a peek into the kitchen, and also of the sweep of the city with the twinkling night sky above. Agashiye offers rich Gujarati dishes served with a contemporary touch. Kheer is garnished with rose petals, and the jalebi encases apple mash. Guests are seated at candle-lit tables that are showered with rose petals before plates are laid down to be filled with salads, farsan, dals, vegetables, rice, roti, papad, and sweets. The food is exquisite and so is the service.
Agashiye 12 noon–3.30p.m.; 7-10.45p.m; Price depends on the day of the week, starting from ₹850 for adults, ₹415 for kids. Details here.
Chetasi Kane loves everything about her hometown, Ahmedabad. She works as a media and communication consultant with non-profit organisations. She loves to show people around her city in her spare time, and make as many travel plans as possible. She tweets as @chetasikane.