It’s considered a pity, a shame even to have lived in India all your life and have never had a thali.
I had succeeded, in all my years of eating to go without a single meal that would require me to indulge in this food of gods, as it was called. On my last solo visit to Udaipur, however, when I came across a restaurant known for just its thalis, I hesitated for only a moment before going in. The choice of Traditional Khana, a restaurant at Panchwati Circle in Udaipur was merely born out of necessity (hunger) and curiosity (it had a 4.9 rating on Zomato, a rarity in itself).
Yes, I’m probably not the correct person to judge and verify said rating; after all, I had not much to compare it with. But it wasn’t as though I was completely ignorant; I had tried the elements of the thali: an occasional taste of daal baati churma here, a sweet halwa doled out during Navratri there. I had poured steaming hot kadhi on rice (pretty much a Sunday afternoon ritual at home) and bought store-made packets of ker sangri on the highway on my way back from Jaipur. My reluctance so far wasn’t about the food at all; but the sheer quantity. Just the prospect of all that much food on one plate intimidated me, and so I had avoided it at all costs. Until now.
At the restaurant, I braced myself for the meal, while the owners conversed with me about their royal family history. Soon after, a leafy plate was placed on my low table, along with a refreshing glass of rose sherbet. And then the feast began.
The first things to arrive at my table were a few pieces of moong dal pakoda. Not too intimidating, I thought, nibbling on the delicious items, but before I could complete the sentence, another server arrived, dolloping four chutneys on plate. They were lasun (garlic), amchur, saunth and dhaniya (coriander). I sampled a little of each, and already found my favourites: the lasun and amchur, while I awaited the rest of the food.
Next up was four bowls filled with kadi, gatte ki sabzi, chana dal and urad dal, and a generous serving of ker sangri. This was to be had with the very rare jhakolma puri made of wheat flour, which is made in only a few places in India. Small bite-sized pieces of churma ladoo and besan ki chakki were added to my plate as well. I was, frankly speaking, a little baffled. Where should I begin?
The owner came by and helped me formulate a sequenced plan of action: Begin by dipping the puri in the lasun chutney and try the gatthe ki sabzi. Now try the same with the saunt and the dal, if you like. Have a sip of the warm kadi, and after, why not break a bit of the ladoo?
I realised that we were alternating between the sweet and savoury with each bite, making each flavour stand out in face of the other. I asked him what I should have next, and he laughed and asked to experiment with my own combinations. I stepped away from the carefully-choreographed meal, and tried a little bit of the ker sangria by itself, and kept going for more. It was tangy, spicy and tasted like mango pickle, and soon became my favourite.
The kadi, I was told, is boiled overnight giving it an intensity unlike any other. The jhakolma puri, was unlike anything I’d tasty, being chewy, delicious and melting well into every accompaniment it was served with.
These adventures were accompanied by a sip or two of the smoked buttermilk served in a kulhad. Then the hallowed daal baati churma arrived. I crushed the baati between my palms and poured the two dals as well as a little gatta on it, a few chutneys and began to eat. Even with my limited expertise on the matter, I knew that although it was delicious, the baati did not crumble in my mouth, like some others I had tried.
Lastly, and now I really couldn’t venture further, I was given a serving of the pakode ki khichdi. This is actually a pulao, rather than a khichdi, and is a famous dish found in the region of Mewar. As I added a little leftover kadi to this, I savoured my meal which was coming to a close, enjoying the more subtle flavours of the rice.
Is this the best thali in Udaipur? I wouldn’t be the best judge of that. Although I can claim that it was one of the best meals of my life.
Where: Traditional Khana, 48D, Panchwati, Adjoining R KAY Mall, Panchwati Circle, Udaipur, Rajasthan 313001
Contact: 076653 66999
Price: ₹ 650 plus taxes for a Royal Thali