Last Friday, I had the honour of being invited to a very special meal at Four Points by Sheraton in Vashi, Navi Mumbai. It was a Maharashtrian meal that was curated and presented by the food writer and consultant, Saee Koranne-Khandekar. The Mejwani Thali — as it was called — had a mix of lesser known as well as classic dishes from the various regions of Maharashtra.
Before I talk about the Mejwani Thali, I have a confession to make. In spite of having lived in Maharashtra for greater part of my life, I don’t really know its cuisine very well.
Here I’m talking beyond the better-known snacks like Misal Pav, Kothimbir Vadi, Sabudana Khichdi, Pohe, etc.; I’m talking about the main course dishes here. Though I have Maharashtrian friends and I have eaten in their homes, the food served, though delicious, has rarely been ‘their’ food. As a result, apart from varan bhat (daal rice), masale bhat (Masala rice) and other classic dishes, I have not eaten speciality dishes. Yes, there are restaurants, serving ‘authentic’ Maharashtrian meals, but when paneer makes an appearance in such meal, everything that has been served is suspect for me.
When I arrived at Four Points on Friday evening, it was with the usual excitement of waiting for the evening to unfold. But there was something else accompanying the excitement that day — an anticipation that, finally, I would get to sample, authentic Maharashtrian cuisine. And that too in a thali (or plate) format, my favourite way of eating Indian food.
I was among the first to arrive that evening and was soon joined by the other foodies invited for this special tasting. I was meeting some of them for the first time (Harini Prakash and Alka Keswani), while I had met some others previously (Rhea Dalal, Kurush Dalal and Aditi Juneja).
Saee also joined us and told us about her experience of curating this special food festival and also about the dishes chosen. All the recipes for the dishes being served were Saee’s family recipes, as were the masalas used for cooking them. Every dish on the menu had been cooked under her supervision. With the exception of the potato in the thali, other dishes changed daily and reflected different regions of Maharashtra. For example, the thali we were served that evening had dishes from the Konkanastha Brahmin community of Maharashtra.
Just have a look at the thali I had that evening before reading about my experience. 🙂
Kokum Soda (not in the picture above) was a cool, refreshing start to the Mejwani Thali experience. Kokum, which is indigenous to the Western Ghats, is used for cooking all along the Western coast of India. It is used like a souring agent and makes a delicious drink as well. Normally, I don’t like soda-based drinks, but this one was very nice.
How can any Indian meal not have fritters or vadas or pakoras? This thali had Vangi (Brinjal) and Kanda (Onion) Bhajias. Lightly spiced, they were delicious and I had them with some Amla and Coconut Chutney. This was the first time I was tasting the chutney and I loved it, its slight sourness perfectly complementing the bhajias.
Hiding beneath the bhajias in the thali was the Cabbage and Moong dal Koshimbir or salad. I love salads and this one was crunchy and fresh, and I ate it without even bothering to find out what else was in it. It was that delicious. 😀
Though I love them, I don’t like eating Puris in restaurants as I find that they are made from maida or from a mix of maida and wheat flour. I prefer only the full wheat flour version that my mother makes at home. I was delighted to find that the puris in my thali not only looked like what my mother makes, but also tasted like that. Major win here !
I had the puris with Bataatyachi Bhaaji (or potato sabzi), the Alu Chi Paatal Bhaji (Colocasia leaves and stem in a watery gravy), and Vaal Usal (a type of broad beans cooked in a coconut gravy). I loved the first two dishes — the potato sabzi with its simple tadka, and the Alu chi Bhaji for the surprise addition of peanuts and chana dal to it. I was having the Alu Bhaji for the first time and this dish was a close contender for the dish of the day. As for the Vaal Usal, I’m not too fond of it but don’t mind it in a tomato-based gravy. But this was a coconut-based one, and I don’t like coconut.
The rice dish in the thali was the Tondli Masale Bhaat or spiced rice with ivy gourd. I like Masale Bhat and have had it with brinjal as the main vegetable. The tondli was a nice variation cooked just right as was the rice and the blend of spices and resulting flavours made the dish just about perfect. I had the bhaat with Tomato Che saar or tomato curry, which was flavoured with coconut milk. It was quite nice, and thankfully for me, the taste of the tomato prevailed over that of the the coconut.
Though I’m not really a dessert person, I don’t mind kheers and payasams. The Gavhlyachi Kheer seemed like a rice-based kheer at first glance. I couldn’t have been more wrong here. As Saee explained, this was kheer made from Maharashtrian pasta ! Yes, you read right. The ‘pasta’ is made from a stiff dough of maida and rawa and is rolled into different shapes and sun-dried. The ones in the kheer looked like rice grains, and no wonder I got fooled into thinking that it was rice! The Gavhlyachi Kheer was my dish of the day and was unlike anything that I have tasted before. I’m not even going to attempt writing what it tasted like. Just imagine an all out sensory delight. 🙂
The Mejwani Thali was as close to perfection as I have come across eating in a restaurant, and I loved the experience. The spice and salt levels were balanced and just the way I like them. There there was none of the oiliness or greasiness that one associates with Indian food; and also there was none of the overpowering taste of onions and garlic that invariably creep into dishes in restaurants these days. In fact, with the exception of the Kanda Bhajias, none of the dishes had any onions or garlic.
I felt as if the food had been specially made for me. I have no hesitation in saying that this is the best Indian food I have eaten in a restaurant till date. And I sensed a similar enjoyment on the faces of other guests — both international and Indian — in the restaurant. It seemed that they thought the food was excellent as well.
If I have a complaint with the thali, then it is about the portions. I found them to be a too generous, especially since my dinners are usually light. Except for the puris, kheer and alu chi bhaji, I couldn’t finish the other dishes, and ended up feeling horribly guilty for wasting food. 😦
Dear Saee, I loved your Mejwani Thali — it was beyond delicious and a culinary experience that I will never forget. Personally, I found your passion for food to be very inspiring. Thank you for sharing your food and your food stories with us. It is this that made the food extra delicious.
You totally rock. 🙂
Disclaimer: The Mejwani Thali was complimentary and I was invited by PRestaurants for this. However, this has not influenced my review of the food I ate that day.
- The Mejwani Thali is available in the Asian Kitchen on the second floor of the Four Points by Sheraton at Vashi till September 15th from 7.30 to 11.00 pm. Each Mejwani Thali costs Rs.375/- plus taxes.
- Please do reach early, as only a limited amount is made, and on a couple of days the food has run out.