Indian Thali at Chetana’s in Mumbai

The concept of Thali – which literally means plate, typically a round steel plate with tiny steel bowls arranged around the rim – is one where you get fed bottomless servings of daal, vegetables (and in some rare cases, meat), rotis or puris, rice and dessert, all in the comfort of your own chair, without having to flex a muscle to make it across to the buffet line. We’re not talking lavish gourmet food here. An authentic thaali is not about the ambiance or about the exotically spiced couscous, simmered in clarified butter and tossed with almonds and mustard seeds (which incidentally, was a phenomenal breakfast find this morning at Indigo Deli in Colaba, Mumbai. Thanks Rashu, you ROCK.). It’s about simple, unpretentious steaming hot home-cooked food, just like the kind that an Indian granny or mom would lovingly ply you with after she’d suggested, enticed, persuaded, COMMANDED, that you stick around for lunch, else you’d be committing the greatest offense to her legendary cooking skills.  

Chetana veg restaurant in Kalaghoda (Fort area), Mumbai

Thali at Chetana lived up to that no-frills, simple, but deeply satisfying home experience. Partly because I picked the ‘light’ thali – a version of the regular thali recommended to people who want a non-commercial, authentic taste of Indian home cooking (ie. not laden in the oil, cream and the mountain of spices that goes into your standard Western experience of chikken tikka masala or saag paneer. Hail New York.) Though the term ‘light’ is all relative – in Indian thaali lingo, that doesn’t mean anything less than appetizer munchies, 5 bowls of curry / veggies and side salad and fruits and three different types of chapatis and another three types of rice and dessert. And did I mention dessert? All unlimited servings of course.  

My thaali at Chetana's

So here’s my ‘light’ thaali – starting with the bowl from the left of the spoon: sweet-sour tomato soup, mixed veggie curry, kala channa (black chickpeas) soaked in tamarind-flavored water, a thicker version of kadi (a yoghurt and gram-flour-based dish), yellow daal, and a basic salad and bowl of fruit. Each of the dishes had a mild sweet flavor, very traditional to local Gujrathi food which is usually laced with generous amounts of gur or jaggery (though Chetana’s also had other types of Rajasthani or South Indian thalis where the dishes would have been on the spicier end of the spectrum.)  

Soft spongey cubes of handvo, one of many yummy Gujrathi munchies


Those soft, spongey cubes in the center of the thaali are called Handvo, a Gujrathi savory cake made out of lentils and wheat. Tasted wonderful when dipped in sweet-tangy tamarind chutney, exactly the kind of thing I’d love to take a big bowl of into a movie theater and munch on while everyone else is digging into their usual buttered popcorn tubs or plastic nachos and cheese trays.  

Starting from the left, and going clockwise: Roti made out of jowari, regular wheat roti, and then bajra, all waiting to be doused with rich aromatic ghee (and a pappadum peeping out from the right)


Three different types of freshly made roti, smeared liberally with ghee – regular chapati made out wheat flour, and then bajra (english: pearl millet) and jowar (sorghum). In contrast to the mainstream garlic naan phenomenon, I think bajra and jowari are more of an acquired taste, with an earthy, rustic taste that reminds me of wet monsoon mud and age-old kerosene stoves in farming villages tucked away outside the bustling city of Mumbai.  

Silky folds of puran poli sprinkled with sweet jaggery streusel


The final stretch, dessert…alternating mouthfuls of silky roti-like layers of puran poli, with sweet crumbly jaggery stuffing, and creamy mouthfuls of aam ka ras (aka mango pulp). I’m usually not a fan of Indian desserts, but this one is right up there with molten chocolate cake for me.  

A glassful of Jal Jeera to wash it all down


I washed it all down with Jal Jeera, a sour and salty digestive drink with tamarind, black salt, ginger, and bunch of other tummy-settling ingredients.  

Frankly, I’ve had better thalis back in Dubai (for instance at Rajdhani, incidentally first started in Mumbai before stepping foot in Dubai), or in Hyderabad (spicy Andhra thali in Jubilee hills) but Chetana’s has felt the closest to homecooked Indian food than any other thali joint I’ve visited.  

Chetana Veg Restaurant
Phone: +91 22 22844968 or 22824983
34 Rampart Row, Opposite Jehangir Art Gallery, Kalaghoda, K Dubash Marg, Fort, Mumbai

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

2 thoughts on “Indian Thali at Chetana’s in Mumbai

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *