Forget about Chinese, Mughlai and Continental food for a bit. There’s a new, yet age-old cuisine in town that’s set to blow your mind! Located on a quiet lane that’s a stone’s throw away from Reis Magos Fort while overlooking a rivulet, Thaal specializes in Bohri fare– the food of a community of Muslims that has Middle Eastern influences. The name ‘thaal’ refers to the large flat plate, around which 4-8 people sit and collectively share a meal, a common way of eating in a Bohra Muslim household.
“At Thaal, we’re serving the food we grew up with, the food my mother still makes at home and recipes that I cook for my son,” says Rumana Roowala, the owner. The restaurant is clearly a labour of love for Rumana – and many of her family heirlooms are proudly displayed here– the most special one being the thaal used by her great grandfather that hangs in the restaurant.
At the crux, Thaal in Goa is all about ‘bonding over food’ as displayed in their tagline. It aims to get people to eat together and be mindful of the company they are with, even encouraging diners to keep their phones aside to enjoy the simple act of eating with people.
The restaurant offers guests two seating choices – one, in the sheltered, leafy courtyard, being lulled the gentle breeze. Or two, in the lavish indoor section – that again has a choice of seating, either on tables and chairs, or, as per tradition, on a large plush rug surrounded by colourful cushions, on which the thaal, will be placed on its stand.
I loved the outside section, with its cane furniture and bright mosaic tables – and it wasn’t long before I was sipping on a Pink Lemonade, while Rumana, gave me a glimpse into the Bohra way of life. “Every meal,” she says, “starts with washing of the hands in a basin with a spouted jug, while being seated around the thaal itself. This is followed by the passing of the salt, to stimulate one’s tastebuds. Then, a drop of perfume is put on the wrist and the meal begins on a sweet note, with dessert being served first.
It’s evident that each item on the menu of this petite restaurant in Goa is well thought out. Right from the home-made ghee to the mutton that’s slow cooked overnight and even to those intricate plates brought in from Uzbekistan with care. Thaal makes indulging in age-old recipes, upscale and fun, while leaving its essence intact.
Dessert before meals would have spoiled my appetite, so I stayed true to my Goan roots and ordered appetizers first – Mutton Kheema Samosas – hot, crispy and small enough to make you reach for another. Even here, the samosa wrap is made from scratch using wheat, just like Rumana makes at home. I personally get put-off seeing large, chunky samosas and these adorable ones were just right, served with some tantalizing tamarind-jaggery chutney on the side.
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Next, we moved on to the chicken cutlets, and they were quite unlike any we’ve had before because the filling wasn’t mixed with potatoes and neither is the cutlet coated with breadcrumbs. Instead, these juicy cutlets hold chicken cooked in green masala, wrapped in egg, and possess a firm, spongy consistency. If you have a small appetite, these could fill you up before you even get to the main course.
We opted for the smaller thalis for mains, which are single-person meals, and one can choose the items you want to try from the options listed. Since we were two people, Rumana suggested that we order different dishes on our thalis so that we could try more. Great idea!
The pictures below show you what the thalis looks like, but I have pictures of the individual portions of each dish in my blog post too (in case you want to order them separately off the menu).
Every thali, however, comes with the classic Kalamra dessert, a kheer-like dish that is traditionally the first course of a Bohra meal. Made with curd, rice, almonds and raisins, it was topped with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds and rose petals – instantly making it appear so much more vibrant. Another standard dish on the thali is ‘Channa Batata,’ chickpea salad that is tossed with tomatoes, onions and potatoes in the same flavourful tamarind-jaggery sauce that came with the kheema samosas.
For the mains on our thali, like I said, we chose different dishes and had an array of incredible delicacies to try. Khichda, a soulful dish comprising of various kinds of dals, light spices and mutton cooked overnight, is a must-try here at Thaal. You can’t ignore the nuances of this dish, or the complex mellow flavours.
The mutton biryani was outstanding – fragrant and just begging to be photographed, with fall-of-the-bone pieces of meat, lip-smacking masala and a generous amount of crispy fried onions on top. If you plan to order a la carte, ensure that you get a portion of this dish for the table.
One can’t visit a Bohra restaurant and not try the Kheema Paratha! We picked some fiery looking kheema paratha on our platter too and, I know I’ve been saying it all this while, but this was fabulous too! One could tell that they have well-sourced meat because try as you may, you won’t get this quality elsewhere!
Before slipping into a sweet food coma, we managed some more dessert! Malido looked so dainty on those intricately printed plates! These barfi-like triangles are made using crushed wheat, jaggery, ghee and dry fruits. And lastly, silky smooth Sheer Kurma, an Eid-staple had sweetened milk with vermicelli and dry fruits – always manages to seduce me!
For those who have a big appetite and enjoy trying regional cuisine, indulge in their Zaika-e-thaal, a 7 course meal that is done the traditional Bohra way and is as much of an experience as it is a meal! You will need a minimum of 4 people and a maximum of 8, and you will need to inform the restaurant in advance of your arrival and desire to order this feast so they can fire up their stoves and have it ready. I’m told that a lot of Indians and Europeans alike book the Zaika-e-thaal and it is one of their best-sellers, having more takers than their a-la carte menu!
Goa desperately needed a restaurant like Thaal – one that doesn’t dilute the identity and history of food to cater to tourists’ palates. I’m definitely returning to try more – perhaps the ginormous Zaika-e-thaal, the next time? I also have the Nihari, Shahi Tukda and Gulab Jamun ki Sabzi on my radar!
Meal for 2 – Rs. 1200/- approx.