A thali (platter) is a system of eating very popular in parts of the country. It is a complete meal served in a large steel plate and consists of an 1-2 appetizers, 4 veggies, daal and curry, 2-3 types of bread and two kinds of rice along with dessert and other accompaniments (pickles, onion, salad, buttermilk).
There are many kinds of thalis - gujarati, south indian, north indian, maharashtian etc (gujarati being the most popular) They can be unlimited/bottomless (all dishes except dessert are all you can eat) or set meal.
How it works
The serving process is the same as any other thali restaurant. Each server is dedicated to serving the dish or dishes and comes by at every interval to make sure you can have more of what you like. Within a few minutes everything on the menu is served to you and you begin, when the server returns, you either take what he has or ask him to move along.
Thalis for me
My dad loves a good gujju thali. Its is his single fav thing when we dine out. He passed on his passion for the thali to me. So along the years he has had a few favorites such as Thackers (Birla at Chowpatty) Rajdhani at Kalbadevi, Panchvati near Bombay Hospital.
He recently took me to a nondescript place in Kalbadevi called the Friends Union Joshi Club. It isnt an easy place to find, being on the first floor of some million year old building. While walking there i was wondering if my dad had finally hired someone to bump me off because if he had there is no way they would have found my carcass.
When you walk into the place the first thing that hits you is how the place probably hasn't changed for the 50 odd years it has been in existence. A very basic eatery this one, simple chair and tables in a U formation. This one is all about the food.
They serve a typical thali 4 vegetables, farsan, rotis and small bhakri, sweet dal, chaas, rice or khichadi, chopped salad, chutney and pickle. Dessert can be gulab jamun, rasgullas, or whatever is seasonal (aam ras nowadays). however dessert isnt included in the price of the thali and is extra. The chaas(buttermilk) was great.
FUJC more so than other thali places work on the principle of home cooked food. i.e. if you go to a gujarati household you will have more or less a similar meal (not just in the name of the dishes but the cooking will be a lot closer)
Ultimately the meal was great. It was clean, light, all the dishes were nicely done, with less oil, the buttermilk was great. All this done in a simple surrounding. Sometimes simplicity works better. instead of focusing on the ambiance the FUJC has focused on the food and the people who come here (typically local shop keepers, single men or those who live away from their families
There are a million thali restaurants in Bombay, some that charge close to 220 a thali (FUJC was around 90) and serve you on luxurious surroundings in chilled rooms with attentive service. However the food turns out to be weaker than anything dished out at FUJC.
Rajdhani (Kalbadevi, Opera House)
Golden Star (Charni Road)
Chetna (Kala Ghoda)
Status (Nariman Point)
Panchvati (near Bombay Hospital)
Shagun (Bombay Central)
Friends Union Joshi Club
381-A Narottamwadi, Kalbadevi Road, Mumbai