Bohra cuisine is widely spread across the globe, from the Middle East and Northern Africa to the Indian subcontinent and all the way to the western world. Often Mughlai dishes such as Kebabs and Tikkas are commonly made by Bohra families. Having its roots deeply embedded in Yemen, it is no wonder that Bohra food has many Arabic and Middle Eastern Influences and Thaal imbibes all these experiences into one plate.
Situated a few kilometers from the stunning Reis Magos Fort on the banks of the river Mandovi this quaint restaurant brings a touch of the Persia to Goa. The restaurant interiors designed by Isabel Hernandez Lelli incorporate a variety of Arabic elements. The outside – garden and bar area with its white cane rustic furniture overlooks the mouth of the river and one can wile away an afternoon watching the waves crash on the small beach. The radiant Moroccan blues that adorn the walls to the glint of gold and red cushions spread over the intricate carpets inside give this restaurant a very plush yet homely feel. The family thaal (a huge thali) which has been passed down through generations in the chef’s – Rumana Roowala family is hung proudly on the wall and this is what lends its name to the restaurant – Thaal.
Thaal offers all its guest a unique insight into Bohra food served the traditional way in a thaal where all partakers sit on the carpet and eat as a family. The Thaal experience and style of eating consists of seven courses on special occasions this can go up to nine. Each meal begins with tasting a few grains of salt, which is believed not only to cure the taste buds but also cure many illnesses. Unlike normal meals, Bohra cuisine starts with a dessert instead of ending with one such at the creamy Kalamra made of curd, rice, almonds, raisins garnished with pomegranate and rose petals. This dish is just divine are reminds me of my grandmothers Kheer but just the Bhora version. All the dishes are placed in the center of the thaal and shared, the messier the thaal the better it is considered we are told by Chef Rumana.
The next to arrive is Kokum Ke Aloo, potatoes tossed with Kashmiri chilly, coriander, kokum – also commonly called Pyaali in Mumbai street food but this is a Bohra adaptation of it. The chatpata or rather the tangy taste of this dish lease you smacking your lips for more. Depending on which day you eat at Thaal the dishes in this seven-course meal can vary. Course three we were treated to the Keema Samosa. These pocket-size traditional light pastries are filled with succulent minced mutton and spices served with Tamarind chutney. So moreish that no one wants to be polite when it comes down to the last one.
The sticky sweetness and density of the fourth course is just divine and have to say in now one of our favorites is the rich Malido, comprising of cubes made with jaggery, ghee, sooji, and dry fruits. The pieces de resistance and fifth are course is the very traditional Khichra, where whole wheat rice, three types of dal, spices and mutton are slow cooked and then minced together to make this dish. It is hard to describe this dish as the look of doesn’t say much but the taste and texture is something else. Rather like a stodgy rice dish that packs a punch that you just don’t expect. The flavors are subtle and the mutton is so fine that it is incorporated into the mixture so well that you may not even know it is there, however, the aroma is such that one can but take it all in.
Yet another sweet, this one is seasonal and really does depend on the fresh produce in the market; comprises to make the sixth course. This can be either Aamrass (Mango pure) or even Jamun ice-cream but we had the Baklava pie. The sticky sweet goodness just leaves you with three simple words, OH MY GOD! That is if you can say anything after the first bite. Unlike the traditional baklava, this does not have layers of pastry but more like a pie and yet every bit as delicious and definable not to be missed. The seventh and final course is Paan (stuffed betel leaves prepared either sweet or savoury way).
The Raan is one of those spectacular restaurant dishes that always create a stir when served at the table. The whole roast leg of mutton which is tender and melts in your mouth is marinated in mixed spices and grilled for eight hours. It is a good idea to pre-order this due to the slow cook, but it is so worth the wait. Each tender morsel is juicy and mouth-watering, served aromatic bed of rise.
There are also plenty of vegetarian options including a veg Thaal, the Jaali Roti Roll is succulent Paneer (Cottage Cheese) cubes & vegetables enclosed in a crisp wheat flatbread and pan fried till golden brown or the unusual Gulaab Jamun Ki Sabji a curry in which fried Gulab Jamuns nestled in a gravy made with Indian spices & served with Lachcha Parathas.
A word of warning one must bring their appetite as there is nothing quick about this style of eating as you leisurely work your way through all the courses and a bigger pair of pants. Take it from us we all started off upright but by the end of the meal we had pretty much spread out all over the cushions were pretty much horizontal in a totally satisfied food coma.