I enjoyed dinner at Ketan and Hemal’s home shortly before I left Mumbai. 

It wasn’t just good, it was also a lesson for me. Hemal hails from the southwestern part of Gujurat and so cooked me food from that area, Kachchh.  I had enjoyed several Gujurati thalis eaten in restaurants, but I admit I didn’t love them.  The lesson I learned was one I should have known by now–that homecooked food is often superior to restaurant food. 

This wasn’t simply superior, though.  Hemal’s food is in a class by itself.  Her dinner, prepared with the help of her cook, was one of the best meals I’ve had in India, period.  It was a marvel of delicate and distinct flavors…complementary textures…and wonderful aromas.    It was amazing.

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We started with kothimbir wade, tender cilantro cakes that had a texture reminiscent of eggs, but more refined.  (I don’t know what they were made from!)  We ate them with a pungent, fantastic green garlic chutney that I happily ate by itself.   

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Dinner itself included more incredible dishes.   At the bottom left is a perfect, ghee-jeweled chapati, warm and tender.  Clockwise above is a salad and some simple, very tasty sauteed potatoes.  Next is a dry dal preparation, also delicious, and below that is a cucumber salad.  I’ve never had anything quite like this cucumber salad–redolent with gobs of fresh coconut and a little hing, I think Hemal told me.  Another extraordinary little simplicity is below that, some fresh chopped peppers tossed in a pungent (horseradish-/wasabi-esque) mustard bath.  A thalipith rests in the middle. 

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Off to the side of this handsome thali rested more food.  More lovely food.  Along with those pungent peppers, a dish of little eggplant in a rich peanut sauce was my favorite of the evening.  In spite of such an indulgent spread, I ate two full helpings of the eggplant.  Num!  In the middle katori rested some cauliflower curry, and above that another dish with great texture–sprouted val dal–a lentil sort of like little, crunchy/soft lima beans.  I don’t think I noticed a single dish that tasted overly-sweet to me, the Gujurati stereotype. 

I ate as much as I could, and then I ate some more.  A pleated pappad:

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Not pictured, I regret, are a couple beers I had at the Indian Cricket Club off Marine Drive beforehand with Ketan.  Nor, a helping of rice with a drizzle of yogurt, nor a delicious sip of spiced buttermilk.  And the most grievous omission of all was perhaps the mung dal shira (Gujurati halwa) we enjoyed for dessert.  The shira was toasty, soft and full of sweet, sweet ghee.  Hemal said it paired nicely with ice cream.  Oh god!

Words really can’t communicate how much I enjoyed this meal, a surprise and then a delight.   Our conversation flowed around food all evening, and so I enjoyed learning, too. 

These foodies, Hemal and Ketan, *they eat well!*

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