Notwithstanding their ongoing Mango Masti Festival 2018, Maharaja Bhog will ensure you lick your plate clean and leave with a smile, not a belch, on your lips, says Anupama Chandra.
If there is anything that makes me break into a sweat when it comes to food, it is a thali. I have never felt cut out to understand nor appreciate the thali system, partly because of an enthusiastic father who was always trying to get me to like it. A huge plate dressed in all manners of food before it even hits my table has unfailingly made me nervous at every given opportunity.
It was, therefore, with unmistakable trepidation that I prepared to visit Maharaja Bhog, famed as it is for its premium Rajasthani and Gujarati vegetable thalis. Walking up to the shop front, I realised that it was not an unfamiliar logo. Having had worked in offices in the same vicinity, I had, on many occasions, seen this logo on meal boxes delivered to my hungry colleagues. Am sure I had run in the other direction on being invited to taste the ‘thali,’ given my fear, one that was sharply rising again— one very unfounded as I was to realise soon.
A very amicable Ishwarji ushered us into a bright, well-appointed long hall that was already milling with a crowd with a singular and urgent need—to be fed and fed well on a hot, sweltering afternoon. Amidst much ribbing by colleagues about my love affair with thalis, we sat down to a simple table holding up huge bronze plates (yes, I could already feel the bile rising in my throat) filled with many katoris of varying sizes and three glasses of unequal height.
Chit-chat and charity
While waiting for the last guest to arrive, we were served a fragrant welcome drink of a clear saffron hue. One sip of the refreshing Kesar Chandan and I had left the cloying humidity of the afternoon far behind. I have had this drink out of the bottle many a times, but this was something else. I would have been happy to call it a day here and return to work, so invigorating was the drink but I am glad I didn’t.
A liveried attendant arrived with a big tokri that held a cow figuirine with a coin slot on top, a bowl full of tulsi leaves and another full of one and two rupee coins. He asked us to put a coin in the slot and take a tulsi leave to chew on; Ishwarji impressed us with the fact that this is to signify to each guest that for every thali consumed at Maharaja Bhog, one rupee is contributed to gau seva. Another attendant brought a jug and platter to each of us to aid us in washing our hands before the meal. We were asked if we are okay with garlic and onion or would we opt for Jain fare; we unanimously choose the former option.
Brimful of aam-wadi food
Soon there was an army of attendants who came to fill each plate and katori with black chana chur, a spicy green chutney and a sticky brown sweet one, paneer corn capsicum, aloo jaipuri, shahi gatta, kairi gawar rajwadi, dal batti churma, nargis kofta, khatta dhokla, aamras, chikku halwa, kadhi and two types of dal – sweet and spicy. Mini versions of fulka roti, methi puri and saatpadi roti too landed on our plates, and once we tasted these, we were also offered yellow moong dal khichdi and plain rice both topped with ghee. Maharaja Bhoj is said to serve different dishes each day of the month, so you can be sure that you will get to sample different fare the day you decide to visit. However, if you want to try their Dal Batti Churma, which is fried and not baked, choose to visit on a Wednesday. Right now, their ongoing Mango Masti Festival 2018 will ensure that you will be offered an unlimited supply of aamras whenever you visit; it is their summer special.
I have already mentioned before that the Kesar Chandan was gorgeous; over repeated glasses of this elixir compounded by a cool chaas, I worked my way through the entire list of contents in front of me. The tasty nargis kofta reminded me just a bit of the beet-aloo chops my mother has taught me crave in the winters, and the gatta sabzi was so subtly flavoursome and its pairing with the saatpadi was just right. The aloo jaipuri was the only dish having garlic and the hint of heat just elevated the dish to another level.
Aamraas was of stock flavour and paired well with the methi puri; it is not possible to improve the perfection the gods have already bestowed on this king of fruits, is it? I love Gujrati sweet dal and this sweet dal helped stir those dal-filled memories once more. I hate chikkus and yet loved the chikku halwa offered here, while the kadhi and khichdi was the right point to wind up the meal on. I reserve my comments of the kairi gawar for the last, because they say to save the best for exactly this position. How a simple kairi changes the entire taste profile of the under-loved vegetable gawar can only be believed on tasting it. It was divine. It is a pity that not all patrons will be able to sample it.
A few thoughts
The hospitality was inimitably warm and attentive, and yet thoughtful enough not to intrude into your space. The ambience is so calm even when the restaurant is situated on a busy main road, partly helped by the well-curated music. The one thought that plagued me strongly was that being a mango festival makes one expect more aam and kairi dishes per meal; one-two dishes just do not suffice. Be it in the form of sabzi, mithai, achaars or chutney, a repeated appearance of the star ingredient is what makes the festival complete.
The meal was completed on a note that all Indian meals are—with a paan. That one of us had had a root canal treatment just the previous day, and could still enjoy it without any discomfort speaks highly of the quality, and was completely reflective of the meal. Light and delicious!