Cheap and good – wouldn’t it be delightful if every meal were so? But the two seem mutually exclusive. Amazing food often comes with equally amazing prices, and don’t we know all about it living in import-dependent Doha?
Yet, this isn’t always so, and the thali is a prime example. A specialty of South India, thali is a complete meal comprising multiple dishes served with rice and/or flatbreads. Available predominantly at lunch, the thali is said to have been conceived in the vegetarian kitchen as a way to ensure all food groups are covered.
Although there is no set formula, certain components find their way onto the plate: a dry vegetable, a vegetable stew, pulses, yogurt, pickles, a tamarind-based sour soup called resam and, of course, dessert. These dishes should also change on a daily basis, so there’s no repetition within the week.
But the most staggering thing about a thali is the price. Even in Doha, it hovers around the QR15 mark… and that sometimes includes bottomless refills! Balanced, healthy, and spectacularly delicious… here are 10 thalis to tantalise.
(Barwa Village, Al Wakra, 4488 2247 daily 7a-11p)
Vegetarian QR30, Non-Vegetarian QR40, Seafood QR45
If you’ve never tried a thali before, start here. It may be among the priciest in town, but the quality and selection is peerless. Featuring a breathtaking presentation, katori bowls with different food are placed on a round-cut banana leaf, on which rice, chappati and appam lay. The banana leaf itself acts as a plate, infusing its aroma into everything that comes into contact. Dakshin sets itself apart with a comprehensive menu divided by specialties of the different South Indian states – cooked specifically by chefs hailing from there for full authenticity.
(Al Mahar Street Old Ghanem 4443 7776 Safari Mall Abu Hamour 4469 1777, Al Khor Mall 4411 3755, Furousiya Street Muaither 4414 5777 Sun-Thurs 7a-3p, 5:30p-11p; Fri-sat 7a-11:30p)
Quick Lunch Limited QR15, Unlimited Special Meal QR18, North Indian Thali QR22
You’ll have to forgive the notoriously slow, apathetic service; the food more than makes up. This ubiquitous international brand is one of the very few vegetarian restaurants in Doha. Good thing then that Saravanaa Bhavan has four branches, the most famous of which is behind the Gold Souq. Also served on a banana leaf-covered plate, the thali features curries so jam-packed with flavour that most first-timers shake their heads in disbelief that there’s simply no meat. Although there’s an option for North Indian curries, stick to the original southern varieties.
The Garden Village
(Ahmed bin Ali Street, by German Embassy, Bin Omran 4488 5115 daily 11:30a-11:30p)
Vegetarian QR10, Fish Curry Meal QR12, North Indian Meal QR14, Sadhya QR18
On weekdays, you could be in and out of here in 20 minutes, probably trundling on the exit after a massive thali meal served within in a flash. But on weekends, splurge on the sadhya meal, the plus version. Forget plates. A giant banana leaf is placed directly on the table, and the server comes over with a trolley of nearly 15 curries, chutneys, and dips. Each gets its own little pile on the banana leaf, along with a heap of rice and separate teapots of resam and buttermilk to complete the meal. Best part, each dish is refillable to your heart’s content.
(Abdullah bin Thani Street, Al Asmakh 7758 4376 daily 9a-midnight)
Chicken/Mutton/Vegetarian Thali QR11, Newari Samaya Baji Set QR17
Nepalese cuisine has adopted the thali concept, calling it daal bat – lentil daal with rice. The wonderfully atmospheric and charming Nepali Kitchen serves an endless stream of thali at lunch, with curries lighter than their Indian counterpart. For a more intriguing meal, get a Samaya Baji set, traditional to the Newari people of the Kathmandu Valley. The baji, beaten rice not dissimilar to a dry cereal, is served with marinated meat, black soybeans, green vegetables, and pickles. Order a side of momo dumplings and you’ll have Nepal on a plate!
(Airport Road, between AlMana and Qatar Airways building, Al Hilal 4462 2110 daily 8a-3p, 6p-11:30p)
Fish/Vegetarian Thali QR11
The sheer number of takeaway orders awaiting pickup speaks to the popularity of this restaurant. Come during weekday lunch and you’ll find the dining room heaving with workers from surrounding offices. Efficient, friendly service is a definite selling point, along with what is arguably the best spiced okras this side of the Ganges River.
(Al Fayhaa Street, near Mannai Roundabout, Musheireb 4431 1661 daily 11a-midnight)
Fish/Vegetarian Thali QR14
Split into two storeys, Al Osra predominantly attracts diners to its upstairs buffet spread at lunchtime. Downstairs, the restaurant has cemented a reputation for serving a mean biryani. The thali may not be a bestseller but gains my favour for providing the option of matta rice (also known as Kerala red rice) with its richer, earthier flavour to sop up my thali.
(B-Ring Road, Al Muntazah, 4443 9555, daily 7a-11:30p)
Limited meal QR12, Unlimited meal QR22, Mini Meal QR15, North Indian Limited Meal Qr25
Although thali is endemic to South India, many restaurants are increasingly serving North Indian dishes in this style. And at Aryaas, it’s even better. The exclusively vegetarian restaurant offers a North Indian meal with the likes of chickpea curry, spinach paneer, and naan. It’s twice the price and features fewer varieties than the southern version but worth every riyal.
(Crazy Signal 4443 2211 / Al Wakra 4443 9911 / Nasrallah Centre Bin Mahmoud 4443 9955 / Parco Mall Mamoura 4443 5454 daily 7a-3p, 6p-11p)
Mini Meal QR13, Full Meal QR16m, Mini Tiffin QR17
Thali is almost exclusively served at lunch, feeding workers in need of a quick, filling meal. Yet the concept can be appealing to some during breakfast and dinner. Bharath caters to this market with a mini tiffin set. Lentils are the star ingredient — griddled as a dosa crepe, steamed into an idli cake, and fried into a battered vada — all accompanied with chutneys and curries.
Homeland Hyderabadi Spices
(between Salwa Road and Al Adhwaa Street, opposite Home Center, Musheireb 4441 9789 daily 6a-midnight)
Fish / Vegetarian Thali QR10
The working class café. It’s no surprise the majority of Homeland’s clientele comes from Hyderabad for a taste of home. Its most popular dinner item is the dum biryani of that city’s fame. But at lunch time, a virtual army of soldiers whisks thalis from kitchen to table, circulating the dining room to top up plates with mountains of rice and whichever side dishes you desire.
(Al Qairawan Hotel Apartments, Al Salajah Street, Al Jadeed 4402 5011 daily 6:30a-3:30p, 6:30p-11p)
Fish Thali QR7, Vegetarian Thali QR12, Chicken Thali QR14, Mutton Thali QR16
If it were not for a brilliant marketing strategy on social media, Royal Udupi would probably remain unknown to many. Its location on the first floor of an unassuming building between A-Ring and B-Ring roads makes it an adventure to find. Those who succeed are rewarded with rather wholesome, respectable thalis at unbelievable prices – the fish meal is only QR7!
** A version of this articles appeared in Time Out Doha **