Iconic Restaurant Food

A haven for veggies

Shree Thaker Bhojanalay is synonymous with home-style cooking, that hasn’t changed since Indian Independence

“Be happy when you cook, as food cooked with love goes down well.” This was the mantra followed by Maganbhai Purohit, founder of Shree Thaker Bhojanalay at Kalbadevi, Mumbai, and perhaps what contributed in a large way to its success since its inception in 1945.

A small congested one-way street, a narrow staircase with an unassuming entrance and long queues later, one enters this haven for vegetarian Gujarati food. But nobody seems to mind any of this, as the food experience here is unparalleled. Squeaky clean, there is a large hall for people to be seated as well as a room inside, but the décor is no-frills.

Humble beginnings

A haven for veggies

Hailing from Rajasthan, Maganbhai Purohit came to Mumbai at the age of eight to make a living. From breaking coal to cleaning and helping in the kitchen, the hard-working young boy learnt cooking and mastered Gujarati dishes too. After starting Restaurant Sariat in 1940, he opened Shree Thaker Club in 1945, named after the man from whom he had purchased the place.

“With the word club having different connotations, many thought it was a place for cards and drinking, and thus, Maganbhai changed the name to Shree Thaker Bhojanalay,” reveals his son, Gautam Purohit, who now runs the show.

Although from Rajasthan, my father decided to open an eatery which served mainly Gujarati food with a few Rajasthani dishes, as this area was frequented by Gujarati traders. - Gautam Purohit Owner

Slowly, but surely, Maganbhai expanded the place from the one room initially on the ground floor, to the large area it is today.

Although he inherited the legacy from his father almost 35 years ago, when he stepped in to help his father who was unwell, Gautam, his only son, learnt it the hard way too. “I became a chef to understand the business better. I imbibed how to run the restaurant from my father, who was here until last year, at the age of 96, even on the day when he passed away. I am blessed to have my cousin Krishna help me run this place,” reveals Gautam.

Simple and wholesome food

A haven for veggies

The food at Shree Thaker Bhojanalay is not oily, heavy, or drowned in boatloads of masala. It is home-style and has a variety of textures and flavours. From mirchi bhajias, biscuit bhakri, dahi kadhi, dal baati churma to khichdi and shrikhand, their specialities are a big hit, served on sumptuous thalis by the wait staff.

“Although from Rajasthan, my father decided to open an eatery which served mainly Gujarati food with a few Rajasthani dishes, as this area was frequented by Gujarati traders back then,” says Gautam.

At four annas a thali in the 1940s and 50s, Shree Thaker Bhojanalay was more affordable than the other restaurants around and yet served quality food. One could expect two green vegetables, lentils, rotis, bhakris, khichdi, rice and dal, with some dishes served alternately in the morning and evening.

Changing with the times

A haven for veggies

The thali was limited at first. The unlimited version was introduced only later. Sweets too were a weekly affair at the time, but gradually began to be served every day.

Initially, diners sat on the floor and food was served on a paat (low table). Tables and chairs came in later.

“It is only after I stepped in that I introduced an AC in each room and made changes in the décor, much to my father’s chagrin,” laughs Gautam. He adds, “At first he resisted, but I made him realise that these changes and modernisation of the kitchen were much needed and he agreed.”

Keeping legacy intact

A haven for veggies

Barring a few changes, Gautam has not altered much, as loyal customers of this place love it the way it is. “Food wise, I have made it lighter, with less oil and healthier, as that is how people prefer it nowadays. Seasonal dishes such as undhiyu and aam ras are a must. Sundays are special with a pulao, three desserts, six types of rotis and an extra vegetable.”

He adds, “I have maintained the quality of the food. That was something my father believed in and I have imbibed it from him,” Gautam says. Wheat is made from grains purchased by them and the vegetables too are brought fresh each day.

“We cook food in small batches and it is made again if need be, rather than have vegetables get discoloured and taste flavourless, being cooked and kept since the morning,” he explains.

From Nigella Lawson to Chef Alain Passard and Ness Wadia to Asha Bhonsle, Shree Thaker Bhojanalaya has played host to celebrities from various fields. “Actor Farooq Shaikh used to love our food and was a regular,” says Gautam.

However, marketing is not something he is comfortable doing. “We do not feel the need to, as we have a set of loyal clientèle. It is only now that we have a presence on social media,” he says. Ashvin Bhai Kothari, a loyal customer who has been eating lunch here every day for the past 40 years, bears ample testimony to Gautam’s claims.

While Gautam runs the restaurant with the same passion as his father, he is clear that he will manage it till he is alive and perhaps even expand it. But after him? “Hopefully my children, although they are still too young, will take over, or maybe my cousin and his family will take the legacy forward,” he signs off.

In this weekly column, we take a peek at the histories of some of the country’s most iconic restaurants

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 10:34:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/a-haven-for-veggies/article22760795.ece

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