TAB 200131 ANDHRA THALI MAIN-1581011021633
A typical vegetarian Andhra Thali at Sri Krishna Bhavan Restaurant in Karama, Dubai. Image Credit: Nagarjuna Rao

Dubai: Andhra food offers no apologies for being fiery. It is perhaps the spiciest of all regional cuisines of India. A typical Andhra thali pampers your taste buds with an assortment of items, each bursting with a distinctive aroma and flavour. That’s reason enough for it to qualify as ‘the king of all thalis’.

What makes Andhra food so spicy?

Andhra thali is as native to Telangana as it is to Andhra Pradesh. After all, the erstwhile state had been bifurcated only recently. People here love their food smothered in masalas (spices such as cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, fenugreek seed), ginger/garlic paste and a generous quantity of chilli powder or green chillies. As you may know, the city and district of Guntur in Andhra is home to the biggest chilli market in Asia.

So what is a thali?

Thali (meaning plate in Hindi) is an Indian-style meal served on a platter. Traditionally, Andhra food is served on a banana leaf. But, since some of the dishes such as sambar, rasam and majjiga (buttermilk) are liquid preparations, it demands a considerable feat to eat them off a banana leaf without making a mess. To combat this challenge, most restaurants serve food either in plates or on a banana leaf placed within the plate.

TAB 200131 Amaravathi THALI (10)-1581011019226
Anhdra Thali laid out at Amaravathi Restaurant in Karama, Dubai. Photo: Nagarjuna Rao

How is Andhra thali different from other thalis?

In the way it is served. An authentic Andhra thali is an elaborate spread beginning with starters, the main course and ending on a sweet note with delicious dessert.

What do you get in an Andhra thali?

Andhra Thali at Godavari Andhra Restaurant
Andhra Thali at Godavari Andhra Restaurant Image Credit: Nagarjuna Rao

Andhra Pradesh is known as ‘the rice bowl of India’ because the major crop of the South Indian state is rice. Understandably, rice is the staple of the Telugu-speaking people. Hence, it takes a place of pride on Andhra thali with all other items as worthy collaborators. But many restaurants also serve roti (unleavened Indian flat bread) or puris (deep fried flat bread) to cater to a wider clientele.

The platter is neatly arranged with an assortment of curries, fried vegetables, pappu (lentils), sambar (a lentils-based spicy stew), rasam (a tangy spiced broth), perugu (yoghurt), pickles, chutneys and spicy ‘gun powder’. And of course the unmissable ghee, which exponentially raises the taste quotient when poured on generously on any of these items.

Did we miss the legendary gongura pachadi?

A true lover of Andhra food feels dissatisfied if his favourite gongura pachadi is not served with the thali. Gongura or the leaves of the Roselle plant are used in a variety of ways, the most popular of which is the gongura pickle. A fiery preparation of gongura leaves, red chillies, whole spices and oil, its distinctive taste is best enjoyed with hot rice and a spoonful of ghee.

Mostly grown during monsoon and available seasonally, the leaf is pickled to last until next year. Season or not, there’s no reason for it to be absent from your thali. Fortunately, the restaurants that serve Andhra meal in Dubai don’t disappoint you.

TAB 200131 ANDHRA Amaravathi diners-1581011028688
Diners having their non-veg Andhra Thali at Amaravathi Restaurant in Karama, Dubai. Photo: Nagarjuna Rao

Where to find Andhra food in Dubai?

Four restaurants, all in and around Karama, serve authentic Andhra thali. Amaravati, that started 18 years back, is the oldest while Godavari Andhra Restaurant is the latest entrant. Prabha’s and Sri Krishna Bhavan Restaurant are the other two in the quartet.

Is non-vegetarian food served as well?

Traditionally, Andhra thali is synonymous with vegetarian food. But some restaurants do serve meat dishes in addition to the veg fare at an extra cost. Here in Dubai, except Sri Krishna Bhavan the other three serve chicken, mutton and seafood items such as natu kodi kura (country chicken curry), maamsam (mutton curry), chepala kura, chepala pulusu (fish curries) and chepala fry.

What are the common vegetarian items in all the four restaurants in Dubai?

Gongura pachadi, ‘gun powder’, mango pickle, ghee, papad, palakura pappu (spinach dal), sambar, rasam and curds (perugu) are served in all these restaurants.

TAB 200131 ANDHRA boy-1581011024012
A young boy tucking into Andhra Thali at Sri Krishna Bhavan Restaurant in Karama, Dubai. Photo: Nagarjuna Rao

But curries may vary depending on what’s available in the market or as per their rotational menu. One favourite of all — the guthi vankaya kura (egg plant stuffed with a choice of masalas and cooked in masala gravy with tamarind juice) is served on all days at these places.

The spiciness, however, varies from one another. It’s a notch down at Sri Krishna Bhavan. Chandrasekhar Reddy, a restaurateur from Bengaluru who own the Bhavan, says his eatery caters to all Indians with Andhra and Udipi cuisine. Hence, the slight scale down in spiciness to make it more palatable for all.

‘Gun powder’ on the menu. Do we run for cover?

Diners at Sri Krishna Bhavan Restaurant in Karama.
Diners at Sri Krishna Bhavan Restaurant in Karama. Image Credit: Nagarjuna Rao

Well, you don’t have to. It’s a sobriquet for the fiery kandi podi, a powder that’s made of lentils (toor, moong and chana), red chillies and cumin seeds that are dry-roasted separately and powdered together with asafoetida and salt for a tongue-tickling sensation when eaten mixed with steamed rice and ghee.

How much does a meal cost?

Surprisingly, Andhra thali works out economical despite such an elaborate array of delicious food items. At Sri Krishna Bhavan it costs Dh25 per thali; at Godavari Dh21 for vegetarian and Dh29 for non-vegetarian; at Amaravati Dh20 for veg and Dh30 for non-veg while at Prabha’s you pay Dh16 for veg and Dh19 for non-veg thali.

What do diners have to say?

Retired banker M Srinivas Kumar from Vizag in Andhra Pradesh, who was at Sri Krishna Bhavan along with his family, daughter and son-in-law Mallick, who is an IT professional in Dubai, said: “These days we don’t get such authentic Andhra food even back home.”

TAB 200131 ANDHRA SRI KRISHNA-1581011026274
Kumar, who is on his eighth trip to Dubai, says though he likes to try out different cuisines, his preference is Andhra food and he finds the staff at Sri Krishna Bhavan courteous.

Kumar, who is on his eighth trip to Dubai, says though he likes to try out different cuisines, his preference is Andhra food and he finds the staff at Sri Krishna Bhavan courteous.

Shirish, a Dubai-based bank employee, who hails from Gujarat in India and was at the restaurant along with his wife Neha and son Jinay, said he had lived in South India and likes Andhra food. “I like spicy food. Their gun powder, pappu and rice is what we enjoy the most. It’s value for money for vegetarians,” he said.

A group of men who were tucking into chicken and mutton curries along with the thali at Amaravati said it is their favourite place for authentic Andhra food. “We like their non-veg items and palakura pappu very much,” one of the men said.