The quest for food is the fundamental one and as a frequent traveler, I have been exposed to huge range of foods from many parts of India. Only a few of them have been as memorable as one I had at Agashiye. It is one of the restaurants of the heritage hotel House of M G, situated just opposite to world famous Sidi Saiyyad Mosque in the walled city of Ahmedabad. The restaurant is housed in 1924 built haveli of Seth Mangal Das Giridhar Das who was one of the wealthy supporter of Gandhi during freedom struggle. It has now been converted into an heritage hotel. The restaurant Agashiye on the terrace of this building serves authentic vegetarian Gujarati food, and it does that in style.
Last week while visiting Ahmedabad, I went there along with my sister’s family to have dinner. After paying at the counter on ground floor we were ushered by a topi clad boy in a lift to the terrace of the heritage hotel. As you step outside the lift you feel a charming fragrance of incense sticks (which are manufactured in house by them in two fragrances, Pakeezah and Tulasi). You then move to the left to reach at the welcome area where a statue of a lying Ganesh is placed besides a water body. To the left of this you notice few wooden park benches where we were seated first.
My group of four included my niece, sister and Jijaji (my sister’s husband). We sat on the benches and were served with a refreshing sharbat first. It was made from cucumber, pudina and some salt and sugar. It is a traditional Gujarati welcome appetiser drink. The sharbat tasted good and rejuvenated us. Next we were served batata vada(stuffed potato filled in the gram flour coating) and some Dhokala type dish, with sweet and green chutneys. Feeling hungry we polished off some good portion of them quickly. After some time we were escorted to our next slot of food paradise. Here the food is prepared in all visible arena and you find a large number of boys and men in neat white kurtas and a Gandhi topi to serve you. We were seated at a wooden sofas with a table for four. The cloth napkins at the table were topped with a red rose each, which being desi (indigenous variety), were smelling sweetly.
Our hands were washed with lukewarm water being poured on them and chilamchi just below, gathered the used-water to be thrown away. The big plates were laid on the table and were silver coated. There were many small bowls and betel or paan leaf too. On being asked they told that the thalis are silver coated and since they served a many chutneys and pickles as part of Gujarati cuisine, the betel leaves were used to place chutneys and pickles on them to avoid spotting of thalis. This also enhanced the taste and presentation of food. It was really a nice thali view!.
The serving boys soon came to our table and poured in many types of cooked vegetables in our big thalis. The katoris(bowls) were still empty. The next boy came up with his hand held multi-service bowls to fill all katoris with pulses and kadhi and sweet milk preparations. Our thali was full now but there was no respite and the boys kept on pouring papad, chutneys, pickles, halwa and what not. The last one came with ghee laden chapatis and bhakhari( the smallish chapatti made with coarse grain flour). These bhakhari were to be eaten with Lahsun(garlic) ki chutney and the fresh butter. After pondering for a while about wherefrom to start, I started with bhakharis first. It really tasted well and with spiced support of garlic ki chutney and with fresh butter, I felt the tinge and the flavour both. Then we moved on to polish of various vegetables and kadhi etc. The kadhi in Gujarati tradition was sweetened. As a person of North Indian food habits, I did not like sweetened Kadhi and moved on to relish halwa and other specialties of the day. The service boys were unrelenting in serving us all of the dishes in big proportions. In between we also tasted some great chutneys and papad etc. We were really in a food paradise.
The tables around us were too filled up with people and everybody was virtually engrossed in their respective food tasks. The variety was too huge to handle and there fore I reclined backward on my sofa cum chair to get some fresh air into my lungs, which were feeling a little out of breath. The service boy came again to help with with chhaachh or buttermilk and said that would take care of even over eating. But it was not just over eating, it was over stuffing actually like the passengers squeezed in Vaishali Express to Bihar. I gulped in one whole glass of buttermilk and decided to clear my thali. I did that in few minutes and then realized service boy was back to my table gain with Kichadi(preapred by mixing rice with pulses) to be eaten with dollops of Ghee! In nort India Khichadi in itself is a light meal and now here we were supposed to eat that after the meal. I took some portion of it after constant persuasion from the waiter and by the time it was finished, my tummy was almost bursting at its seam, wherever these seams are. However, there was no respite still as now a sweet dish in form of traditional Kesar-Pista ice cream, churned in an earthen pot for hours, was served to us. I finished it too so as to douse at least some stomach fire stoked by spicy Gujarati food.
The next to follow were many little glass bottles having digestives of various types like tamarind, zeera pills, ginger etc. I tasted few. The next in line was paan (betel leaves). These were locked with cloves and were served with amla (gooseberry). I was told that amla was digestive and coupled with paan leaves, it really benefited us a lot. I had it too. The taste of paan with many condiments in it was really good. The amla was half boiled in salted water and eaten just before paan (betel), helped to be a palate cleanser actually.
Still next in the menu was coffee, which I decided to give a miss, as so much had gone into stomach and in so many tastes and colours that I found it little too much un-justice to my poor stomach. I decided to leave before I was threatened by any more recipes. All of us left the place heavier by at least 2 kg each. There is little wonder that Gandhi ji in his eleven vratas for a meaningful and soulful life prescribed, aswad as one of important discipline, literally meaning only eating irrespective of taste as much as was required for the body. We broke the rule that day to enjoy the gastronomical delights of Agashiye and enjoyed every bit of it. It’s really worth it.