Mandap, Express Hotel – Baroda

Thalis. The name itself scares me because of the sheer amount of food that is put in front of you! I am also a little scarred by the experience that I’ve had where you have 15 servers hovering around you trying to dump things in your plate. It’s a little scary for a little to sit with a giant plate, 10 bowls and 15 people trying to fill up your plate as though it was the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest plate serving! It also didn’t help that we would eat Gujarati food everyday at home and a thali place did not provide us with any novelty. I think I must have been to 2 thali places and that scarred me enough to never go back.


Coming to present day, we had a friend visiting Baroda and we were wondering where we could go for a nice lunch. He wanted to eat some Gujarati food and the only place that S knew of serving good Gujarati food was Mandap in Express Hotel.  I put aside my fears of a thali restaurant and we went ahead. Express Hotel was one of the first hotels that were set up in Baroda. They were the first ones to introduce éclairs and croissants in the city through their bakery. S also tells me that he’s been going to their restaurants since he was a kid and he has seen the servers age while they have seen him grow! I find that story absolutely adorable. Its kind of like the story I have in a Pune restaurant called Vaishali that we used to frequent so much that a lot of the servers knew our orders! Always good to be where people recognize you..


The restaurant has a lot of wood. They have old wooden jharokhas or windows decorating the walls, cloth tied up above tables to give you the feeling that you are in a tent, ‘sankheda’ chairs and wooden tables. I loved the thalis! Unlike a lot of other places that serve stainless steel thalis, their plates are made of ‘kaansa’ or bell metal. They are a light golden-ish color and you have the same kind of bowls and spoons. A refreshing change.  At the center of the tables, there is a dish with all kinds of condiments to help enhance the flavor of your meals. So colorful and beautiful! There was the standard mixed pickle, some fried chillies, fried capsicum, lemon wedges, imli chutney and green chutney. The colors were gorgeous and it all looked very inviting.


As soon you enter and sit down, you are served plain chhaas and a mocktail. The mocktail, on the day we went, was ‘Blue Lagoon’. I typically don’t like it so did not bother to try it either. The chhaas was nice. Plain, with salt, and thin, like a gujarati chhaas. Very refreshing. As it is with all thali places, hoards of servers come asking you 50 questions to a minute, holding out all kinds of food! We were starting off with the quintessential Gujarati farsan, patra and samosas. The patras were ok, a little too firm and thick but the samosas were yummy! Simple potato filling, nothing fancy, just well fried and well-seasoned.


The person handing out vegetables followed the farsan. We had four vegetables- Punjabi Chhole, drumsticks in besan gravy, potato and peas vegetable and ladyfingers! It might seem strange to have chhole on a gujarati thali, but I really like the idea because I do not always enjoy all the Gujarati vegetables. This makes it possible to eat something that can be quite tasty. The chhole was good- nothing extraordinary but nothing to complain about either. The aloo-mutter subzi had a nice balance of spices and had a little bit of clear gravy. Normally this vegetable is very oily wherever I have had it before but this time, it wasn’t that bad. I actually appreciated the fact that most of things were lower in oil, comparatively. I love bhindi and was so glad to see some on my plate! Well cooked, and a little spicy but tasted good when eaten with the roti. My favorite was the drumstick vegetable! It is a ploy to put drumsticks on your plate because I don’t know of anyone who would be able to eat the drumsticks in a dignified manner outside. In any case, I love the besan gravy – spicy, tangy, sweetish and rich. I am a huge fan of anything made from besan so maybe my opinion is biased, but I still think it was very well made.


Next came the person with the dals! If you’re in Gujarat, and eating a Gujarati thali, you have to have kadhi! Mandap offers your four choices of dals and kadhi and you can choose 2. Since we are Gujaratis and have the same flavored dal and kadhi at home every time, I went ahead and asked for the ‘Punjabi’ dal and kadhi. I put Punjabi in inverted commas because it is not really a Punjabi kadhi! I think its just kadhi and dal that has a little less sugar or jaggery, and has some more garam masala. I enjoyed it a lot more than the Gujarati kadhi or dal. I do think the Gujarati kadhi must have been really good because a friend relished a couple of cups! He said that it was the perfect impression he had of Gujarati kadhi – sweet and tangy.


After we were served the vegetables and our dals and kadhis, we were served rotis and theplas. The theplas are the cutest I have ever seen! They’re small, almost like mini puris, and thick! They were really tasty and I have never had anything like them. They had ghee rotis but when we asked for plain, they were happy to oblige.


Now my favorite part – the desserts! We had so many choices, I felt utterly lost. There some gajar ka halwa, gulab jamun, fruits in a custard sauce and ras malai. I decided to stick to the gajar ka halwa and the gulab jamun. The gulab jamun was not good. The syrup was fine, but the gulab jamun itself was very dense and heavy and was quite thick in the center. They were very passable. The gajar ka halwa on the other hand, was very good -Not very sweet, just right and rich. It didn’t have too many dry fruits, was pure and simple. I loved the consistency and sweetness in it and enjoyed it more because it was warm. The perfect winter dish!


The service at Mandap is better, it’s a slightly more fine dining place. The waiters are courteous and don’t look hurried. They will not give you 5 seconds to choose and then move on. They do a better job of pouring things in the correct bowls and don’t make it look like a mess, like other thali places. I have been told this is not the best thali experience you can get and there are others that are better, but I was extremely satisfied with this experience and the food.


For making me enjoy going to a thali restaurant, I give Mandap a 3.5 on 5!

Restaurant Timings: 12:00 pm-3 pm and 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm

Restaurant Contact: 0265-3055000

Parsi Da Dhaba, In Between Vapi and Mumbai

Parsi food sure is becoming super popular! Everywhere I go, people want to talk about the places they went to eat Parsi food and what they tried. S and I are both vegetarians who eat eggs but according to our friends, if you don’t eat meat you can’t fully experience the joys of Parsi food. I do agree with that because most of their diet is meat based and the way the cook the meat adds to the charm; but vegetarian eaters need not feel left out! There are quite a few things you can eat which are vegetarian or which have eggs. If you don’t eat eggs, I think you may have a problem!

Parsis are a fascinating and very jovial community. If you haven’t lived in Bombay, your chances of interacting with Parsis is bound to be very limited. They have excellent English, are very good at theatre, have a very distinct fashion sense and possess the ability to laugh at themselves. Their culture is unique to them and Parsi weddings or festivals are wonderful to observe.

S and I were driving to Bombay this last weekend and when we told some friends about it, they said we absolutely must stop at Parsi da Dhaba.  One  of them even went as far as saying that the only way he would drive down to Bombay is to eat the food there. With such rave reviews how could we NOT go there? We weren’t sure  exactly where it was but Google Maps sure knew it! Fortunately they have sign boards and ample parking space. We were not sure if we entered the right place so moved around a little precariously.

The garden restaurant echoes the way a lot of fancier dhabas are. They have simple, brown plastic tables and chairs and huts erected. Its quite shady and since we went around winter time it wasn’t hot at all even though there were no fans around us. We were seated quickly and had our menus in front of us in a short span of time. Our friends had strongly suggested getting the ‘dudh nu puff’ and there were a whole lot of flavours to choose from including chocolate, rum and brandy. We settled for vanilla. I loved their menu because it had a little explanation and a brief background/story of the dish.  Traditionally, the glass of milk is kept by the windowsill to cool through the night and is frothed  the next morning so that it has a frothy top called puff. We weren’t exactly sure what this was so we decided to split one. Its a small glass which is filled 1/3rd with sweetened and flavored milk. And topped with a huge puff. Its very light on  the stomach and I can easily imagine having 3 or 4 of these myself!

I am a huge French Toast lover and when we went to Gir recently, more about that in my next post, I ate French Toast every day for the 5 days we were there! Parsi da Dhaba also had French Toast on their menu and the description said if you haven’t eaten French Toast their way you haven’t eaten it at all! Of course I HAD to try it.. It is served as 2 slices of bread covered in a golden eggy mixture. I tasted a hint of vanilla and it was sweet and moist enough that I did not need honey with it. Not bad, but not the greatest. I personally did not enjoy the bread and would have preferred if they would have used a slightly thicker bread.

S wanted to eat Dhanshak but we were driving to Bombay abd he didn’t want to fall asleep at the wheel after eating the rice and Dhanshak. He settled on tamatu per edda or an egg on tomatoes. The tomatoes are more like a gravy and there is a fried egg on top of it. We  had eaten papeto per edda or salli per edda which is an egg on potato chips, but our server said that the potatoes stick to the pan and this turns out much better. I love the Parsi tomato sauce! It has a different sweetness, not sugar but  honey or jaggery. I’m not sure. And it is very subtle. You can still taste the sourness of the tomatoes but they have a good balance with all the spices. All in all it was great! Parsi da Dhaba serves a great tamatu per edda with all the flavors balanced just right! The yolk is slightly runny and looks gorgeous with that golden liquid oozing out of it.  S ate it with their rotis which are like homemade phulkas. They are light and have the sweetness that comes from wheat. Perfect accompaniment to this dish.

I was still a little hungry since the French Toast wasn’t really that heavy. I decided  to order some baked potatoes. They were beautiful. Covered and served in foil and thrown in the charcoal pit, they have a nice smokey taste. They  are served with a little bit of pepper, salt and butter. Potatoes that amazingly satiate the need for carbs in a healthy way. Just as soon as I ordered the baked potatoes I stumbled upon aloo parathas in their menu. I don’t know why but I was craving potatoes terribly that day. After I made S swear that we would share the paratha with me, just so that I don’t feel lie a glutton, I ordered them. They came quickly and were piping hot. The aloo parathas were served with a side of curd which was thankfully not at all sour and was thick and creamy. I love my curd and hate it when restaurants serve sour and thin curd. The parathas were crisp, hot and obviously had a good amount of oil in them. They had an excellent filling of potatoes, onions, chillies and spices. Simple yet perfect. Judging by the parathas I would think that their Punjabi food would be great too!

Besides Dudh nu Puff, the other highly recommended thing was the caramel custard. It was so delicious! Creamy, eggy, sweet with a hint of gorgeously caramelised sugar and it had air bubbles. Now I’m not really a fan of custards but this was very good. It wasn’t very heavy on the stomach for some reason so even though we had eaten so much, the dessert didn’t make us uncomfortable. We completely relished it and savored every bite. I can’t think of a better way to complete this meal.

The menu at the Dhaba has a section at the back for information about Parsis for non-Parsis written in a very jovial and light hearted way. Its a delight to read it. Some of the facts I loved were – “You eat 30 eggs a day”, “If you have a tan then you are off the marriage market” and “You secretly think you are related to the Queen”.

The service is quick, efficient and the place is very clean. Its nice enough to visit with family as well and we were surrounded  by tables that had come with grandparents and all.  The food is great and I’ve heard the non-vegetarian food is amazing! Its not too far from Thane and is worth a visit on Sundays for a long drive and some yummy food.  This place is the prefect highway Dhaba and I can’t wait to take another long drive to Bombay just so I can visit here.

For good food, quick service, a clean  restaurant and reasonably priced food, I give Parsi da Dhaba a 4 out of 5!

Happy Travels!!

Restaurant details: Located on NH 8, Village Varwada

Restaurant Contact: +918806279379

Salsa Habanero – Baroda

Mexican food and Indian food are so similar in many ways. They both use a lot of spices, whole grains and dried beans. The use of fresh produce is also prominent, even though a lot of the food has meat. Of course, what I am referring to as ‘Mexican Food’ is actually the more popular ‘Tex-Mex Food.’  It tastes delicious and blends into our Indian palate well. It does surprise me that it is not more popular in India. We have some wonderful restaurants that serve good and more or less authentic Tex-Mex food like Sancho’s in Bombay, which is a huge favorite of ours. I was very happy when I found out there is someone in Baroda who makes authentic burritos and a few other Mexican dishes. S, and so many of his friends, kept raving about his food. He only serves on weekends and I was never there for some reason on weekends.

I finally got a chance to visit Salsa Habanero, a Mexican Taqueria, a few weeks ago. To be honest, everyone just referred to him as Paco; so when I saw the board for Salsa Habanero, I was a little surprised. The entrance is a cute little metal door, which is a part of the owner’s house. He has created a small open kitchen where you watch while Chef Paco makes your food right in front of you! Such an exciting and wonderful experience! It is always a delight to have a conversation with both Prakash and Rita. I found it very interesting that they are trying to grow Avocados and do grow habanero chilies themselves.  Habanero chilies are some of the spiciest in the world and Tabasco has a Habanero chili flavor. All I can say is, it is NOT for the weak of the tongue. But used correctly (and sparingly), they add so much flavor to the food! Yummm!

But lets talk about Salsa Habanero and their food. It is every bit as good as everyone had been saying it was! I couldn’t believe I hadn’t had a chance to try it sooner! After a long time, I ate real Mexican food with authentic flavors. It seems like he does use authentic vegetables and spices that are traditionally used in Mexican food. Allow me to digress for a second.  A Taqueria is a small Mexican restaurant that would specialize in tacos and/or burritos. To those who like to try something new all the time and want a large, extensive menu, you will be a little disappointed with the variety offered. But rest assured, once you try the food, there is no turning back. You will keep going for more! Paco offers 3 different kinds of burritos, Nachos, soft tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, a very spicy salsa and a tortilla basket. The burritos are exactly the kind that they serve in the US. Huge and completely well filled. One burrito is more than enough for one person and I normally can’t even finish mine! They are beautifully stuffed with Mexican rice, beans and the stuffing you have decided upon. He adds some cheese and sour cream to it and rolls it up. I wish he would have a workshop where he would show you how to roll up a perfect burrito. I always seem to make a mess when I try to make them at home.

Next is the Nachos Grande. True to their name, they are grand and loaded with beans, chips, cheese, sour cream and some Pico de Gallo. Delicious and a delightful treat! They taste best when they are eaten super fresh and I doubt you’ll want to share them. The tortilla basket was something we tried recently and really enjoyed it because of all the fresh lettuce in there. The basket itself stayed quite crisp because it was slightly on the thicker side. Had it been thinner, it would have become quite soggy from the entire filling. The soft tacos weren’t my favorite and I didn’t enjoy them as much only because I felt I could’ve done with more freshness in them. We have had the enchiladas on occasion and once you get them heated up perfectly, they taste wonderful! They come packed separately and Rita helps you understand how to heat them up to ensure you get the best out of them. The sauce has a wonderful smoky flavor to it and the beans and rice on the side taste wonderful. Now that I think of it, a lot of his vegetables, sauces and salsa have this gorgeous smoked flavor. I love that about his food! I think that is only possible when you make smaller quantities so you can maintain the consistency and quality of your food.  I almost forgot about the grilled salsa! The vegetable are grilled in it too and lend a gorgeous flavor, but let me warn you, it is spicy! Well, then again, I’m not very good with spicy food so I find it a little too spicy, but I love the flavors so much! It ‘jazzes’ up all the food and I tend to keep a little to eat with chips the next day.

What I think I love most about Salsa Habanero is that he uses fresh produce. It also makes me content to know that his stuff will not have artificial preservatives. I love the whole experience and the uniqueness of it. Where in India would you find such a concept where the chef is not interested in commercial gains? Paco genuinely seems to enjoy sharing his food and feeding others.  Even though you end up being there for hardly 15 minutes, watching him and talking to him gets you inspired. I love their entire set up and it is definitely the next big concept in food.

Salsa Habanero is only open for takeaways on the weekend between 6 pm to 10 pm. You must call them beforehand to let them know of your order and then choose a pick up time that is convenient to both parties. If you are from Baroda and enjoy authentic Mexican food, YOU HAVE TO GO HERE! I hate sounding like a groupie but its just so yummy!

I need to go back next weekend to take better pictures of Paco and his yummy food, at least that is what my excuse is going to be! 😉 I am excited to begin my maiden restaurants in Baroda review with Salsa Habanero. Do let me know what you think about Salsa Habanero.

Telephone Number: 09714039119

Website (For menu and directions):