Thali and Street Food in Southall

He doesn’t know it, but in the last few months I’ve developed a co-dependent relationship with Gordon Ramsay. At first I watched for the explosive drama and classic Ramsay expletives, but then I got hooked on the catch phrases of surprise and expressions of disgust. UK, USA or Costa del Sol; if Ramsay is there, I’ll watch it. It took me a while to try out his Best Restaurant series – because after all – who wants to see Gordo when he’s being nurturing and fostering positivity? But it turns out that Gordon Ramsay’s quest for the best is the reason we keep watching and it was his visit to The Brilliant in Southall that inpsired me to do the same. The Brilliant is, according to the show, one of the country’s best Indian restaurants. So while I had every intention of visiting, after chatting to some friends, who hail from the north and south of India, I decided I would go deeper and explore the places that I might have otherwised over-looked.

The first was Rita’s Chilli Chaat Corner, on The Broadway. Mostly a beloved a take-away joint, you can also eat inside and the service is excellent. We ordered  the Punjabi street food favourite called pani puri. Crisp, hollow balls surround a tiny bowl of chickpea (chaat) masala and golgappa (a green coloured tamarind flavoured water). I asked for some tips on how to eat this dish and they kindly gave me some instructions; crack open the ball, put in a spoonful of chaat masala and then fill it up with golgappa. The real knack comes when you have pop it all in your gob and crunch down as the cold, sweet and spicy liquid explodes. I know it sounds strange but believe me, it’s wonderful.

We also ordered some Amritsari fried cod, which was another a flavour sensation. Perfectly seasoned and spiced, the firm pieces of tasty cod were dry-fried and we dipped them in the mint chutney that was a standard condiment on the table. Afterwards, we walked back up The Broadway, and I dipped in and out of junk shops and grocery stores grabbing myself a pot of shrikand (sweetened yoghurt spiced with cardamon and safron) and a couple of pomegranates. I wanted to take a photo of the bejewelled wedding dresses in the windows but was told “no photographs”.

Just as I started feeling peckish again, we found ourselves in front of Saravanaa Bhavan in the old Glassy Junction building, right near the station. The menu includes a wide range of vegetarian food including Indo-chinese noodles and north Indian sabzis, kulchas and biryanis and plenty of southern specialties such as dosas, idlis, upmas, pongal, bisibelebath, medhu vadas.

It was busy, but we got a table and when I asked about the thalis, the waitress suggested we order the north Indian meal, because it wasn’t too spicy. When the tray of tiny bowls filled with curries, chutneys, rice, papadum and chepati landed in front of me I was in heaven. Every single dish was delish, from the lentil dhal, to the curried cauliflower, to the chaat masala and spring roll. But my most favourite was the paneer makhani, a tomato-based cheese curry that was so full of flavour I soaked up every last drop with my chepati. Next time I’ll try the spicier south Indian thali for sure as the northern one was not at all spicy in a chili kind of way.

I haven’t had a proper food adventure for so long and even though there was not a drop of alcohol in sight, it was the best night out I’d had in ages. Being in Southall felt like stepping into another world as the bright colours, pungent smells and exotic sounds fill the streets. If you love Indian food and want to enjoy an authentic meal, then jump on a train and head into Southall. While you might not know which restaurant to choose from I can almost guarantee that no matter which one you pick, you won’t be disappointed.