The best meals in the world — Rahul Akerkar swears by this vegetarian thali
In this new series, we convince the top gourmands in India to part with their guide to paradise on a plate
You will never forget that one restaurant where your parents got into a big fight because your father took a joke too far, how softy ice creams taste so much better when you’re eating them on a cold December evening in Mussoorie, or the first time you fell sick away from home and realised that it was only mum’s khichdi that could mask that disgusting taste of antibiotics.
Our best meals are more than the food on our plates (while that’s a large part) – they’re about the shared experiences, the curious ingredients you discover, the lingering flavours, the memories you make and most of all, the people you share the table with, or in star chef Rahul Akerkar’s case, a sitafal-eating cat. “To me, dining is all about exchanges that happen over a meal. It’s about sharing your heritage on the table. It’s talking about the world, sharing ideas, and well, not being on your phone,” says Akerkar. And the food? “Food is the glue that binds us. It is what allows us to have these meaningful exchanges.”
From taking a job washing grimy dishes after eschewing biochemical engineering, to starting his own iconic restaurants and cooking for British politician David Cameron, plenty is known about Akerkar’s remarkable career trajectory and his indisputable expertise as a chef and gourmand. We’ve turned the tables and asked the chef to recommend his favourite haunts, take us through his favourite meals and tell us what makes for an ideal food experience.
Rahul Akerkar on the best meals he’s ever had
Wood-fired pizza and nondescript bottles of red wine
As it turns out, the best Italian food is in fact ghar ka khana (provided the ghar is tucked away in a small town somewhere in southern Italy).
“I was in Calabria, in southern Italy. We went up into the mountains behind Reggio Calabria to visit an abandoned tuberculosis sanitarium. On the way back, the sun was about to set, and we passed a grove of trees. A bunch of women and children were dancing the tarantella (Italian folk dance form). It sounds cliché, but there was this little hut with smoke coming out of the chimney, and sitting in front of it were cypress trees with two benches under them. On these benches were nondescript bottles of red wine and homemade olive oil, and they were making fresh pizzas in a wood-fired oven. We stopped by, and I remember sitting there watching the sunset and listening to their music while having fresh pizza and nice simple table wine. It was perfect.”
Pigging out on puris
Established in 1945, Shree Thaker Bhojanalay in Kalbadevi, Mumbai, has hordes of patrons and Rahul Akerkar is a proud member of this thali-loving cult.
“I always wind up overeating there, and suffer later. I love their food. It’s a home-cooked meal. All their veggies, their meetha dal, meetha kadhi are to die for. I also pig out on their puris. Their aamras is absolutely divine too. I just go dabaaoing aamras puri over there. I have no self control when it comes to their food.”
Nothing beats a grandmother’s Sunday spread
Akerkar fondly recalls eating at his grandparents’ home with Jyotsna, the sitafal eating cat, for company.
“I would often visit my grandparents in Nashik, and Sunday lunches were an elaborate affair. My grandmother would start preparing for the meal on Thursday itself. Everything was made at home – from aachars to butter to the chaklis and chivda. I was the first and only grandson, so she spoilt me rotten. Everything she made was just too good. I loved her fish curry and gavarichi amti (a Maharashtrian lentil preparation). And the best part is that it would be different every time. Another thing that I remember distinctly is my grandfather tossing fishbones to their house cat, Jyotsana. She would be perched on one end of the dining table eating white sitafal pulp from a saucer, it was absolutely delightful.”