Review: Thela, Cambridge
During term time I can make dal or get a curry, but something I cannot get my hands on is chaat – what is an easy thing to buy or put together at home requires too many ingredients for me to seek out here, and so far no restaurant has served it either. But for the past few weeks bright photos of chaat and other dishes have flitted across my newsfeed, with a tantalising 'coming to Cambridge soon...' caption.
After much hype, a friend from Bombay and I went to try out Thela, a new place in Cambridge that claims to serve authentic Indian street food. Of course, I had my favourite dahi batata puri (for reference, see this post!):
The place smelled faintly like a typical local Indian restaurant, for those who know what I mean, which was nice insofar as it was familiar. And water in tall Coca Cola glasses. Of course.
As we left I spotted the saunf on the counter and dashed back to get some, but it wasn't as good as my packet from Crawford Market, complete with plain fennel, tiny little mystery seeds, shiny silver bits, and rose petals, which I finished weeks ago:p
Overall: I remember two Bombay friends at Cambridge who were a couple of years above me saying that the lowest ranking Indian food at home is about what you'll get in Cambridge. Our Indian food last year at an Indian restaurant was not bad (though a bit heavy and oily), and the India Society has gotten delicious Indian food for a lot of their events, but I think with this chaat I see what my friends meant. The thing is, they got the difficult bits right (the puris, the chutneys), it was just the energy that was missing. You don't hold back when you're making chaat: fistfuls of coriander and toppings; all the sweet/spicy/crunchy/sour/salty combinations you can manage; lots of fresh spices (not necessarily spicy); you throw the tomatoes and freshness into the chaat, instead of leaving a sad and vague salad on the side that nobody wants because it's not chaat and it serves no purpose; and you do. not. serve it with a fork, you serve it with an appropriate shovel so that each bite has an adequate amount of all the little flavours and bits and bobs in one go.
But the place was busy, the waiter seemed relatively on it, and a person sat near us told the waiter he really enjoyed the food. The menu has a few thalis and some other interesting dishes so maybe I'll give them another try next time Week 5/6 homesickness gets to me.
At least someone is making chaat outside of India, and if I could handle the weather/place for longer it'd be my mission to make sure (good, real, Mohan/Gupta-street style) chaat overtakes Sainsbury's 'poppadoms' and naan and 'balti' as the UK's go-to Indian food 👩🏾🍳🇮🇳