[Penang] South Indian thali lunch at Havana Kitchen, Gurney Walk

For the first time, one can find South Indian food on Gurney Drive - courtesy of one-month-old ๐—›๐—ฎ๐˜ƒ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ฎ ๐—ž๐—ถ๐˜๐—ฐ๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ป at Gurney Walk. We opted for a thali lunch there today, just to suss out their cooking.

We ordered two non-veg thalis - one which came with a piquant, tamirnd-inflected fish curry (it was excellent!), and one with a fiery Chettinad curried chicken, which was also pretty good.

Thali refers to the metal plate upon which a thali meal is served. Dishes are chosen for a thali such that all 6 different flavours: sweet, salt, bitter, sour, astringent and spicy, are made available on a single plate.

We finished with some hyper-sweet Mysore pak - squares of concentrated sugar and milk, washed down with masala tea.

We asked the manageress, Meenatchi Meenakshisundaram, about the restaurant name - she said itโ€™s ๐—ป๐—ผ๐˜ named after Havana, Cuba, but is actually a portmanteau of the 3 co-ownersโ€™ family names.

Very tasty food, and a good alternative to the other hoity-toity eateries at Gurney Walk. ๐—›๐—ฎ๐˜ƒ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ฎ ๐—ž๐—ถ๐˜๐—ฐ๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ป is as โ€œLittle Indiaโ€ as they come, warts and all.

Havana Kitchen
Level 1, Gurney Walk (above Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf)
18A, Gurney Drive, 10250 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +601172269116
Opening hours: 9am to 10pm (breakfast menu 9am to 11am)


Man, thatโ€™s a good looking thali.

Very few places in the UK do one as a regular thing. The owner of my favourite Indian place told me itโ€™s too labour intensive. Iโ€™ll take his word for it. Not least as the only place I know that has it on the regular menu only has it available on two evenings a week.

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Yes, quite labour-intensive, in the sense that the chef will have to prepare a wide variety of curried dishes of distinctly different flavours and characteristics.

A thali needs to have:

  • At least a couple of vegetable curries, as the diner will start with those first in a meal;
  • Next, he/she would proceed to have the sambhar, a thick, spicy lentil curry which will be taken with steamed white rice;
  • Vathalkuzhambu - a very spicy curry, also taken with rice or chapati bread;
  • Curried meats, if one chooses to have them;
  • Rasam, a sourish, tamarind-based โ€œsoupโ€ often taken as a digestif towards the end of the meal;
  • Curd/yoghurt, sometimes a diner will choose to mix the curd into the last portion of his rice, to be taken at the end.
  • Dessert. I was very lucky as my fave dessert - a tiny decanter of semiya payasam - a sweet vermicelli porridge was provided as the pudding.

Thali is widely available in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore due to our large South Indian-Tamil population (9.9% in Penang, 9.3% in KL and 9% in Singapore), so Indian restaurateurs are catering to a fairly large segment of the dining out market.


Loaded thali! (Is that a boiled egg just sitting there?)

Iโ€™m laughing that they didnโ€™t reorder the names to not end up with the capital of Cuba :laughing:

No milk in mysurpa, just gram flour / besan, ghee, and sugar. On of my favorite sweet bites! As it turns out, there are two completely different types, one is fluffy and aerated (with two subtypes โ€” crisp make with oil, soft made with ghee), the other is the soft, dense type you have pictured.

Was filter coffee / kaapi an option or did they serve tea (also surprising after a South Indian meal)?


It really depends on whether theyโ€™re going for a loaded / festival or celebration thali or a daily one. The simple one is not that hard to find here in nyc โ€” usually 2 veg (wet and dry), lentils or beans (dal or channa or other), chapati/paratha/puri, rice, accompaniments (papad, pickle, salad, yogurt) โ€” because itโ€™s just a compilation of other dishes already on offer. If itโ€™s non-vegetarian, usually a dry and wet in that dept, 1 veg, and so on.

The thali specialty places in India look like the pics in @klyeohโ€™s post โ€” no different than a regular restaurant in labor intensiveness if you take โ€œthaliโ€ at its face value in just being the way a meal is served using the same components, vs cooking all different dishes for the thali than what the restaurant has on offer already.

Depending on the spot, you can get any of the thali dishes a la carte instead of the whole shebang (going back to the point that a thali is just a compilation of food, so you can pick less of it if you prefer) or only the whole thing (usually when itโ€™s AYCE and the servers walk around to serve more of anything you want).

We have one AYCE spot like that in NYC, serving a delicious Gujarati thali (in courses โ€” apps, then chapati/puri with various vegetables, and finally a rice course of rice and/or khichdi with accompaniments). If you visit again, maybe you can add it to your itinerary!


It was. :joy: First time I saw a boiled egg on a thali. Iโ€™m guessing they had too many - as the restaurant also offers biryani (which would have hard-boiled eggs as a garnish).

The meals were supposed to come with filter coffee, but we asked for masala tea as we had a craving for that, and they kindly obliged.


I always ask for my coffee at the beginning at South Indian places (because Iโ€™ve held off on my morning coffee in anticipation of much more delicious kaapi), and it befuddles them but they always kindly oblige :slight_smile:

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