What is a thaali? For the uninitiated, a ‘thaali’ means a ‘plate’ in Hindi and in Bengali (and I assume several other Indian languages and dialects). In the food world, a ‘thaali’ is several dishes, served on a large plate.
Contrary to culinary styles of the West, traditionally, each Indian meal comprises several courses. A home cooked meal could be a simple roti subzi affair, or if you grew up in a home like mine, about 4-5 dishes on an average.
(Above: A home cooked Mizo meal – all cooked by my friend’s super amazing mom. Rice, lentils, ancham(mustard greens), squash and smoked pork)
Served on a large plate (usually metal or earthen), typically, a vegetarian thaali consists of staple carbohydrates (rice and/or roti/chapati), a dry vegetable dish, a gravy vegetable dish, daal (lentils), raita (yogurt with or with vegetables), papad, achar ( pickles) a dessert. Meat and fish dishes are also a part of a ‘thaali’, as non-vegetarian options. The number of dishes vary with the decadence of the meal.
(Above: A raan (whole leg of lamb) thaali)
Every state in India boasts their own thaali. The concept of eating several courses for a meal has been disappearing from homes for several reasons including the shift to nuclear families and urbanisation. Thankfully, thaalis are always in vogue and easily available in restaurants, to give everyone a taste of traditional food. If you really want to experience the best thaali type, multi-course Indian meal, make Indian friends and make sure you are invited to a wedding or for some festival celebrated at home!!
Thaali eating guide:
1. Divide up your rice for the number of dishes that you have been served. Very important, if you are a small eater.
2. Focus on eating the dishes, go slow on the carbohydrates.
3. Seconds are served at almost all restaurants, so don’t be afraid to ask for more.
4. Eat up.
5. The most important one: Skip breakfast.