A thali dining experience is unique in every way. The way it’s presented, the different facets that make a thali and the technique of eating it. A thali can be explained as a large platter that contains many small elements that combine to create a complete meal. The essence of a thali lies in the variety it offers. These dishes include – rice, roti/bread, vegetables, dal and curries. It also includes desserts, curd and sometimes even just cut vegetables.
Creating a thali
A perfect thali is balanced. Both nutritionally and aesthetically. The simple rule is that the more colour you add to your meal, the more nutrients you benefit from. There are typically certain elements that make a thali, namely,
- Rice – rice is at the very centre of the thali. It provides the essential carbohydrates one needs. But rice does take quite some time to digest, and for this reason, it isn’t served in large quantities. There’s a variety of rice available – basmati, jeera, jasmine and brown rice.
- Bread/roti – the bread is a vessel by which you eat through the different side dishes on your thali. It is a flatbread made from whole wheat and must be eaten warm. There’s a variety here as well; there’s parathas, phulkas, tandoori rotis, etc.
- Dal-lentil soup is very popular in India and comes in different flavours and kinds. It’s a good source of protein and fibre. Thalis may include more than one type of lentil soup.
- Vegetables – Tahlis typically include a variety of vegetables; whatever is seasonally available is often on the thali. Vegetables may be cooked as curries, presented as pickled veggies, or even as salads. Vegetables such as potatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, etc, are often found on a thali.
- Curries: Thali is all about variety. It may include non-vegetarian options like chicken or mutton curry. Often, curries are made with a variety of spices and herbs. It can also be made with vegetables. There’s usually a spicy curry and something mild. The curd served along with it helps neutralise the effects of the same.
- Curd/pickle/lime – a thali also has some curd for the good bacteria, pickle for the probiotics and some lime to drizzle over some curries to help your body absorb the iron better.
Thali – the way to a balanced diet
A thali is an ancient way of maintaining a balanced diet. The very existence of different elements is to encourage the intake of different kinds of food groups. The main elements – rice and roti provide the carbohydrates. The vegetables bring in fibre, vitamins and minerals. The dal or meat curries bring the protein. The variety of spices and herbs involved in making these side dishes come with their own antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric alone has a lot of anti-inflammatory properties and is used widely in Indian cuisine. Ginger and garlic, too, help aid digestion.
The thali dining experience in all its glory
Thalis are a unique way of enjoying Indian cuisine. You get to experience a little bit of everything. It is the best kind of sensory overload. They also provide a communal dining experience – this is key to understanding Indian culture.
One must eat using their hands, and while this might take some time for some, the experience is incomplete without it. Thalis also have a technique to them. While eating a thali, one must follow a particular order. The salad is eaten first, followed by the rice, roti, vegetables, curd, and then the dessert.
A thali is the best way to experience the rich and diverse flavours of Indian cuisine. They provide a cultural immersion like no other. They’re traditionally Indian and are often served for special occasions.
They’re also a great value for money – you get a full meal and try small portions of different dishes for a fair price. There are also a lot of options. The thali has something for everyone. It’s healthy, inclusive of dietary concerns and wholesome in every way. It is also an interactive experience where one learns about flavour, the order of eating food and how culture has been shaped through the years.
A food enthusiast and a blogger – someone who likes to eat and write about it. I’m passionate about exploring different cuisines and challenging my palette. I give into my food craving regularly and am often on the hunt to find my new favorite food place in town.