A big plate of assorted dishes, a thali is not just a meal. It is a representation of local cultures. Inclusive of all courses, right from palate cleansers to appetizers, savouries and sweets, thali is a full-fledged Indian meal.
As one travels more, a plethora of flavours, textures, and serving traditions can be experienced in various regions across the country. Here is a look at some of the thalis from states on the western border of India.
A Kashmiri thali , or a Wazwan, is one of the most grand and rich platter there is to try in the country. More than a dozen mutton dishes, dry and curried vegetables, cheese-based dishes , breads, biryani, and sweet dishes are served as part of it. More popularly consumed at big ceremonies like weddings or grand family affairs, a plate alone serves four people who sit around the copper thali or tramis as its traditionally called. Chickens dishes, fried ribs, kebabs, balls of minced mutton, rogan josh (a mutton dish), cheese, queen’s apple, spinach, apricots, are really only a few dishes of this grand feast.
Dishes in a Punjabi cuisine are predominantly made of a lot of ghee (clarified butter). On top of that it is not uncommon to find dollops of yellow or freshly churned white butter being thrown into curries or on parathas (breads). Aloo kulcha (potato stuffed bread), Punjabi chole (Punjabi style chickpeas), paneer tikka (barbequed cottage cheese), butter chicken, tandoori chicken (barbequed-chicken), aloo paratha (potato stuffed bread), dal makhani (black lentils and kidney beans), kadi chawal (rice and a curry of curd and chickpea flour), rajma chawal (kidney beans and rice), makki di roti (corn bread), sarso da saag (a rich mash of mustard leaves) are all popular dishes eaten by Punjabis. A traditional meal is usually ended with a glass of sweet or salty lassi (butter milk) . Using sunflower oil, whole and ground spices, is part of preparing Punjabi dishes, which are in many instances cared to give strong flavours by cooking for long periods, sometimes overnight. Punjabi cuisine has also adapted the tandoori way of preparation to add more earthy flavours to some dishes and breads.
The huge state that Maharashtra is, it features different dishes in its various cities. However, dishes like kanda poha (rice flakes with onion), sabudana vada ( a type of fritter) and sweets like aamras (mango juice) and sheera (semolina sweet), remain common in thalis across. A glass of mattha, which is just like the Punjabi buttermilk but a tad bit spicy, makes for a refreshing drink. Maharashtrian food is also known for use of local spices such as the malvani masala, goda masala, and kala masala.
Gujarati cuisine has its own twists on tastes with added sugar even in savoury and spicy dishes. A typical thali would come with signature dishes such as dhokla (spongy savoury of rice and chickpeas), bajra bhakri (millet bread), methi thepla (fenugreek bread), kathiawadi akha adad (Gujarati whole black gram curry), dal (lentils), kadi (a curry of curd and chickpea flour), chaas (buttermilk) and papdi (fried snack). Different cooking styles and combination of spices are used in preparing different dishes. While some dishes are stir fried, others are boiled.
Along with its coastal edges, food from Goa also boasts of a Portuguese influence, left by its former colonisers. It has many a preparation of fish- both dry and curry, which are served as starters and main course. A typical Goan thali would consist of steamed rice, kismur (salad made with fresh grated coconut and pan fried prawns), poi (local bread), which are relished along with sol kadi (kokum-coconut milk drink).
One must try a thali from the south of India for its assortment of dishes. Doesn’t matter which state one is in, a big banana leaf with sambhar (lentil and vegetable stew), coconut rice, idli (savoury rice cake), coconut banana fritters, payasam would make for a display.
Look out for our series on India’s thali culture: platters for plates, as we bring to you flavours from across the country.
Article with inputs from Shailendra Bhandari , executive chef, The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa, New Delhi