As one travels across India, myriad food cultures with varied flavours, textures and serving traditions can be experienced. While the locals can enjoy these savouries and sweets as part of their daily meals, for a visitor, a thali or a platter can be an ideal option to try the delicacies in one sitting.
Eating robust is part of the Indian culture and so is evident in the first part of this article, where we introduced some traditional meals from the western borders of the country. Putting together appetizers, savouries and sweets traditionally might not be a concept in all the states but has been adapted. Here is a look at some of the thalis from states on the eastern edges of India.
A traditional Assamese thali presents a burst of fresh flavours with some unique herbs. In a typical meal, rice is accompanied with the popular masor tenga (fish in sour gravy) khar (a vegetable preparation made using dried banana skin), and a meat dish, either a chicken curry or duck curry. Kharoli, a paste of mustard seeds rolled into little balls and bamboo shoot chutney is offered as a taste-enhancer on the side. Typical Assamese aloo pitika (mashed potato) consists of boiled egg and mustard oil. The sumptuous meal is to be finished with Assamese payas (kheer). The local way of cooking Assamese cuisine is simple. They generally barbeque, steam or boil their food in order to get the real taste of the meal.
Bengali thali is a perfect blend of sweet and spicy flavours and of course many a dish of rice and fish. A typical Bengali meal also consists of five types of fries- aloo bhaja (fried potatoes), potol bhaja ( fried bottle gourd ), kumro bhaja (fried pumpkin), begun bhaja (shallow fried aubergines), uuche bhaja (fried bitter gourd), along with shukto (mix veggies), torkari (a vegetable preparation), daal (lentils), and chutney (sweet sauce). Rosogolla, mishti doi, kalo jaam, Bengali rabri, gujia, jibe goja, jolbhora shondesh are the names of only a few sweets that go along a thali. Bengali rice pudding, payesh can also be an option and is consumed on special occasions. Contrary to the ghee used Punjabi cuisine, Bengali households use mustard oil with large amount of spices and achieve a balance of sweet and sour taste.
The traditional thali from Bihar which are also called Bhojpuri thalis are a long, drawn out and a totally delicious affair. Fara (stuffed lentil dumplings), rice fritters, dehati vada (fried balls of dough) and muthiya make for some of the dishes in a thali from the state of Bihar. The Bhojpuri thali stands out with its variety of breads like angakar poori and paan roti. For desserts it shines out with the gulgulle, kusli and sweet fara.
A quintessential Andhra meal is usually served on a banana leaf and includes of hot rice with ghee poured over, which are enjoyed along with mudda pappu (lentils). Vepudu (fried vegetable preparations of potato, okra, bitter gourd, plantain, ivy gourd, pulusu (a tangy broth made with tamarind juice or sour yoghurt with vegetables) and yoghurt are served along. Spicy powders, pickles, chutneys also embellish the platter. Traditional sweet offerings include the boorelu (sweet dumplings made of rice flour, jaggery and soft-cooked lentils) or bobbatlu (a flat bread stuffed with the same mix).
A typical meal in Chhattisgarh consists of rice and rice flour preparations, curd and a variety of leafy vegetables. Some of the dishes served in the thali are aamat (a tangy soup made with bamboo shoots), rice fritters, dehati bada (lentil fritters), steamed rice, muthiya (a dumpling made from rice batter that is hard boiled and seasoned with spices), fara (crispy balls made with leftover cooked rice), dubki kadhi (yoghurt based curry), gulgule (savoury cum sweet dough balls) and kusli (type of sweet).
Look out for our series on Thali culture: platters for plates, as we bring you flavours from across the country.
Article with inputs from Shailendra Bhandari , executive chef , The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa, New Delhi