Foodie Post: The Thali

I just love thalis. From a foodie’s perspective, they are the perfect way to sample a regions cuisine in one healthy and well balanced meal. So what exactly is a thali?

The word “Thali” actually means “plate” in Hindi, and when you order a thali this is essentially what you will receive.  A stainless steel plate with several small bowls each with a different dish.  There is usually at least one variant of dahl, a couple of vegetables, some curd (yoghurt), pickle, rice, chappati or puri and papad.  Occasionally you may also receive a sweet.

Thali’s tend to be found at lunchtime and in the local (and relatively cheap) eateries. Sometimes the more expensive restaurants will also have a thali on the menu, but they tend to be the domain of the working class, which means the food is authentic, fresh and seasonal.

A few years ago I did a little thali challenge in Mumbai. I had brunch in small eatery in Colaba, ordering the Rs50 vegetarian Thali.It was sensational!  That evening I went to the most renowned Indian restaurant in Mumbai (at the time) and ordered their vegetarian thali for Rs1,350.  The two meals were incomparable.  The former was fresh and full of flavour, whilst the latter resembled something I could have whipped up out of a jar. It was a real disappointment.

So for me, the best thali’s are the ones where the queues are out the door, the service is minimal and I have to request a spoon to eat with.

The proof is really in the tasting, but since you can’t do that online, to whet you’re appetite, here are some of the fabulous Thali’s I have eaten recently.

Thali - Ooty

Sambar, Rasam, 3 vegetables, cauliflower pakoras, rice, chapati, pappad, curd, pickle and sweet

Thali - Kochi

Black bean dahl, pickled beetroot, vegetable, carrot salad, rice, papad, pickle

Thali - Haridwar

Paneer, 2 vegetables, salad, naan, curd, rice, papad

Thali - Mysore

This was my lunch today. Sambar, Rasam, 3 vegetables, coconut rice, plain rice, curd, puri, papad, pickles.