ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design

3. Thali, a taste of India

Every time I taste a thali, I cannot do without thinking about the fact I’m taking a bite of India. It happens to me since I read the book “Mother Pious Lady” by Santosh Desai, when he writes about the national lunch.
Thali, meals in the south, is a typical dish known everywhere in India, with, of course, regional variations. For Indian people, the perfect dish has a complete selection of flavors summed up in a single plate. A thali is a full experience of Indian tastes, from spicy to sweet aromas.
In the north, thali is usually vegetarian, served on metal dishes. In the south, it is served on plane tree leaves with a lot of vegetable stew, whether it is vegetarian or meat/fish based. Base ingredients are: boiled rice, chapati (accompanying boiled or raw vegetables), pulses (beans, yellow lentils, chickpeas), pickles (try out some slices of unripe mango soaked in lime and chili pepper and you won’t regret), gravies, yogurt, crunchy and deep-fried puff pastries (mingled with spices in the north) and a dessert (usually made with rice and milk).

Thali has a complete supply of nutrients, but the true secret to enjoy it is eating with your hands. Feel free to knead the ingredients with your fingers to obtain new and exclusive textures. The pleasure dwells in the disharmony between opposite tastes.
Thali is a metaphor of India and her joyful chaos. In this dish every ingredient has a different and special aroma, melting with the others in the aggregate. Just like cinema’s melting-pot for languages, customs, religions and countries.
In the “Meals” there’s no ingredient you can’t possibly find – a rule in perfect harmony with Indian tradition, always willing to inherit and experiment new flavors from the rest of the world.
Desai finds a deep connection between Indian culture and the way this thali is usually eaten: you start eating with a method and then you end untidy, destroying everything with pleasure. And so this is how India feels about herself and the way she can “extract joy from her untidy, chaotic pluralism”.
The common Indian’s eyes widens at the sight of a thali, rejoicing in its abundance. Maybe you, a man/woman from the west, won’t be that cheerful in front of a thali (especially if it is the third of the week) but you’ll find this thali tickling for your palate and, most importantly, in agreement with your stomach. In fact, this is a nutritionally well-balanced dish cooked at the moment that keeps digestive issues at a distance.

After a bewildering start (you’ll be eating with your hands, mixing all flavors; and you might even end snapping at a raw onion or a whole chili pepper!) you will accustom to this new way of eating your lunch and discover the special source of energy that a well-cooked thali can provide you with.
SUGGESTIONS FOR YOUR FIRST THALI:

WHERE? Thali is served in almost every low-average quality restaurant specifically designed for Indians. (Be aware that most restaurants call themselves “Hotels”). You won’t find it easily in high-quality or tourist restaurants. Avoid little-visited places and make sure the environment suites your hygiene standards.
HOW DO YOU EAT A THALI? It is better if you eat it with your right hand (like the video on top shows), but don’t be afraid to ask for a fork or a spoon. First you should eat chapati with vegetables; then you can go on with rice and stewed preparations to end with the dessert (in the south it is usually made with deep-fried puff pastry). Be careful: you don’t want to eat the achar (a fire-red pickles) alone. No, seriously, you don’t. It has a very hot, spicy taste and it is better eaten with something milder. Don’t worry about quantities. A waiter will be glad to refill your dish… Until you are well-fed!

 

 

 

Credits:

North Indian Thali by Gracinha Marco Abundo

South Indian Meals by Paul Joseph

Creative Commons License

 

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