In authentic Indian restaurants, as well as restaurants throughout most regions of India itself, you’ll find they serve something called thali. You might have even seen it on a menu but were unsure of what it was.
Thalis are an important part of Indian cuisine and Indian culture in general. It’s a traditional form of dining and brings together a range of quintessential Indian dishes that combine to create flavors and textures that never disappoint.
We serve Thalis at Purple Poppadom in the early evening of weekdays. They are a much-loved part of our menu, with a choice of chicken, lamb, prawn, vegetable, and vegan-based Thalis, so plenty of choices.
So, let’s head off on an exploration of this wondrous Indian tradition, learning about where it came from and what it’s comprised of. You’ll learn all about thalis and what makes them so special and so important in the world of Indian dining.
What is Thali?
So, first of all, what is thali? At its core, it’s just a large plate that contains small bowls, known as katoris. These small dishes contain a variety of different foods that combine to make one whole meal. There are usually 10 or more small dishes that comprise each thali.
We’ll talk more later about the different types of food that are usually presented as part of a thali. It’s a type of dining experience that’s often found in traditional settings and as part of a communal dining scenario. That’s because of the way in which thalis are deeply bound to Indian tradition in many parts of the country.
The Origins of Thali
The word ‘thali’ comes from the Hindi word for ‘plate’, which is usually made of steel. That steel plate holds the smaller dishes where the food is contained when presented to the diner. The smaller dishes are arranged on the larger thali, and that’s usually how you’ll experience thali when you order it in a restaurant today.
It’s said that thali was originally conceived of in South India, but it quickly spread and is enjoyed in pretty much all regions of India today, as well as around the world. Interestingly, the types of food and variations differ depending on the region too. For example, in coastal regions, fish and seafood will be incorporated. Whereas, in Western India, local delicacies such as spiced meats will play a part.
What Do Thalis Consist Of?
Regardless of different regional variations, there are some key components that most thalis will contain. That being said, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to putting together a thali. This is one of the great things about this kind of dining; it is possible to be creative and combine foods, textures and flavors in different ways.
There are some key categories that usually make up a thali, and we’re going to take a look at them next.
Of course, there is almost always some kind of rice that comes with this dish. It combines well with some of the other dishes that will be present on the plate. The most common type of rice used as part of thali is basmati rice.
There is usually a type of flatbread that acts as a way to carry the other foods present here. The bread carries the food and makes it easier to eat without necessarily using cutlery. Some of the commonly found types of flatbread in thali include tandoori roti and puri.
Lentils and Beans
A lot of the protein in thali comes from lentils and these lentils are often prepared in a way known as dal. This adds flavor in the form of sweet and fiery spices to the lentils. Cooked beans known as kathod might be used as well.
There will usually be one or two vegetable-based dishes on the thali as well, especially, of course, if you’re eating a vegetarian thali. These might include cooked potatoes combined with spices and a sauce. Okra stuffed with spices and powder is a common dish too.
One of the key accompaniments to the thali is usually chutney. Mango chutney is, of course, a popular option but there are many different types that might be found in a thali. These chutneys add a burst of flavor and sweetness to the dish.
Raita is a creamy side dish that’s made up of yogurt and combined with spices such as garam masala and ginger. It combines well with the flavors and spices of the other thali dishes, offering something cooler and sourer.
Pickled vegetables are often indeed to the thali too. You might also find sambharo, which is a type of cooked salad made up of carrots and cabbage. These smaller side dishes are key aspects of the dish.
The thali dining experience is often ended with a spiced buttermilk drink. It’s a refreshing and palate cleansing drink that’s very popular. There are other alternative drink options as well, such as sol kadi, which is made of coconut milk and also offers the same palate-cleansing properties, as well as kokum fruit in some instances.
A Healthy and Delicious Balance
The variety of different types of foods that make up a thali makes it a nutritious and balanced meal. With good ingredients and well-prepared dishes, thali can be incredibly good for you and no less delicious at the same time.
It contains carbs, protein, natural fats, fiber, and plenty of important vitamins and minerals; everything you need for a healthy diet.
There’s even dairy and lots of grains in there as well. So if you’re looking for something that offers plenty of variety, the ability to sample some of the best aspects of Indian cuisine, and something nutritious too, there are few better options than thali.
Sample Authentic Thali at Purple Poppadom
Now that you know all about thalis and what makes them so great, you’re probably keen to try one out for yourself. The best way to try thali is to sample it at an authentic Indian restaurant where each dish will have been prepared by an experienced and expert chef who’s been cooking and preparing thali for many years.
Luckily for you, that’s exactly the service we’re able to provide here at Purple Poppadom.