Indian food is a spectacular gastronomical journey where every bend in the road tells a visually enticing delightfully different and lipsmackingly memorable story. If the Scots have their folklores, we Indians have foodlores.
Although dining table is a permanent piece of furniture in almost every household, it mostly serves as a shelf of convenience for items that don’t really made it to the actual shelf.
It’s also used by kids for their homework and projects or women for chopping vegetables, sewing, knitting while the television screams in the background. Basically, a dining table is used for everything but dining.
So where to we have our meals? We have them sitting on the floor cross-legged, which is also a posture in yoga known as sukhasana or padmasana.
Rather than a buffet, we love to have our meals where all items are served together. It’s easier to go for seconds and thirds when the food bowls are with us rather than we carrying our plates to them.
Indians love to eat and we take our cooking rather seriously. Indian meals are a perfect balance of everything – wholesome and nutritious, they’re a celebration of varied textures, colors and flavors. Dig through the archives and you’ll read how the Vedas explained the importance of balanced diet and nutrition centuries before the concept of diet and dieticians even took shape.
Every Indian meal is replete with chapatis or dosas or puris, subzi, dal, rice, salad, papad and pickle. This wholesome meal is washed down with chaas (buttermilk) or solkadi or even lassi. These items form the blueprint of a hearty meal, however varied the dishes and their preparations may be. Basically, the items in a supper change as per the demographics.
It’s this love and weakness for a complete meal that the restaurants tapped upon and a Thali was born. Thus said, thali has been ingrained in our culture since times unknown.
Etymology and History of Thali:
The word Thali is derived from Thal, a round plate. While copper and steel plates have replaced the erstwhile banana leaves or patra, Keralite restaurants have chosen to still go rustic and traditional.
India continues to be the epicenter of curiosity with its colorful mishmash of diverse cultural fabric and Indian cuisine has had a significant and lasting effect on culinary minds across the world.
Evolution of Indian food is deeply enmeshed in various factors like demographics, financial and social background, availability of raw materials, even the effect of European colonization and the invasion of Mughals. We’ve adhered to our roots whilst also adopting the foreign ways in our kitchens.
Almost every restaurant, big or small, alongside the a la carte menu have a complete Thali or Mini Thali with few variations.
Then there are restaurants that specialize only in Thalis. They have a set menu and rate; unlimited servings include appetizers, main course, papad, desserts and chaas.
Thali restaurants specialize in regional cuisines like Gujarati, Malvani, Punjabi, Andhra, Keralite and such.
It’s not just the food, but also the ambience, the tableware, the sartorial choices of uniforms, mannerisms of the servers, the music that create a delightful and unforgettable experience of a veritable one-plate meal.
Mumbai prides itself with a handsome number of them that make quite a noise in the city’s gastronomical scene. I’ve listed my favorite ones here; these are the names that I keep going back to each time I crave a Thali.
The others are from my holidays; notably the best ones from that particular place. Why? Because the best places to eat on a holiday are always the ones frequented by locals, the ones where people make a beeline and do not mind cooling their heels, be it sun or rain.
Come along with me now on a visually enticing tour of The Great Indian Thali; and drop a line to tell me which one you’d want to visit:
P.S.: I’ve given direct links to their website or TripAdvisor for you to have an idea about the place and rates.
Rajdhani Thali Restaurant, Mumbai
Banana Leaf Restaurant, Mumbai
Ename Shaan Thaal From Persian Darbar, Mumbai
Onam Sadhya At Spice Of Kerala, Andheri East, Mumbai
Pomfret Thali From Gomantak Seafood Restaurant, Dadar
Chicken Thali from Shivneri Restaurant, Mahabaleshwar
Rajasthani Thali from Natraj Restaurant, Jaisalmer
Veg Thali from Natraj Restaurant, Jaisalmer
Dal Baati Churma Thali from Monica’s Restaurant, Jaisalmer
Veg Thali from Hotel Siddhartha, Mysuru
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