Eating in a Thali

What Does Thali Mean?

Thali in hindi refers to a large metal plate with small bowls filled with different dishes. In the South of India it is a plate with sub sections, either way it has become the commonly used expression for a style of eating in India.

Eating in a Thali is popular in North India. The purpose of a thali is to serve the six flavors that make a complete meal, namely sweet, salty, bitter, sour, astringent, and spicy. According to Ayurveda beliefs a proper meal should be a symphony of these six flavors.  

In India dishes served in a thali vary from South to North, vegetarian to non-vegetarian. The thali served in restaurants have a big, edged plate and all dishes are served in small bowls called katori. These katoris are placed along the edge of the round plate.  In many places, including South India, this design has been replaced by a stainless-steel tray containing multiple compartments (the number of compartments varies depending on the meal eg breakfast or lunch). 

The typical vegetarian thali would feature condiments like papad, raita, chutney, pickle and a sweet dish.  Roti or rice is the main dish that occupies the central portion of the thali while side dishes like vegetable curries, dal and a dry curry is served in the smaller sections. 

The dishes in a thali vary substantially from restaurant to restaurant, and region to region. Regional thalis consist of delicacies native to that region and will feature local ingredients. Even the breads will vary from deep fried Indian bread called Puri or pooris, to paratha, naan, tandoori roti and tawa roti.

My father used to say that each dish is made with different ingredients and that it has its own unique taste and flavors, hence serving them separately and savoring the dishes individually before combining them is the best way to relish the eating experience.

The eating experience in a thali is heightened when eating with the hand. I am sure you have read my blog about eating with your hands. In summary all the five fingers represent 5 elements – space, air, fire, water and earth. The fingers, when closed together to pick a morsel of food, forms a Mudra, which symbolizes grace and humility.  Each finger helps in enhancing the food before it enters our body, thereby making us more conscious of the taste. It is also interesting to note that you eat lot slower comparing when eating with the spoon! which is good for you.

We are very fortunate to be able to buy stainless thalis in Auckland, New Zealand, go buy one and enjoy the experience!


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