It’s all in the thali

#1 Oct 15th, 2018, 19:54
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  • aarosh is offline
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A traditional Haryanvi ‘thali’ at The Gateway Resort Damdama Lake Gurgaon. The ‘thali’ has come a long way from being served in homes to making an appearance at food festivals in five-star hotels. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint


In a recent weekend, a motley group of people—a Punjabi, a Sindhi, a Kashmiri Pandit, a Himachali, a Marwari, a UP-ite and a Bengali, living in the National Capital Region—came together to partake of a Bihari thali at The Potbelly Rooftop Cafe, a restaurant in South Delhi’s Shahpur Jat village that specializes in traditional Bihari food. The thali included sattu puri, litti-chokha, ol ki chutney, sitaphal ki sabzi and chicken ishtoo. The meal was part of Thali Tradition, an initiative by the Delhi Secret Supper Club (DSSC) to familiarize people of the city with seven different cuisines. Also part of the three-day event were the Andhra, Parsi, coastal, Bengali, north-eastern and Kashmiri thalis.

“The original dal makhni recipe doesn’t have cream. It was added to make the hearty dish from Punjab restaurant-worthy,” declared one guest, taking a bite from his khare masale ka mutton, one of the best mutton dishes the Capital has to offer. The mutton was impeccably spiced, with warm notes of cinnamon singing through the dish and caramelized onions adding a hint of sweetness. It was devoid of tomato, had just enough garam masala to make it fragrant, and the mustard oil stuck to the fingers but didn’t float over the dish, making it different from the one-dimensional meat dishes found in most restaurants across Delhi-NCR.

“Kashmiri Pandits use only mustard oil to cook food,” said another diner. Food had brought this group to this table and they were happy to share nuances of the things they grew up eating.

“The thali is a longstanding food tradition across cultures and communities in India,” says Shreya Soni, founder of the DSSC. “We spoke with the restaurants and chefs about different formats, but it is the thali we all agreed upon. There is a balance of flavours and textures, and it is a good way to understand the region’s food preferences.”

Not only is the thali the gateway to a community’s food habits, it also gives an understanding of their socio-cultural makeup, lifestyle, economic activities and geographical indicators. The Chettinad thali, for example, is known for robust spices that lend the food complex flavours. If you look back at the history of the Chettiars, the community was one of the biggest traders of spice in South-East Asia. The Naga thali, on the other hand, has a cleaner flavour profile and despite the use of the Naga mirchi, has a fairly spartan approach to other spices.

A thali, essentially, is a plate of food in which a number of dishes (it can vary from five to 20 items, sometimes even more) are served in small portions alongside bread (which can be made from various grains) or rice. There are different textures in play and the flavours range from sweet, salty, sour to bitter, pungent and astringent. The first mention of donas—or small bowls—can be found in texts from the Vedic period and the portions in a thali depends upon the composition of the food and its impact on vata, pitta and kapha—the three energies inside a human body—according to Ayurveda.

LivemintIn a recent weekend, a motley group of people—a Punjabi, a Sindhi, a Kashmiri Pandit, a Himachali, a Marwari, a UP-ite and a Bengali, living in the National Capital Region—came together to partake of a Bihari thali at The Potbelly Rooftop Cafe, a restaurant in South Delhi’s Shahpur Jat village that specializes in traditional Bihari food. The thali included sattu puri, litti-chokha, ol ki chutney, sitaphal ki sabzi and chicken ishtoo. The meal was part of Thali Tradition, an initiative by the Delhi Secret Supper Club (DSSC) to familiarize people of the city with seven different cuisines. Also part of the three-day event were the Andhra, Parsi, coastal, Bengali, north-eastern and Kashmiri thalis.

“The original dal makhni recipe doesn’t have cream. It was added to make the hearty dish from Punjab restaurant-worthy,” declared one guest, taking a bite from his khare masale ka mutton, one of the best mutton dishes the Capital has to offer. The mutton was impeccably spiced, with warm notes of cinnamon singing through the dish and caramelized onions adding a hint of sweetness. It was devoid of tomato, had just enough garam masala to make it fragrant, and the mustard oil stuck to the fingers but didn’t float over the dish, making it different from the one-dimensional meat dishes found in most restaurants across Delhi-NCR.

“Kashmiri Pandits use only mustard oil to cook food,” said another diner. Food had brought this group to this table and they were happy to share nuances of the things they grew up eating.

“The thali is a longstanding food tradition across cultures and communities in India,” says Shreya Soni, founder of the DSSC. “We spoke with the restaurants and chefs about different formats, but it is the thali we all agreed upon. There is a balance of flavours and textures, and it is a good way to understand the region’s food preferences.”

Not only is the thali the gateway to a community’s food habits, it also gives an understanding of their socio-cultural makeup, lifestyle, economic activities and geographical indicators. The Chettinad thali, for example, is known for robust spices that lend the food complex flavours. If you look back at the history of the Chettiars, the community was one of the biggest traders of spice in South-East Asia. The Naga thali, on the other hand, has a cleaner flavour profile and despite the use of the Naga mirchi, has a fairly spartan approach to other spices.

A thali, essentially, is a plate of food in which a number of dishes (it can vary from five to 20 items, sometimes even more) are served in small portions alongside bread (which can be made from various grains) or rice. There are different textures in play and the flavours range from sweet, salty, sour to bitter, pungent and astringent. The first mention of donas—or small bowls—can be found in texts from the Vedic period and the portions in a thali depends upon the composition of the food and its impact on vata, pitta and kapha—the three energies inside a human body—according to Ayurveda.

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#2 Nov 17th, 2018, 14:24
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Very interesting and well written aarosh! Every time I read these posts of yours my mouth waters and I must now run to the kitchen and whip up makhni dahl and throw in a big dollop of cream!
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#3 Nov 17th, 2018, 16:32
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Gujarati thali at Geeta Lodge, Junagadh, Gujarat, India.



Gujarati thali at Geeta Lodge, Junagadh, Gujarat. Just outside the railway station.
Only serves thali. 11am to 2 and 7pm to 10. I landed there at 6.40 pm and the joint was already full, got one of the last two seats.
Nice grub for Rs 135/-, unlimited, no sweet.
Most of the patrons were locals, so the thali must be good and authentic I thought.
Service was good too, friendly and 'I-read-your-mind' type of service.
I observed what the other three people at my table did, they were local gujus, and opted for the same - kadi instead of daal, khichdi instead of rice.

EDIT :
And the khichdi :

Last edited by gbr; Nov 17th, 2018 at 18:54..

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