India is one of the most diverse countries in the world. With hills and mountains; seaside beaches and scorching deserts, pristine plateaus and emerald rainforests, India has it all.
With more than 31 kinds of cuisines, this diversity has translated into the subcontinent’s food as well. Bursting with flavours and textures, these cuisines offer something for every palette.
Each of these cuisines, have a number of special dishes that are unique to their respective cuisine. These dishes reflect the culture and taste of their place of origin and community. It is impossible to try every dish of every cuisine that India has to offer. But there is one way to sample the best from every state…presenting the Indian Thali!
For the uninitiated, a thali is a mega dish that highlights a given cuisine through its most special dishes, neatly presented via small portions in one large serving dish. It is like a whole four course menu presented on one serving. Usually consisting of a starter, a palette cleanser (curd incorporated dish), a main course (which can be a curry or two with the accompanying bread) and a sweet dish.
Here's a curated list of some prominent Indian Thalis which many of us may have already tried and loved:
1. Punjabi or North Indian Thali
A Punjabi thali is colourful, indulgent and bursting with flavours. Its famous ‘kaali’ or black daal and naan bread can easily be labelled as the go-to Indian comfort dish. Rich with taste and spices, this thali generally represents its namesake state with dishes like Pindi Cholay (spicy chickpea curry), Amirtsari stuffed naan and the seasonal sarson ka saag and makki ki roti. The curd, is present as a classic lassi (buttermilk). The accompanying sweet dish is generally the decadent Moong daal Halwa or Phirni. (sweet rice pudding).
2. Kashmiri Thali
Kashmiri cuisine is famous for its ceremonial feast called “Wazwan”- a meat based platter. With meat and rice being the staple food of the region; this thali includes Rogan Josh (lamb curry), dum aloo, yakhni (curd based lamb curry) and Kashmiri pullao. The dessert is usually a rice pudding with rose favouring in it.
3. Gujarati Thali
Those who like tangy, sweet and sour flavours, will love the Gujarati thali! It offers a gamut of flavours and textures that leaves all who try it absolutely spellbound. A traditional Gujarati thali will have dhokla or khandvi as a starter. For main course one is likely to have Khatti-meethi daal, served with crispy seviya, undhiyu (vegetables based in spinach gravy) and aloo rasila served with thepla. We’re salivating just writing about this meal!
4. Bengali Thali
If you’re a fish lover, this is the cuisine for you! Bengalis take their fish very seriously, and nothing short of perfect is acceptable when it comes to preparing fish. In a Bengali thali one is likely to savour along with the fish, chholar daal, alu bhaate (potatoes and rice mash), fried brinjal and a spiced mutton curry. To finish it off on a sweet note, payesh - a rice based dessert is usually served.
5. Rajasthani Thali
A perfect amalgamation of nutrition and taste, the Rajasthani thali is a gourmet feast unlike any other. The thali features the unique to cuisine, daal bati churma- a doughball stuffed with spiced letil and roasted till stiff and crisp! This deliciousness is often served with a panchmel daal (five lentil stew) and accompanied with spiced buttermilk with boondi. Dessert is often a goond ka laddoo (edible sweet gum laddoo).
6. Maharashtrian Thali
A Maharashtrain thali is nothing short of flavour central! A thin flavoursome Besan ki kadi is central to this thali, had with rice; crushed papadums are used to add a crunchy texture to every bite. Matar usal (a green pea based gravy dish) and bharli wangi (a baby aubergine curry) are other mains that are served with deep fried pooris. The most famous dessert and a summer staple in Maharashtrian homes, is aamras which is pulped mangoes prepared with the slightest hint of cardamom. A perfect finish to a usually spicy meal.
7. Goan Thali
India’s most popular tourist city is also home to delicious coastal cuisine. Though there are vegetarian varieties available; the cuisine features predominantly non vegetarian and sea food dishes. This coastal thali generally consists of a fish and rice dish called Sheet Kodi Nustea. With it you are likely to find a cabbage dish, vegetable vindaloo and kele ambat (plantain in gravy). The dishes are infused with a taste of the sea via salty coconut milk as the base for many dishes. Desserts here include delicacies like the Goan babana halwa.
8. Andhra Thali
Served traditionally on a banana leaf, this spicy thali is the very definition of scrumptious!!! With Andhra Pepper Chicken, Hyderabadi Biryani and Kebabs, Gonguru Mamsam (lamb curry) being the main dishes of the thali, each dish is spicier than the next; Boorelu or deep fried sweet dumplings are the dessert accompaniment in this thali.
9. Kerala Thali
This exquisite thali also called sadya, is traditionally served on a banana leaf. The dishes of a sadya, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, generally require only coconut oil for cooking. Appam with coconut infused stew are the stars of this thali. They are accompanied by Malabar chicken curry, kalaan, sambar, choru (coconut rice) and ends with rice payasam as dessert.
10. Tamil Nadu or South Indian Thali
Amongst the most popular cuisines in the country, the Tamil Nadu thali is deliciously indulgent with flavours! The most basic Tamil Nadu thali will present a dosa, vada idli and sambar, along with a coconut and tamarind chutney. More extensive and meat filled thalis are also available in local and speciality restaurants across the country.
These thalis are a must try for every foodie. So make sure you try all these delicious thalis as and when the opportunity presents itself.