When it comes to a balanced Indian meal, nothing beats the thali. No matter where in India you have one, the medley of dry and gravy based vegetables and chicken/meat/fish dishes, a dash of pickle, curds, papad, along with rotis or puris; and rice and dals, make it a wholesome meal, often available at reasonable prices. The scientifically thought of combination is meant to stimulate the tastebuds with the pickles and chutneys, the salads, starters and mains to give you the right amount of carbohydrates, fibre, protein and fat, and the yoghurt is to aid digestion with good bacteria and the desserts, to end the meal on a sweet note.
The Spice Junxion at the Taj Deccan Hotel decided to celebrate this Indian staple in a very special way. Chef Rishi highlighted the dishes of the peninsular part of India as a thali ensemble. He and his team went all out to create a menu with special dishes from the region and ended up leaving us spoilt for choice.
The Kerala and Chettinad thalis are also available on the a la carte menu as regulars. The new entrants were the Karwar thali from North Karnataka, the Kolaghat thali from West Bengal, Konkani thali from coastal Maharashtra, and the Malvani thali which combined the cuisines of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra. A vegetarian only option was the Kathiawadi thali from Kathiawad in Gujarat.
Each thali contained dishes that are typical of that region. So while there was chicken curry on offer, each version was different. The same goes for the fish and some vegetables. The spices and method of cooking is what gave each dish a distinctive taste and flavour. The Kolaghat thali had fish fried in mustard oil, while the mackerel fried in Malvani masalas was an entirely different experience. Similarly, the bland, coconut milk based mutton stew of the Kerala thali was vastly different from the full bodied Mutton Vurval of Chettinad. I had the Karwar thali with its mix of seafood, pulses and vegetables along with Sol kadi — the delicious coconut milk and kokum [garcinia] combination which is an appetiser.
Vegetables too had been given similar treatment and the dals were cooked in the traditional style of the region. Every thali looked tempting and we sampled bits from different cuisines. Desserts were this time unfortunately, not the stars of the festival, as they were quite overwhelmed by the array of main course items served. At least for me, the taste of some of the main course options lingered on in my memory more than the desserts did. Even the very hard to make Goan speciality — Bibinca — wasn’t able to steal the thunder of the thali.
The dishes served are too many to individually list on this blog. Suffice to say each thali was the real McCoy. Authentic, with the taste of homemade food, and extra portions available [none of us were able to finish our thalis as there was so much food to eat], this festival is for those who relish their food.
On till the 20th of this month, you can celebrate this festive season by taking family and friends to this feast. At Rs 800 for the vegetarian and Rs 900 for the non-vegetarian meal, excluding taxes, it is a great way to relish unfamiliar cuisines that are part of India’s rich culinary heritage.