Lesser Known Thalis of India

by Sanjeev Kapoor

The history of food is intriguing as in India, food is the heart of every festival, celebration in every state and region. It all started during the Vedic period where food was served in traditional bowls or donas and plates. Generally, the thali comprised of light meals. The same thali comprised of more food having carbohydrates and proteins with strong flavours to boost stamina at the time of wars. Later, palate cleansers in the form of a drink were added to replace the need to drink water. The palate cleansers removed the food residue and left a flavoursome after feel.  


Thalis were made of foods that could function on the basic Ayurvedic principles. That was based on the three biological energy possessions of the body: vatta, pitta and kapha. Every thali that is known to exist today was based on the common cooking techniques like grilling, steaming, fermenting, baking, boiling, etc. Doubtlessly, thalis have bound different states together presenting unity in cultural diversity, since times immemorial. 


All said and done, we are quite acquainted with the popular thalis across India. However, today, let’s take a walk down the streets of some regions with lesser known, yet, worthy thalis that totally deserve attention! 


Ashram Thali

India is blessed to possess various spiritual destinations. The prominent ones include Kumbh, Ayodhya, Kanchi Kamoti Peetham, etc. The food prepared at all these pilgrimages hold the same spirituality and the devotion with which the food is served is a proof of devotees with god’s blessings. So, the food in these thalis is traditionally served on a banana leaf. The food preparation generally incorporates sattvic ingredients, unless required otherwise at different places. The speciality of this thali is the simplicity with which it is prepared along with the use of seasonal vegetables. 


Haryanavi Thali

There are many worthy stories attached to the state of Haryana, especially in connection with food. Considering the fact that Haryana shared its land with Punjab till 1966, the food habits are quite similar. Some of the common dishes include kadhi, mixed dal, rajma, kachri ki sabzi, khichdi, cholia, etc. Haryana takes pride in serving bajre ki roti and makki roti as well, loaded with ghee. Lassi is also of much influence in this state. Not just this, but they also possess high-quality sweets like the divine panjiri, pinni, dairy products, etc. 


Tamil Sattvic Thali

The word sattvic originates from Sanskrit which means ‘pious.’ Which in terms of food means that the thali doesn’t include non-vegetarian food, onion or garlic. Without a second thought a perfect meal for the pure vegetarians who wish to enroute on a detoxification trip. This thali is made up of light salads to have a refreshing start. Moving onto beans paruppu usili paired with boiled rice and milagu kuzhambu or kose poriyal with lemon rice. Payatham paruppu payasam made with coconut milk and natural sweetness of jaggery makes the end quite mesmerising. 


Jambughoda Royal Meal

When we open the historical chapters of India, we can witness its close connection with the royalty it holds. This relates to the fact that the royal families had their own set of food choices and cooking techniques with special attention to the crockery. This thali specifically belonged to the princely state of Gujarat. It is noteworthy that the ingredients used were organic and grown in the palace gardens itself. The king’s meal embraced dishes like kalia rezala paired with urad dal dhebras, potatoes tossed with sesame seeds, bajra roti and corn, which were served on silver thalis. 


Ladakhi Vegetarian Thali

“When the wind calls, you know, that somewhere in the mountains, it has found the answers that you were looking for. The pull of the horizon overcomes the inertia of reason. And you have to go.” In a similar way, its food calls you to seek divinity and pleasure. Predominantly non-vegetarian, Ladakh is a food heaven! But, the vegetarian thali makes one strive through the mountain sickness present on the high altitudes. The Ladakhi Vegetarian Thali includes vegetable momos along with walnut chutney, vegetable noodle soup and robust cheese platter. In drinks, it has got the unique chaang, gud gud chai followed by the apricot dessert for a simple, yet, splendid end. 


Naga Thali

Nagaland is as diverse as India itself with 16 different tribes in its lap. It is interesting to note that the traditions, language, customs, etc. are distinct in each, yet, overlapping. So, is their food. When it comes to the scenic beauty it’s indeed breath-taking because of which it is also referred to as the ‘Switzerland of the East.’ The tribes here majorly love non-vegetarian and spicy food, counting on boiled vegetables, chicken, pork, rice and chilli sauces as their essentials. As far their thali is considered, they have some fixed meals that may range from fish, beef, red rice, yellow lentils, yam leaves to typical dishes like sesame gravy and some made with bamboo shoots. 


Kumaoni Thali

History shows that Kumaon has been the land of Indo-Aryans and Indo-Iranians, making it a land of mixed food culture. The residents rely mostly on uncommon herbs and warm spices in their food preparation. One can find the use of mustard, coriander and fenugreek dominant in their food. Dal, chutney and a sweet dish is an indispensable part of their food culture. Interestingly, this cuisine uses very less tomatoes. The amazing thali is adorned with aloo ke gutke, bhatt ki churkani, chainsoo, phanu, thechwani, sisunaak saag, bhang chutney, etc. with sweet somethings like the famous bal mithai, jhangore ki kheer, singal and arsa amongst some others. 


We’re sure that the sweet, sour and savoury dishes of these underrated, but, delicious and exclusive thalis have left you tempted. So, why not add them in your bucket list and begin planning on trips to tick them off, soon! 

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MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.