Monday, November 1, 2010

Oh the joys of an Indian Thali!

Traditional welcome at Thali Restaurant
Water Boy

Gleaming thali with katooris (bowls)

Traditional Indian thali meal


We had a traditional Gujrati thali yesterday at the Rajdhani Thali Restaurant at Value Mall here in Whitefield Bangalore. Known as a "thali place" with 72 different rotating menus with 22,464 delicacies from Gujarat and Rajasthan, the meal was truly heavenly: a little mind boggling in its variety and complexity- enough to drive you nuts. It is an all you can eat meal for  Rs. 290 for two (approximately $3 per head).
A thali is a traditional Indian meal (typically vegetarian) served in a mammoth stainless steel platter in tiny Katooris (bowls) circling the circumference like miniature planets in orbit
On your arrival you are welcomed by a turbaned greeter bearing an Arti tray with a holy oil lamp and flowers. He  dots your forehead with a small crimson Tikka of blessing and welcome. You pass through a marigold-garlanded archway to your table where gleaming thalis beam back at you. As soon as you are seated the Water Boy arrives with an brass pitcher with an elaborate curved spout and basin. He pours water over your fingers (Indians eat with their right hand). The Water Boy is followed by a long line of waiters who descend in a busy swarm to load up your katooris. All together there are 32 items. Imagine!Four kinds of bread (I loved the Bajra roti, a chewy clay oven-baked bread millet bread no bigger than 3 inches in diameter served with a dollop of fresh churned white butter and crumbles of cane jaggery (I ate three of those). Other breads included stuffed kachoris (bread with a thin layer of spiced lentils) chapattis, and dhoklas (steamed lentil cakes). The breads are followed by rice dishes, the traditional kitchdi (lentil and rice cooked together, traditionally a holy food) generously dribbled with ghee, savory rice and something else (I forget the third, by now I was too cross-eyed with all my katooris, wondering what to eat first…next… more of....) There are several kinds of Daal preparations some sweet, some hot, vegetable curries, a whole array of pickles and condiments and a variety of sweets. In a thali meal dessert is served together with your main meal in a separate katooris. Everything is washed down with cumin-spiced buttermilk. When you are finally done, the Water Boy returns with his urn and basin for you to clean your fingers. He is followed by the Paanwalla, who bears a tray of tiny green bundles that look like Christmas tree ornaments – they are slivered areca nut wrapped inside betel leaves and stuffed with candied fennel. The tiny bundle is coated with a thin gilding of silver and held together with a clove or toothpick. The paan is a traditional palette cleanser and digestive and you are supposed to chew on meditatively and ruminate on the wonders of the universe-not wolf it down, like some foreigners do. On the way out you can bang a gong to show you appreciation. The waiters yell back in unison (I am not sure what they say. They sound a little like the Sushi Chefs in Japanese restaurants). My brother in law, always the overdoer banged the gong so loudly, he made all the peaceful diners almost choke on their dhoklas and the waiters drop their serving pails. But appreciation, as we know can never be understated. I gave Rajdhani a five star rating. Amazing food, service, warmth and hospitality.  Highly recommended. India at its shining best.
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