India has many distinct regional cuisines having different ingredients, cooking methods, and tastes. If such a diverse culinary landscape has a common factor, it’s the indigenous concept of serving food on a ‘Thali’.

Thali is an elaborate meal comprising different courses served on a singular plate. From starters to salads, chutneys, dals, curries, rice, regional specialities, bread, accompaniments, and desserts, all find their rightful place on a traditional Indian Thali. Often Thalis are served on special occasions, weddings, or festivals, served on a Banana Leaf or a Pattal (Plate made out of Leaves).

Thali is not merely a symbol of a royal meal but also a wholesome meal at a reasonable cost to travellers. While travelling across the country, you will find many small dhabas and food joints near bus stands, railway stations, or tourist destinations offering multi-dish meals to tourists, often at a price of less than 100 rupees per plate. Thali is a beautiful way of consuming a balanced diet, including different sets of vegetables in smaller portions, I find Thali a perfect choice for a solo traveller exploring cuisines across India, as it offers many dishes at once without spending a fortune. It is like a buffet served on a plate.

Also read : Your Guide To The Best Places For Thali In Delhi

In Amritsar, get a taste of authentic Punjabi cuisine at the famous ‘Kesar da Dhaba’. A thali at this iconic food joint includes Punjab’s much-loved ‘Tadke wali Maa ki Dal’, ‘Chole’, and ‘Palak Paneer; One can choose to opt for ‘Rajma’ or a ‘shahi paneer’. Served with ghee-laden ‘Lacchedaar Parathas’, eating a Thali at this Punjabi Dhaba would be a memorable experience. At the dhabas across the Grand Trunk Road, which passes through the agriculturally rich state of Punjab, one can enjoy ‘Sarson Ka Saag’, with ‘Makki ki Roti’, served along with home-churned white butter and jaggery. A Thali at such dhabas may include a ‘Dal’, ‘Baingan Ka Bharta’, and ‘tandoori parathas’; onion and green chillies are a regular feature; a thali experience at a Punjabi dhaba would be incomplete without a glass of Lassi’ or’ Mattha’ (Buttermilk).

At Gurudwara Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple, the Thali meal is served to more than 50,000 devotees of all castes, creeds, and socio-economic statuses. Thali meal at the Langar includes ‘Dal’, Vegetables, ‘Chapati’, a salad, and a dessert. Although the meal is not an elaborate affair, langar offers unlimited food to the devotees, and the taste of the langar cooked at gurudwaras is unparalleled for the love and devotion it is prepared with.

Punjabi Thali in Amritsar

In the hilly region of Himachal Pradesh, the traditional culinary fair is represented in weddings and important religious ceremonies. Known as ‘Himachali Dham’. This unique and ayurvedic-compliant process of eating is one of India’s best gastronomical concepts. One can find food flavours ranging from sweet, to spicy, to sour and bitter, being represented on the Leafy plate (Pattal), with dishes such as Himachali ‘Madhra’ (Rajma cooked with yoghurt and ghee),’ Maash Ki Daal’, ‘Khatta’,’ Kadhi’, and sweet rice preparation, as per geographical location, there are certain additions to a Himachali Dham, Like ‘Sepu Badi ‘(Spinach and Fried Lentil Badi), Seasonal vegetables, and sweet dishes. ‘Jhol’ (Buttermilk) is an essential part of any Dham, which aids in the digestion of this elaborate feast.

‘Kashmiri Wazwan’ is a similar elaborate affair prepared during weddings. It includes various ‘kormas, ‘Tabakmaas’, ‘Rishta’, and show-stopper ‘Gushtaba’ served over hot steamed rice. A Kashmiri Wazwan may include more than two dozen dishes. Unlike other thalis, Kashmiri Wazwan is a shared meal, where four people eat from a single copper plate.

Rajasthan and Gujarat are the states which celebrate the concept of Thalis unlike any other state of India. Thali of these states is so famous that in most states of India, you would find restaurants specialising in food from these states serving it in either a royal or a village setting, making people experience not just the food but also the culture of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Farsaans like ‘Dhokla’ and ‘Khandvi’, ‘Kadhis’ (Rajasthani Spicy Kadhi and Gujarati white and sweet kadhi), Dals, Seasonal vegetables, Papad or ‘Sev ki Sabzi’, ‘Gatte ki Sabzi’, ‘Bajre Ki Roti’, ‘Pooris’ (Try ‘Jakolma Poori’ in Udaipur), ‘Khichdi’, various regional vegetables, sweet dishes, and buttermilk are essential components of thalis from the region.

Gujarati Thali in Ahmedabad

In Maharastra, one can enjoy the delicious and spicy mutton thalis served with regional mixed millet bread called ‘Bhakri’, or ‘Malvani thalis’, representing the coastal culinary gems of this Konkan region. In Goa, a staple meal would be a Goan Fish Curry Thali, served with rice and a piece of fried ‘Bangda fish’ or ‘Rava’ fried prawns providing an ideal glimpse of Goa’s coastal delicacies. As we move southward, we enter the Karnataka region, with various culinary centres, like Udupi, Mangalore, Mysore, Uttar Kannada, and, of course, the vibrant city of Bangalore. Each community of the region has its food served on Banana leaves during festivals and special occasions.

‘Jowar bhakri thali’, a traditional meal of Uttara Kannada, is a delicious combination of ‘Jolada’ (Jowar) roti served with ‘Yennagai curry’ (Brinjal), ‘Hollige’, lentil preparation and a couple of snacks. ‘Jowar Bakhri’ is served with butter, and to enjoy it, along with the brinjal curry, is a thorough delight. Drinking buttermilk along with it is inevitable.

Each of the south Indian states has its traditional meals; in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, it is referred to as meals. Tamilnadu is called ‘Sappadu’; however, when discussing festive meals in India, mentioning Kerala’s ‘Onam Sadhya’ is inevitable. Served on the festival of Onam, A Sadhya includes ‘Avial’, ‘Olan’, ‘Thoran’, ‘Pulissery’, ‘Elissery’, ‘Kootu Curry’, ‘Rasam’, ‘Sambhar’, and a variety of other dishes, ‘Papadums’, ‘Pachadis’, and Pickles. Not to miss out on the different payasams served at a Sadhya meal, especially the delicious ‘Ada Pradaman’.

In the eastern states, too, you will find thalis in the states of Bihar, where the ‘Litti’ or ‘Baati’ is a famous dish, served along with ‘aloo' and baingan ka chokha’; other regional vegetables and lentils are well represented too. In Assam, an elaborate affair may include celebrating regional dishes like ‘Pithika’, ‘Khar dish’, ‘Masor Tenga’, Duck with Ashgourd, Pork with Black sesame, and many other unique regional dishes. A rare Thali meal I tried prepared by a talented home chef, Sneha Saikia, in Delhi has left a remarkable memory of Assamese food on my palate. Assamese vegetarian, as well as non-vegetarian dishes, are a thorough delight.

Goan Thali

Bengal, one of the culinary rich states of eastern India, carries delectable flavours and dishes ranging from vegetables like ‘Begun bhaja’, ‘aloo bhaja’, ‘Kosha Mangsho’, ‘Mutton Kaliya’, ‘Macher Jhol’, ‘Chingri Malai’, ‘Alur Dum’, ‘Shukto’, ‘Aloo Poshto’ etc. to win the heart of any food lover. A Bengali Thali is incomplete without the famed Bengali Mishti; try a ‘roshagulla’ or ‘Mishti Doi’ to end an elaborate Bengali cuisine affair on a sweet note.

In Madhya Pradesh, ‘Dal Bafla Thali’, the tribal cuisine of Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, A Kumaoni or Garhwali Thali of Uttarkhand, the temple food served in Braj (Uttarpradesh), or the Meal at Annapurna temple of Varanasi, are some of the examples of simple yet delicious cuisines of India. The taste of ‘Dalma’ in an Oriya Thali, or the ‘Gongura Pappu’ of Andhra Pradesh, the dairy-rich cuisine of Haryana, or the tribal cuisines of Northeast Indian states, all can be experienced via means of simple and affordable thali meals as you travel across Indian exploring the myriad flavours of its various cuisines. Be it the festivals celebrated in India, visits to religious places, or weddings in different communities living in India, a Thali meal is an ideal experience of the many flavours and cultures thriving in our Country. So, Keep Exploring!