Be it the Japanese bento box, the tea-fronted Chinese yum cha set meal or the French plat du jour, the plated meal concept is here to stay. Over the last decade or so, they have earned themselves a permanent spot in the Indian dining scene’s dramatically re-written culinary lexicon.
But long before they came calling on our desi shores, the OG Indian plated meal aka the thali—in its myriad avatars—has been satiating our hunger pangs with its sumptuousness. From the mammoth, 56-item chappan bhog thali to the hugely portioned, 25-item, aptly-named Bahubali thali (that easily feeds six hungry souls), India has given a wide berth to the thali.
Keeping that thought at the forefront, along with the zeitgeist of the regional cuisine movement, we’re bearing witness to across the country, here is our list of the most interesting and unique thali iterations for all plated meal lovers to tuck into.
Set in the midst of some amazing wildlife and the majestic Asiatic lions of the Gir National Park in Sasan Gir Gujarat, Aramness is an all-inclusive luxury jungle lodge. One that has a strong focus on serving both, local Gujarati and international food. Named after the kansa alloy of tin and copper, the kansa thali (all meal charges are included in the stay package) served at the Haveli restaurant of the lodge is not as heavy as it seems. Made up of some of Gujarati cuisine's greatest hits, one gets to try snacks like the lilva ni kachori made from lentils, and the lehsuni (garlic) dhokla. Among the mains, there is the sweetish duo of Gujarati dal and kadhi, tangy tomato-based sev tameta nu saak, the fried okra bhinda nu saak and for the non-vegetarians, the curry leaf-and butter-saturated limdi chicken. Rice, rotlas and khichdi drizzled with ghee are the carb components of the thali. Tuck into bottomless bowls of chilled aamras (mango pulp) with pooris and dudhi (bottle gourd) halwa and a tall glass of vaghareli chaas (spiced buttermilk) and you're all set to relish regional Gujarati cuisine at its finest.
Yes, you read the thalis bit right. Offering a whopping five varieties (three veg and two non-veg) of lunch plates, which is what the thali is called in Goa, is this selection of both vegetarian and meat/seafood-based plated meals at the modern Goan restaurant O Pedro. It is a fact that the heartiest meals in Goa are almost always shack style, especially the wholesome lunch plates. The catch of the day is used in the curry and a seasonal vegetable goes into the foogath or vegetable stir fry. Take for example the Panji green watana rassa rice plate ( ₹420). Plated on a stainless-steel thali, this one is laden with a spicy fennel, mustard curry, served with sprout salad, vegetable foogath, alongside bhakri. There's Goa's famed brown rice or basmati rice with an orange serradura for dessert.
For the seafood-based lunch plate, there's Beryl’s fish curry ( ₹570, and named after the late founding partner, chef Floyd Cardoz’s mother). It is a serving of dried mango and kokum-coconut fish curry as the main dish, along with the aforementioned dishes of the veg thali as its accompaniments.
This heritage property turns up the cultural experience of staying here a few extra notches with their signature Rajasthani thali ( ₹2,500+) that has some of the greatest hits of the cuisine's repertoire. Think melt-in-the mouth classics like the laal maas made fiery red with the use of Mathania chillies. The tamatar ri saag is said to be a recipe of the late Thakurani Sahiba Jayendra Kumari of Rohet Garh, while the safed aloo is also an old Rohet family recipe with grated cashews, almonds, poppy seeds and coconut with whole red chillies. Served alongside the thali are a variety of traditional breads like the batiya which is a flaky spiral roti slathered with ghee.
Competing with its close cousin, the Garhwali thali, also from Uttarakhand, in the freshness of ingredients department, is this Kumaoni thali (price on request) served at the hotel’s Trout House Grill. A sum of its many tasty parts like the pahadi lamb bhunni, the sesame coated dal pakoras called bhooda, thhatwani raas (a lentil-based stew), kakoda ki sabji (a dry preparation of spiny gourd), and the iconic bhat ki churkani or Himalayan soybean curry, this one is as wholesome as it is light on the palate. And speaking of the aforementioned Garhwali thali, this place also does a version along with another regional one called the Devbhoomi thali.
Served on a gleaming steel thaal, the thali at this Relais & Châteaux member property is a medley of a fish curry made with fresh coconut, clams sukka (based on a xacuti gravy) a vegetable foogath, sol kadhi, kachumber, coconut milk sheera, prawns rawa fry, and tendli pickle. All this, accompanied by fluffy poi bread and the fat Goa red rice. They claim that all the seafood used is from the local market. This primarily seafood thali feast ( ₹1,750) also has a vegetarian iteration ( ₹1,550) to make it as democratic as it can get. This, given the fact that Goan food is mostly seafood- or pork-based.
UnSadya by NairOnFire, Mumbai
Claiming to not just make ‘a feast befitting all Queens and Kings’, but also the country’s first non-veg sadya, the guys behind NairOnFire, a delivery kitchen in Mumbai offering cuisine from Kerala, are proud of their plantain leaf UnSadya meal ( ₹3,000). A pun on the words unique and sadya, this rather expensive meal—that one can enjoy at home—brings together vegetarian, meat and seafood specialities. Unlike the regular sadya that is primarily vegetarian. An extravaganza of over 20 dishes (including, Suriani buff pepper fry, fish fry and a chicken curry among scores of others) that will take you on a journey of God’s Own Country – from Travancore, through the backwaters of Allepey to the hills of Munnar and the gentle sea breeze of the Malabar coast.