The South Indian thali meal

The south Indian Thali

The typical Indian restaurant menu carries two styles of thali (read as thalee) meals. Classified simply as North Indian and South Indian the platter carries an array of dishes served with rice or bread. These meals are fairly balanced, with a sizable portion of the plate to carry dry vegetable stirfries and curries. The large platter that carries all the dishes is the thali.

The South Indian meal.

The large platter that carries all the different dishes is the “thattu” in The southern part of India.  The thattu is made of metal, mostly stainless steel. It is at times lined with a cut banana leaf. This certainly reduces a load of washing up but is optional. There are a collection of small bowls on the plate that helps the curries to stay in place. The cooked grain, predominantly rice is either served on a smaller plate or directly onto the large plate. The pickles and papads also go directly on the plate.

The dishes that make up the South Indian thali.

The rice – the grain of choice that is eaten by the majority of South Indians is rice. Based on regional preferences you may have white, red or brown short-grain rice cooked to perfect softness not ‘aldente’.
The sambhar- the main lentil-based stew served to be eaten with the rice is the sambhar. Choose to make an authentic from scratch one ( like coconut milk sambhar) or a quick pressure cooker version that is totally up to you.
Rasam -the thin peppery soup served in the bowl is rasam. This is used to either drink as a soup or added to the second portion of the rice.
Kootu- a nonspicy sidewise with some squash-like vegetables and lentils simmered in coconut gravy is the cooling quotient in the curries. In this thali we have watermelon rind kootu. You can choose a spinach based one for a change.
Poriyal -the dry stirfry of veggies with a.mustartrd lentil tempering add to the variety in the meal. If you are planning a bigger thali, you can choose to have two or more styles of poriyals. Our usual poriyal is Knolkhol poriyal
Pickle/thogayal- the spicy,  salty accompaniment to the bland yogurt rice. You can choose either a thogayal(chutney) or a pickle to suit your tastebuds. We have a huge variety under the pickles section of this blog. For this platter we chose – Watermelon rind Thogayal.
Papad/vattal -the crispy bits needed fr the crunch factor are these papadams, vattals or vadams. Most often, my thalis carry the vattals and vadams.
Yogurt -home set fresh yogurt is meant to balance all the spice that is consumed. It is an excellent reset to the natural gut flora and is rich in calcium.
Payasam -no meal is complete without a dessert!! Payasams form the sought out dessert of the South Indian platter. with vermicelli or rice, the payasams are the end sweet note to the full meals.

How to serve this thali??

Start with filling the smaller bowls with the gravy curries, then the dry curries that you have made. Place these on the top half of the platter. Towards the centre of the bottom half place the rice. On either side of the plate add the pickles, chutneys and papads. The dessert and the yogurt is placed on the side usually outside the plate unless you have a huge plate to fit in all of it. Don’t forget to place the glass of water, on the top corner of the platter, Preferably on the left-hand side. Check out this quick video link that we put together. 

How to eat a South Indian thali meal?

The preferred mode of eating a thali is using your fingers. This creates a sensory perception and a vivid memory of the meal. To begin with, you may place the smaller bowls right outside the plate so as to create a bit of mixing and eating space.
Then divide the rice say two portions, one approximately  1/3. To this portion add a bit of the sambhar, mix by hand and eat in small portions. The dry vegetable preparations form the accompaniment to the spicy sambhar and rice.

Once the sambhar rice is over, divide the remaining portion of the rice into two again. This time use the rasam to flavour the rice. You may choose to have a lot or a little of the rasam. Personally, I prefer to have a little less of the rasam on the plate as it runs. Then I can have the rasam like a soup from the bowl. The papad, the rest of the dry vegetables and the kootu are the accompaniment for the rasam rice.

The last bit of rice is reserved for the yogurt. Once the yogurt and rice are mixed the saltiness from the pickles and the thogayals make it flavoursome.
Finally, the dessert. Usual desserts are payasam or puddings, so can be easily had with a spoon from the bowl.

A thali meal is all about the various textures and senses that engulf your eating experience. Hope you enjoy this post on the how-to to a South Indian Thali meal and will stay on with us for more. Please subscribe to receive new updates, share your thoughts in the discussion below or Tag us #mildlyindian when you have a thali meal. See you at our next post.

5 7 votes

Subscribe & Follow

You Might Also Like

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Amrita Roy
Amrita Roy
2 years ago
Rating :

What a beautiful post about South Indian thali. You have mentioned each and every small details in this post.

Jayashree T.Rao
2 years ago
Rating :

Being a South Indian, I always enjoy this meal. It is a comfort food for me. Lovely spread Seema.

Mayuri Patel
2 years ago
Rating :

Seema your South Indian thali has got me craving for some South Indian food. When in Bangalore, enjoying a full South Indian at least once a week was a norm. I too prefer to have rasam as a soup rather than with the rice. Healthy and filling spread.

2 years ago
Rating :

Ahhh..the luxury of eating a South Indian thali is somrthign else..esp if the meal is as delicious as this. Watermelon rind thuvayal.. wow now that’s now on my make list

2 years ago
Rating :

Ah! The beauty and the taste of this delicious South Indian thali is amazing. I love the small details you have added like why we eat with our fingers. Great intro to the vast cuisine we have.

2 years ago
Rating :

South Indian Thali meal looks scrumptious. Loved reading every bit of your post Seema. Absolutely hearty and irresistible meal.

2 years ago
Rating :

This reminds me of all the amazing meals my mom would make for us. I should make a proper South Indian meal soon for a nostalgic trip!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x