Back home, if I were to fill my plate with eight different foods, I’d be a pig, drunk in Vegas, or quite possibly both.
But add a shiny silver platter to the equation and everything changes in the blink of an eye. What you have then is the thali — that most classic of Indian presentations, and the perfect way to experience a wide range of flavors in one sitting. Traveling through Rajasthan, I got hooked on these curried smorgasbords.
My favorite thali — nay, one of my favorite meals! — of the trip occurred in Udaipur. Sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the East,” this city of 600,000 in southern Rajasthan is quintessentially un-Indian. An oasis tucked deep in the desert, Udaipur’s quaint old quarter is filled with palaces and old havelis, all overlooking the shores of picturesque Lake Pichola, with mountains in the background and, the piece de resistance, a pristine white palace situated right on the lake.
Tucked a couple of kilometers away from the main tourist drag is a place called Natraj. At Natraj, they serve one thing and one thing only: vegetarian thali. They do this better than anyone, for only 120 rupees (or just under $2), and their portions are unlimited.
From the moment you’re seated, a server slaps a silver tray in front of you and tops it with three silver bowls. Next, a procession of servers fills the bowls and the tray with curries, potatoes, vegetables, chutney, an assortment of breads, and rice. The food, it just kept coming. No sooner did you finish a curry than someone offered to refill it.
I was the only non-Indian in this establishment and, seeing as how the seating was communal, felt a little sorry for my table mates. Not only did they have the terrible luck of being seated next to the only westerner in the entire restaurant, but they had to suffer through watching him snap pictures of his food!! Who does that??
Maybe next time I’ll try explaining Instagram….