A Thali is a traditional way of serving food in India. It is not just a plate, it is a way of serving food that is served and eaten in accordance with the six tastes and the six stages of digestion. It’s the science of serving food. This practice is still followed in the south part of India. 

Apart from what one eats, it is important to understand how one eats. Placement of dishes on the plate is an important aspect of eating. It is done keeping in mind the sequence of tastes and corresponding accessibility of the dishes. 

The placement of the food in the Thali begins with certain fruits that are kept in the bottom left corner of the Thali, to be eaten 15 minutes prior to the meal. Fruits like pomegranate or even a gooseberry are ideal appetizers to start as these sweet and sour tasting fruits stimulate the digestive enzymes or Agni. 

On the right corner of the thali, the main dessert is served. Since the meal should be started with sweet because the sweet taste is the first and predominant taste of a person’s meal and the first stage in the sequence of tastes and stages of digestion (Madhur Awasthi Paka). Notice when you eat a thali at a traditional place that the Kheer or rice pudding is placed at the right corner. 

Rice, wheat, millet or any grain in the meal has to be served at the most important spot in the lower center part of the plate and closest to you. This is because grain should form the main portion of a person’s Thali. Grains have an inherent sweet taste and the first stage of digestion is the Madhur Awasthi Paka. This is the reason grains get the prime spot on your Thali. 

The vegetables and pulses should be served in the upper-middle portion, just above the grains as it mainly comprises salty, bitter, pungent tastes which come in the latter part of the digestion process. Similarly, non-vegetarian dishes should also be served like this as animal proteins generally carry salty and astringent tastes. 

On the left most corner pickles, chutney, sauces or dips should be served. These are to be eaten in less quantity so are not given easy access. Next to it can be anything that is spicy and has a salty taste like rasam. The reason again is difficult access. As explained above, in the sequence of tastes, salty and pungent tastes have to be later, so keeping them on the left conditions your mind to eat them in the latter half. 

Water should be placed on the right-hand side of the diner. This is because, when a person is eating with the right hand, he will not reach out for the water with his right hand. Using his left hand will make it difficult for him, so he will try to avoid doing that. The diner will naturally refrain from drinking large quantities of water with meals, instead, he would be encouraged to take small sips only. 

As explained earlier, the astringent taste is used to close off the digestion process. Therefore, buttermilk or betel is used for this purpose. These are kept in the left bottom corner, the non-dominant side to encourage the diner to drink or eat in the end and not in the middle of the meal. If you serve on a banana leaf instead of Thali, make sure the converging point of the banana leaf is on the left. This is out of respect. 

The Thali may be an outdated concept in many households now but let’s keep the principle behind the Thali concept alive. This will ensure a perfect meal and perfect digestion and health. 

Take this quiz to discover your unique mind-body type (also known as your dosha type)
and start on your personalised path to wellness.