What is a Thali
Thali is an Indian word which means "a large plate used for the purpose of serving lunch or dinner" . However the word 'thali' is also used to refer an Indian style of meal served in a thali or a big platter (or sometimes a banana leaf) along with some small bowls used to serve vegetables, curries and curd. Thali culture is very popular in India and every community or every corner of the country has their own and unique display of the thali through their popular and indigenous recipes. Thali is a delicious meal available in many restaurants throughout the country which is at the same time inexpensive too. So to know the different parts of India and their varied cultures, eating a thali is a simple and easy way.
What is Assamese Thali
Priyanka Chopra with an Assamese Thali served in bell metal utensils/ p.c. internet
Assam is a state in the northeast part of India. It is the heart of northeast India. In Assam there are many tribes living, having their own language, culture, customs, traditions and of course own cuisines. So Assamese cuisine is the cuisine of Assam and its different communities and tribes living in different parts of Assam and Assamese Thali is a display of Assamese cuisine. Like many other Indian thalis, in Assamese thali also the rice sits in the center of the plate and is traditionally eaten with the fingers of the right hand. Unlike every other Indian thalis Assamese thali also have some specialities which makes it different from other thalis.
An Assamese thali by Binita Borpatragohain
Ten things you should know about an Assamese Thali
1• An Assamese thali is served in bell metal utensils. Bell metal is an alloy of copper and tin. Bell metal utensils are used by Assamese communities for domestic and religious purposes. In an Assamese thali bell metal plate, bowls, glass etc are used which makes Assamese thali unique from other Indian thalis.
2• An Assamese meal begin with khar.
Khar is an alkali prepared from sun dried skin of some varieties of banana. It is prepared by filtering the water from the burn ashes of the skin of the banana Therefore it is also called kolkhar (kol means banana). It is preserved in bottles and can be used for months. It sounds bizarre but Assamese people are using khar as a cooking ingredient since time immemorial when salt was not discovered. It is believed that khar cleanses the stomach.
A traditional Assamese meal begin with khar recipe. A khar recipe can be prepared with raw papaya, bottle gourd, dry Jasmin flower, doron bon xaak, fish head etc. In a khar recipe khar is the key ingredient. One or two tablespoons is enough to prepare khar recipe. Khar can also be consumed as raw by just adding chopped garlic, few drops of mustard oil and salt.
So khar makes an Assamese thali unique from other Indian thalis .
An Assamese thali by Taru Phukan
4• One must dish of an Assamese thali is Kahudi or pain tenga (black mustard chutney) . Black mustard seeds' chutney or kahudi is an unique dish of its kind. Because of its strong flavour it is good for sneezing or runny nose. Assamese love to have kahudi with rice which makes Assamese thali unique from other Indian thalis .
5• Mati mahor dail /urad dal or split black gram is a traditional gram of Assam. An Assamese thali without mati mahor dal is incomplete. Split black gram is cooked with or without khar and served in bell metal bowls.
6• Different herbs and medicinal plants and leafy vegetables (xaak) are available in this part of India such an fiddlehead ferns, skunk vine, colocasia leaves, modhuxulung etc. These herbs, greens and vegetables are generally eaten by simple frying, adding into different lentils, fish or meat. One such dish must be present in an Assamese thali without which an Assamese thali is incomplete.
7• Every Thali has pickles and chutneys. Assamese thalis also has pickles and chutneys. Pickles and chutneys add flavour to a thali and in Assamese thali one green chutney and bhut jolokia pickle or bamboo shoots and bhut jolokia pickle are must items.
An Assamese thali by Nitumoni Das Sarmah
8• Local chicken, squab, mutton, duck and pork are very popular among indigenous people of Assam but when it comes to the non-vegetarian Assamese thali , duck is in the first preference.
9• Masor tenga / sour fish curry is a signature dish of Assamese cuisine. There are many souring agents used to make sour fish curries such as elephant apple, modhuxulung, thekera, tomatoes, lemon etc. In every non-vegetarian Assamese thali one dish of sour fish curry must include.
10. Dessert is a western concept which don't exist in Assamese cuisine. Curd is generally served with thali which is consumed at the end of the meal. An Assamese meal concludes with the shewing of tamul paan (betel nut and leaf) which is served in a bell metal utensil called bota. Pieces of betel nuts are served with pieces of betel leaves together with edible limestone and tobacco. The reason behind shewing tamul paan at the end of a meal is to freshen the breath and to hasten the process of digestion. But in restaurants tamul paan is not served with Assamese thali but in many Assamese household it is a routine item after every meal. Instead of tamul paan, saunf (fennel seeds) is served in restaurants.
P. C. Binita Borpatragohain, Taru Phukan, Nitumoni Das Sarmah