Doing It Thali-Style

India comes up with the most ingenious ways to eat. Well, I shouldn't say comes up with. Their version of the lunch tray, the thali, has been around for a very long time. Probably not as long as a styrofoam tray will stay around in the long run. Oh and thalis are either sustainable or resuable.

Sustainable: A banana leaf with a heap of rice in the middle, surrounded by drier Indian dishes less prone to run all over the place. Dal may be served in a small separate bowl. One scoops up rice using the thumb and first three fingers (pinky stays clean), then selects another morsel and quickly ferries the whole ordeal to one's mouth before one loses one's grip. Isn't this how one stains one's lungi/sari, you ask? Just like you'll never see a taxi accident in Mumbai despite the utter lack of traffic rules (two honks means "I'm passing you, seriously don't move"), eating-with-hands mishaps are rare. Still, probably best not to try it out on a first date. When the meal is finished, the leaf is discarded.

Reusable: A round stainless steel tray with a selection of dishes in small bowls. Same heap of rice in the middle, and best suited for curries and other stews. Like its cousin, the stainless steel lunch box known as the dabba, the thali is reusable and thanks to its sturdy build, will be around (and highly productive) for a very long time.

And look at that — the attractive plating is built right in. Probably because this nation of a billion plus rarely feels the need to garnish with micro-cilantro.