Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Magic of Mealtimes

Indian meals always remind me of the "thalis" we had at home.
The big dishes , usually stainless steel ones for regular use, would be dotted with a lemon wedge, chilly or pickle before the meal began.
There would be smaller bowls by each dish , for dal and curries and yoghurt.

The rice or chapati is accompanied with generous helpings of  the vegetable of the season, a bowl of dal and if non vegetarian, a mutton, chicken or fish curry. Papads , salads and chutnies sit proudly on the table.

This is what sets apart Indian meals and mealtimes from most of the West.
We eat together and the meal is designed to be shared and consumed together.
We reach out for the last piece of paneer or wipe the curry bowl clean with our roti.

This extends to eating out as well.
Dishes are ordered as common dishes for everyone.
There is a huddle and conversation and leafing back and forth of the well thumbed menus before the food is ordered alongwith with the rice and parathas.  The dishes are shared.

I  never remember ever having ordered a paratha and mutton curry all for myself. If the group decides on rice, I will go by that. Majority rules. And no complaints.

The size of the servings also reflect that. It is never meant for a single serve. If it is, it is deftly carved, sliced, dissected by the waiters themselves without being told.

Even if "continental" dishes are ordered, the roast, mash and veggies again sit on the centre of the table and are divided up by the family. So are the pastas and the salads.

The concept of "my own dish"  is quite alien and seen only amongst the elite and evolved, for want of a better term.

There is more to this than just food.
The sharing shows the strength of bonding in Indian families.
The respect for each other.
The giving up rather than giving in.
The values the little ones learn around the table.
Saying No  to the last helping just to ensure that everyone has had enough.

That's the magic of Indian mealtimes.
One I would never give up, just for "my own dish".