Dining Formats in India

This article is about the dining formats in India

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                                                                                 Dining Formats in India

    As vast and diverse as India is, so are its food and the dining etiquettes. They vary from region to region. Also, in India, most of us follow a formal dining system at lunches or dinners at our homes. This means, the family generally sits together and the food is served or each one serves himself/herself.

    Come to think of it, there are four notable conventional dining formats apart from the modern dining (formal and informal) formats that restaurants operate on. 


    The most popular and possibly the broadest ‘term’ for formal dining. A Thali is a large plate of various preparations. It is a balanced meal of nutrients served individually in small bowls or directly on the plate. Traditionally, the thali is curated on the basic body types as recognised by Ayurveda. The thali is a wonderful balance of all six tastes that make the dining experience even more interesting. Traditionally speaking, the system prescribes having the food in a specific order, beginning with sweet and ending with astringent to aid the process of digestion. However, nowadays it is not possible to follow it as meticulously. 

   The thali is enjoyed as a sit-down meal by eating from a regular table, a low-set table,  or by sitting on the floor. As is with Indian food, it is best enjoyed when eaten with fingers as it enhances the taste of food. Once again, this shows immense respect towards the Divine, the food served and the entire ecosystem involved in making the food. This is because as per traditions, we believe that eating is also a sensory activity and touch is an important aspect of  the food as much as the aroma and taste.

     Also, instead of a thali, the preparations may be served on a banana leaf as in the South and East India. In Kerala, Sadya is a traditional vegetarian meal served during Onam and other auspicious occasions. The banana leaves are said to have anti-bacterial properties that negate the germs in food while adding a distinct flavour. There is science here too!

    So also the Wazwan, a celebratory meal of Kashmiri Muslims that is laid out during weddings. It is an elaborate meal, where 36 dishes are served, a majority of which are meat dishes. The Wazwan is a complete dining experience as yet again, food is served by course and in a sequence. The guests are very lovingly persuaded to have another helping. The dining surface or the table is called a ‘dastarkhan’ Turkish for, ‘tablecloth’. 

     Not just at home, but even restaurants serve special vegetarian and non-vegetarian thalis. It is indeed commendable that the platter still commands respect and possibly has a separate fanbase. No wonder, we see long queues outside restaurants serving thalis! Some of the popular thalis are Gujarati, Kathiawadi, Maharashtrian, Rajasthani, Punjabi, Assamese, Odia and Bengali. Besides these, there are a few other thalis that are  definitely worth trying. 

Community Dining

The idea behind community dining is to foster oneness and brotherhood irrespective of the social status and religion. This is what you see in temples or gurudwaras. Food is prepared in large quantities and served to devotees visiting the holy places. They do not charge for the service as it is often viewed as a service to God. Also, offering food without expecting anything in return is considered the highest form of worship. Some NGOs, trusts and wealthy families offer food to the homeless. More recently and gradually, we are seeing the concept of food banks, where households deposit surplus food for those who cannot afford regular meals. 


 Primarily for truck drivers or for travellers on a tight budget, or even general tourists who wish to experience eating in a roadside joint, Dhabas or roadside eateries are a boon. Dhabas often serve simple, affordable meals and even tea and snacks. Food is prepared from locally available ingredients and if you have observed, Dhabas most often serve North Indian food. The sitting arrangement is on a cot, called a charpai with a wooden plank across the cot that serves as a dining table. Even if Dhabas do not operate like a modern establishment, the food they serve is tasty and fresh as it is prepared as per footfall of guests. 

We saw three prominent dining formats in India, each very different from the other. For tourists coming to India or even native Indians travelling to other parts of the country, they can try any one of these options.