Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
Food : April 30, 2000
Dining in style
Jyoti N. Parekh
The author is a food writer based in Mumbai.
To share good food with family and friends is an age old tradition. Every occasion, either a festival or a family function or even the arrival of a new season, is considered a good reason to celebrate. No joyous occasion is complete without serving mouth watering delicacies, and in style.
Indians love to organise feasts of unbelievable grandeur and opulence. History and mythology is full of such examples. Our heritage of centuries reveals that entertaining guests has always been the pride of every home, rich or poor.
In today's world entertaining guests has acquired a subtler shade of meaning than just sharing food. Serving a fabulous meal in a beautiful setting gives the host and hostess an opportunity to express their aesthetic abilities.
In urban India, it is amazing to observe the internationalisation of food culture. As communication in this jet age has made rapid progress, more and more people are getting exposed to global culinary secrets. Vegetarian food has gained popularity and a synthesis of Indian dishes alongside western dishes has become possible. Housewives and chefs adapt and create exciting dishes. A Japanese flower arrangement on the table, Thai vegetable and fruit carvings to enhance the setting, Czech crystal and English bone china to serve food, Irish linen and German cutlery in laying the table. All this and the wonderful wealth of Indian ethnic pots and silverware and banana leaves go a long way in creating the right ambience for a feast.
Depending on the occasion food can be served either in the traditional way in a thali or on banana leaves or in the buffet style.
In a typical Indian style the meal is served on a flat circular plate with shallow rim known as the thali. Curries and dhals are poured into bowls known as katoris which can either be arranged on or near the thali. On festive occasions, the thali and katoris are arranged on a raised stand made of wood known as patla. Another patla is arranged for the guest to sit. The festive border design on the floor is either rangoli or alpana, an ancient art of India - which is hand drawn with powdered marble, sand or rice paste. Generally, all items of food including the puris, dhals, curries, sweets, savouries, kachumber (salad) and accompaniments are served together, except the rice and crispies, which are offered separately. The food can also be served on banana leaves. The hostess gets the opportunity to pamper her guests and pay personal attention to their needs.
Westerners have a wonderful way of laying the table on formal occasions. Care is taken to use a beautiful, well pressed tablecloth. It should be straight and evenly spread. Table mats are kept in front of every chair. Dinner plates, side plates, glasses, spoons and knives are placed in proper positions. Well starched clean, crisp napkins are either folded into interesting shapes and placed on the plate or in a glass or slipped into small rings made of silver, lacquerware or ceramic.
Going in for a buffet is practical when the host wants to entertain a large number of people. All plates, glasses, cutlery and napkins are neatly kept on one side of a large table.
People take special pleasure in decorating their buffet tables with carved ice blocks, an array of carved vegetables, fruits and flowers. The art of carving fruit and vegetables into flowers and leaves came to us from Thailand. But having come to India, this art has found original and exotic expressions through the imaginative work by expert chefs and creative housewives.
Whatever your style of entertaining, Indian, western or oriental or a perfect combination of all, make sure the guest goes away feeling pampered.
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