Thali (Hindi/Nepali: थाली, Tamil: தட்டு; meaning "plate") is an Indian-style meal, made up of a selection of various dishes, served on a platter. The 'thali' style serving is also popular in Nepal and Bangladesh. It simply means a round platter used to serve food. The idea behind a Thali is to offer all the 6 different flavors of sweet, salt, bitter, sour, astringent and spicy on one single plate (although the latter two flavors are actually forms of chemesthesis). According to Indian food serving customs, a proper meal should be a perfect balance of all these 6 flavors.
Dishes served in a Thali vary from region to region in South Asia and are usually served in small bowls, called katori. These 'katoris' are placed along the borders of the round tray - the actual thali; even a steel tray with multiple compartments is used. Typical dishes include rice, dal, vegetables, roti, papad, curd (yoghurt), small amounts of chutney or pickle, and a sweet dish to top it off. Rice or Roti is the usual main dish which occupies the central portion of the Thali, while the side dishes like vegetable curries and other aforementioned delicacies are lined circularly along the round Thali.
Restaurants typically offer a choice of vegetarian or meat-based thalis. Vegetarian thalis are very typical and commonplace in Tamil Nadu canteens (and South India in general), and is a popular lunch choice.
Depending on the restaurant or the region, the thali consists of delicacies native to that region. In general, a thali begins with different types of breads such as puris or chapatis (rotis) and different vegetarian specialities (curries). However, in South India, rice is the only staple served with thalis.
In some restaurants, a thali may include "bottomless" refills on all components of food, the idea being that one eats until fully satisfied; such thalis are referred to as "unlimited" thalis. In some places the term means that everything on the plate, except a few items, like the sweet dish or dahi vada, is open to unlimited helpings.
Thalis are sometimes referred to by the regional characteristic of the dishes they contain. For example, one may encounter Nepalese thali, Rajasthani thali, Gujarati thali and Maharashtrian thali. In many parts of India and Nepal, the bread and the rice portions are not served together in the thali. Typically, the bread is offered first with rice being served afterwards, often in a separate bowl or dish.
Thaali can also refer to a metal plate that thali may be served on.