Just before leaving Thiruvannamalai, where three of us went to relax for my friend’s birthday, we decided to have one big thali before getting on the 3-hour bus ride. Thali is a traditional South Indian lunch consisting of unlimited rice, dal (lentils), subjee (cooked, mixed vegetables), sambar (spicy, very traditional soupy sauce), and other salads and vegetable dishes. We stopped in a juice shop and asked the waiter to recommend a good “pure veg” restaurant for thalis. He said something like, “Take a right and go a bit, then you’ll see it on your left.” He finished it with an Indian headshake, which could mean just about anything so we took our chances and followed his directions. We came upon a pure veg restaurant and excitedly went in and sat down. The following is the exchange we had with the waiter:
Us: We’ll have three thalis, please.
Waiter: No thali.
Us: It’s lunch time. Do you have thalis for lunch?
Waiter: No thali. Dosa, idly. (Other Indian foods that are delicious but not what we were looking for).
Us: No dosa. No idly. Lunch time! Thali time.
Waiter: No thali.
Us: Do you have rice?
Us: Do you have dal?
Us. Do you have subjee?
Us: Do you have sambar?
Us: Then you have thali!
Waiter: You want thali, you sit here.
At this time the waiter points to the table next to us. We look at each other, get up, move to the next table, and a full thali comes. It’s huge, unlimited, and delicious and the waiters are hovering over us serving us more and more food, and confused that we are eating like Indians and know the names of the dishes they are serving us. They keep asking where we’re from but we don’t want to get started in a conversation as we have a bus to catch and our bellies to fill.
As we finish eating we take time to laugh about the ridiculocity (we’ve been making up words… this is a good one, right?) of a restaurant serving some dishes on one side of the room and other dishes on the other side. And then two of us start uncontrollably crying as though we’ve been hit with tear gas. We can’t figure out what is going on and we have to use the toilet and we don’t want to pay for the toilet at the bus station so we go to the toilet in the restaurant. It’s upstairs, and as we wait to use the facilities, we notice two women sitting on the floor with a pile of onions almost as tall as them, peeling them, while onion fumes gently ooze down the vents that were directly over our table. We burst out laughing, pee, and then hop on the bus home.