First thing Manju wanted to hear today was how our trip to buy steel had gone. We told him we had fun and he asked what we bought and how much we paid. He seemed pleased with our answers.

Then he said something about “pongal today,” and asked “Big or small?”

I took this to mean did we want lots of food or a little.

“Thali,” he said, and I put my hand up and said, “No, no,” meaning thali would be too much. Thali is a plate where you are given a bunch of different dishes in little cups and usually a big serving of rice and a significant amount of bread. Eating thali can be a daunting task. Definitely not something I was up for today.

“Different food you’re eating,” he said, nodding happily, and left the room.

Alrighty then. Neither of us knew what to expect, but clearly Manju had taken our order.

In a minute he returned with two masterpieces:

Yup, it’s thali alright. He explained that he’d given us half-servings of everything. That was the “small.” (And as you may note: this is not really small at all!) Thali is another item that is not on the menu, but I sure am glad he told us about this.

Starting from upper left: shavige bath (vermicelli with spices and vegetables), rice bath (rice with spices and vegetables), pongal (a creamy rice dish that reminds me of risotto and is also, I think, called kitchari). In the little bowl balanced on top of the plate is curd with raw onions. The onions flavor the curd to make the most delicious flavor! Bottom left is coconut chutney, sweet kesari bath, and a vada (crispy fried black lentil fritter) which tasted heavenly when dipped in the onion-flavored curd.

Wow, what a Sunday dinner!