I’ve been to India about half a dozen times—for pleasure, not for work—and I love both the country and the food. Along with Chinese and French, I consider Indian food (both northern and southern) one of the three greatest cuisines of the world.
One of the great joys of eating in India is the thali: a partitioned metal tray that contains a variety of dishes, along with bread, lentils (dal), pickle, rice, and often dessert. The individual dishes can be in katoris—small aluminum or stainless steel cups—or spread out as little heaps on a banana leaf. You always eat a thali with your hands (right hand only, please!), using a piece of chapati or a small ball of rice to pick up the food.
Often, especially in southern India, these are all-you-can eat affairs: when you finish a dish, a man comes around and replenishes it, along with more rice or (in northern India) chapatis, the ubiquitous round, flat breads that accompany all meals. Here is a simple vegetarian thali, with rice, chapatis, pickle (the dab at 10 o’clock) a papad (crisp bread), vegetable dishes (okra, spinach with Indian cheese—paneer, etc.), and yogurt (raita). (Note: these are not my photos).
Here’s a fancier south Indian thali, which includes dessert (gulab jamun, the syrup soaked pastry balls at four o’clock). You’d get this in a fancier restaurant, but it would still be all you can eat.
And, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a true south Indian thali like this:
Here’s a video (excuse the poor audio) showing what it’s like to eat in a pretty fancy thali restaurant. This one is in Rajasthan, and is vegetarian.
We are lucky in Chicago, for we have a huge Indian community (up north, along Devon Avenue) housing dozens of restaurants and Indian shops. There you can get the best Indian food I’ve found outside of India itself—and that includes the vaunted but westernized emporia of the UK.
But this is all an excuse to show this video of a man making chapatis in what is likely a thali restaurant. Since it’s all you can eat, and bread is your utensil, the demand for chapatis is constant.
The sad thing is that this job is probably all the guy does—many hours per day, and perhaps for life. That’s undoubtedly why he’s so good at throwing the chapatis. To travel in India, you must somehow come to terms with the ubiquitious poverty and disease that accompanies such a rich culture. But that’s a subject for another day.