© M. Zien
In February of this year (2010), my husband and I got married in a “big fat Indian wedding” held at the MGM Beach Resort, south of Chennai in
Even though there were elaborate and sumptuous Indian meals at all of our wedding events and even though we certainly ate, neither of us can remember much today in terms of what we ate and how we felt eating it. Like any bride and groom, we were too filled with joy, nervousness, stress and excitement to really sit down and enjoy the food. There was one notable exception though, and that would be the traditional banana leaf lunch served outside on the hotel grounds right after our wedding ceremony.
The banana leaf is the "plate" of choice for auspicious occasions such as weddings and meals with special guests in South India. After washing their hands (there are no utensils provided unless you ask!), people sit on benches set up under a circus-style tent known as a shamiana that provides shade from the hot sun at outdoor weddings such as ours. Once the guests are seated, an assembly line of servers will go from guest to guest, placing dish after dish on each banana leaf. Typical fare will include a snack such as the traditional vada (a traditional South Indian lentil-based donut, much like falafel), a mound of steaming white rice, a prepared rice dish such as a biriyani, chapathi, dal (split yellow lentils), rasam (a clear tomato broth), sambhar (a lentil and vegetable stew), a crispy appalam (which some of you may know as papad), a number of different vegetable dishes, raita (yogurt with vegetables), pickles and and several sweets. Everything is eaten directly off of the leaf with the right hand, which can be quite tricky for the banana leaf novice!
© O. de Morais
The servers, decked in white cotton dhotis, are very impressive and move at lightning speed, putting seconds on your leaf before you even notice or disappearing with something you may want more of before you have a chance to ask! When you are done, you are supposed to fold your leaf, which will then be disposed of by the servers. Talk about eco-friendly...the banana leaves are of course fully biodegradable! Some people in South India also believe that banana leaves are auspicious and that eating on them gives a special flavor to food. I don't know about all that, but I do know that our friends and family who came from all over the world to attend our wedding got a kick out of eating this way! Not only did they master the art of eating with their hands on the leaves the Indian way, some of them even savored the paan, which is a traditional betel leaf mouth refresher and digestive that is eaten after meals and that many people (including myself) find to be unpalatable.
© O. de Morais
Amidst all of the colorful whirl of our wedding, my new husband and I savored the moment of sitting down in front of our banana leaves, finally breathing and relaxing a bit and at long last...eating! Thrilled by the knowledge that we had actually just gotten married, we fed each other the first bites (an Indian tradition), laughed and soaked it in all in. A spicy memory that we will never forget!
© D. Chaplin