The banana leaf rice meal was first introduced to the region during the British colonial era, where immigrants from South India came over to find better jobs and a better life. With them, came this wonderfully tantalizing and complete meal. As most of these Southern Indians worked in plantations, banana leaves could be found in abundance – just like back home in India, and was a natural choice if you wanted a hearty, well-balanced meal with all the accompaniments. Plus, they didn’t have to do the dishes after, they just threw the leaf away after finishing their meal.
There are ten different components that complete a hearty banana leaf rice meal, and these are:
THE BANANA LEAF
First of all, the plate you are being served is actually the banana leaf itself. It’s usually cleaned before serving and can actually add more nutritional value to your meal. Apparently its high content of polyphenol acts as an antioxidant. Plus, it adds fragrance to the piping hot rice being served to you.
Traditionally white rice, fragrant rice or par-boiled rice is used when serving up on a banana leaf. Always keep a bit extra on the side, because this mouth-watering meal may require additional rice refills.
No banana leaf rice meal is complete without curries, as most prefer to ‘wet’ their rice and add a spicy flavour. Take your pick, lentils or dhal if you’re going full vegan or choose to add chicken, mutton, or fish curries.
Usually an assortment of vegetables go well together with the banana leaf rice, nothing less than an accompaniment of 3 different varieties of Indian style cooked vegetables. Common veggies include cabbage, cucumber, potato, beans, spinach and bitter gourd.
THE SIDE DISHES
If you’re not going vegan, then some fried fish or fish cutlets, or if you prefer, fried squid or chicken would be the usual addition. If you enjoy living on the wilder side of life, take the spiciness up a notch or two and opt for dishes such as mutton curry, crab curry, chicken varuval or parathal.
An accompaniment of lip-puckering Indian amla, mango or garlic pickles that give you an added spicy, sweet and tangy taste. The added tang of the pickle helps to balance out the richness of the curry, as well as providing more nutritious vegetables and fruit.
These crunchy lentil (link to lentil page) chips are a must have with your banana leaf rice. Either break it up into the rice for added texture, or eat it as is!
Also known as yoghurt, when mixed with the rice, it helps tone down the spiciness of the meal.
Once you are done earing, down this spicy and sour soup that’s usually served in a cup to help you digest your meal. Made from tamarind juice, it is spiced further with tomato, chilli, pepper and cumin.
Wrap everything up with a lassi, the oldest smoothie in the world. Made from a blend of yogurt, water and spices, lassis are refreshing and healthy, especially on a warm day. Plus, they’re good for a healthy gut.
BANANA LEAF ETIQUETTE
The best way to eat the banana leaf meal is to use your hands, though many can be seen using fork and spoon. As the leaf is laid out in front of you, the rice goes in the middle with the choice of curry on top. Vegetables and other side dishes will then be put around the rice for easy mixing with your rice. Once you’re done eating, the proper etiquette is to fold the leaf inwards towards you, as a sign of having enjoyed the meal.
Keep calm and curry on!