Thursday, June 5, 2014

Banana leaf plates, Chennai

If you’ve ever googled South Indian meals, chances are you’ve come across a photo of the standard ‘banana leaf meal’ laden with rice, curries and a number of other colourful dishes.
Banana leaves are used as plates all over South India, especially in rural areas. They are available in plenty; because in literally every village household which has a compound, you'll find a couple of banana trees growing.

These leaves are a hygienic and convenient option. One just has to sprinkle some water and wipe the leaf - there is no fear of unclean utensils. Banana leaves are always used at religious ceremonies, such as the wedding meal in the photo above. As you can see, for this kind of feast, you need a large plate! The size of the leaf and its ability to hold so many dishes is very useful!

Here's another photo, from the Sowcarpet area market in Chennai. You can see how the long leaves are converted to plates by expertly slicing them.
The unused edges are converted into smaller plates, typically used for "tiffin" items. Here's another shop in the same market, selling leaf plates:
Banana leaves are the preferred wrapping case for carrying food while travelling. Tamarind rice, curd rice, idlis, vadas, dosas, chutney - everything is packed in banana leaves and carried on train and bus journeys. These leaves keep the food from spoiling; they are easy to throw away, and light to carry.

Unfortunately, these ‘green’ plates are fast disappearing from homes and restaurants, and being replaced by metal and plastic.

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