I come from a community in South India, called the Tamil Brahmins – more specifically a sub-sect called the Iyengar community. One of the most cherished and wholesome meals that is celebrated and loved in our community is called the Elai Saapadu, or Meal-on-a-Banana-leaf. A regular every-meal affair at one point in the past, the Elai Saapadu has given way to eating on plates with a same-to-similar meal combination, while the banana leaf itself is a thing reserved for festivities.
The elai saapadu is a brilliantly balanced meal and makes for a healthy plateful of food. The top half of the leaf has all the side dishes. There’s a bowl for something sweet, usually served towards the end of the meal, and a separate bowl for a yoghurt-based salad (usually cucumber/carrot/onions in a combination). Next to that, comes a salad of chopped cucumber, raw mango and lentils. This is a lovely way to start the dish. Following that, you have three different curries, often made of potato, cabbage, eggplants, beans or even peppers. Next comes a mixed vegetable and lentil mix, and some pickle, some banana or potato chips and sometimes, some fried vegetables.
On the lower half of the leaf, you have helpings of rice which you mix lentil gravy with for the first round. Next, with a little more rice, a tomato-and-lentil-based broth called rasam, and finally, some yoghurt rice. Each of the rice combinations can be eaten with the vegetables on the top half of the leaf. By the end of the meal, you eat a sweet.
This is a great example of a balanced meal because you have all the nutrients in the right mix.
The US Consulate General at Chennai put up a fun video of people from the US trying the elai saapadu. Here’s what that looked like! (video from the US Consulate General at Chennai - right above this post!)