..Or as we call it in Kannada, BaaLe Ele OoTa, has to be one of the best things in life. Any celebration in South India is incomplete without a sumptuous lunch served on a Banana Leaf. In fact, I admit shamelessly that there are a number of functions to which I go more for the lunch than for the event itself.
The importance of the food in such events, especially weddings, cannot be understated. Food is what the guest supposedly remembers even after he has forgotten the name of the bride and the groom, and how he is acquainted with them.
In fact, the caterer for my wedding had been decided three years before the groom was. Well, what I mean is that my mom and I had been to a friend's wedding, and the food was so wonderful, that my mom took the caterer's card, and when it was time for my wedding, it was this one that we contacted. And the food was fantastic!
A wedding feast is an event in itself. You are usually hungry and tired after talking to so many relatives/friends, whom you get to meet only at weddings. After all the smiling and talking, all you want to do is eat. So when you hear that lunch is ready, you run to the dining hall (unless you are unlucky enough to be closely associated with the couple getting married, in which case you get to eat only in the third pankti(batch) or so).
You sit at the table (it was cross-legged, on the floor, in the days when people were in good shape), in front of a fresh green banana leaf. You sprinkle some water on the leaf and clean it with your hands. Then you watch the food being served - in the preset order, in the preset positions on the leaf.
You wait desperately for the rice and ghee to be served, because only then are you supposed to start eating. Once it is served, you look around you to ensure that the older generation has started eating, and then you delve into the food.
You start off with the Payasa (Kheer), and then licking your lips, you eat the Thovve(simple, thick dal), which tastes fantastic despite how simple it is. Probably just your brain getting the pleasant signal that food is on its way. By that time, they arrive with the huLi (thick sambar with loads of vegetables), and you gobble it up in no time. Before the next item arrives, you have time to eat the mixed rice (Puliyogare, Bhaath or Chitranna), and sample the two different kinds of Kosambari(Mixed, garnished salad). You even taste the Gojju (A thick spicy preparation with a tamarind and jaggery base), and the Mosaru Bajji(Raita).
Just as you stretch out your hand towards the different kinds of Palya (Gravyless, vegetable curries), they arrive with more rice. Close on the heels of the rice comes the Saaru (A kind of Rasam), and you eat it with relish, mixing the Palya, and the HappaLa(Papad) with it.
Once you have savoured that, you sit back and crane your neck to see what the Bhakshya (sweet/s) is. Hurried exclamations to the person sitting next to you, expressing joy(usually) or disgust(extremely rarely) at the choice of sweets. Then you polish off the sweets with relish, and even as you eat them, along comes some kind of a fried savoury, like a Pakoda/Bonda, and you lose no time in eating that too.
In the middle of all this, some of the items make an appearance once again, and you have the choice to eat your favourite stuff all over again, if your stomach permits. Finally the Rice comes along again, followed by curds, which you mix and eat with salt and a little of the pickle.
Then you get up and wash your hands and leave the dining hall. A packet with a coconut and betel leaves is thrust into your hands. You look around for the nearest scapegoat on whom you can dump the coconut, and then do likewise.
Then you go back to the main wedding hall, where you can easily distinguish the guests who haven't eaten yet from those who have. The latter have this smug, satisfied look on their faces. And of course, a coconut in their hands.