Navigating the banana leaf

 Balakrishnan looks at the banana leaf as a map. It is divided into two halves, upper and lower, for convenience. The upper half has a boundary of sturdier dishes that sit in place like koottukari and thoran; the lower half has the runnier ones like rasam, sambar, and payasam, that could potentially flow out. On the narrower end on the left are condiments and items eaten in small portions, such as pickles and chips, with the more substantial items placed closer to the wider right and bottom—a format designed to eat easily with the right hand.

“This way sadhya never runs off the plate,” says Balakrishnan. “It has a very clean structure. But [once it's arranged] there is no one way to eat it. Everything is mixed and eaten. It is a way to train your palate in flavour. It's also a very mindful way to eat.”