How to Set an Indian Table

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Served on a steel dish, kati rolls are popular items for Indian lunches.
Served on a steel dish, kati rolls are popular items for Indian lunches. (Image: Valueline/Valueline/Getty Images)

There are a number of ways to set an Indian table, whether you are hosting a formal or casual dinner. In general, an Indian table will include a variety of different dishes including dahl, vegetable curries (torkari), bread (naan), basmati rice and perhaps a plate of fish or lamb if guests are not vegetarian. As you set the table, keep in mind that your guests will likely want to try a little of each dish and may have different preferences for the spice level of their food.

Things You'll Need

  • Plates
  • Small bowls
  • Spoons
  • Napkins
  • Water glasses
  • Table mats
  • Serving dishes
  • Serving spoons
  • Serving plates
  • Condiments

Wipe the table clean of any crumbs and grime.

Set a plate at each seat and a small bowl to the right. The bowl typically holds dahl, a lentil dish many Indians prefer to eat before the rest of their meal.

Lay a spoon on top of a napkin beside each plate. In India, it’s acceptable and common to eat with your fingers instead of utensils. Guests may or may not want to eat with their fingers, so providing a spoon gives them both options.

Fill a glass with room-temperature water for each place setting. It is uncommon for Indians to serve water with ice unless otherwise requested.

Lay out a table mat for each of your serving dishes.

Transfer your food into serving bowls. Assess the amount of space you have available on the table and try to use the smallest size serving dishes possible. If you don’t have enough room for every dish, serve a scoop of rice on each plate and the dahl in the small bowls as your guests sit down and leave the remaining dahl and rice in the kitchen. Add a serving spoon in each dish to prevent cross contamination.

Arrange bread (naan) on a plate. Cover with a cloth or lid to keep the bread warm.

Offer a small plate of lankas (chilies) for guests to pass around the table. Chutney, tamarind and achar (pickled vegetable) are common Indian condiments as well.

Add a bowl of plain yogurt or raita, yogurt with small pieces of cucumber and a sprinkle of salt, for guests to share. Yogurt cuts spice in hot dishes for people who have a low tolerance.

Tips & Warnings

  • Steel bowls, plates and serving dishes are commonly used for special occasions or for hosting dinner guests. Ceramic or glass is acceptable as well.

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