Materials Matter: Forging the Future of the Steel Thali
We wrote a story as part of MOLD Magazine 02: A Seat at the Table, exploring how tableware and furniture can shape new dining rituals.
Traditionally in India, tableware made out of mud is considered to have unclean properties. Ceramics, porcelain and china all fall under this large umbrella of mud-related materials derived from the earth’s surface. This unspoken rule comes from an adage my grandmother would often remind us of: no matter how well you scrub or soap them, these materials are not easily cleaned—especially when used with colourful Indian spices. Turmeric stains, in particular, which seem to make themselves known on every single mug I drink my morning turmeric tea from, remind me of this adage. Time I switched to a metal cup perhaps?
Thalis and metal tableware have been used since the Indus Valley Civilisation, dating back to 3500–2500 BCE. The long-standing tradition of metallic tableware is something that is inherent to Indian culture and for good reason—India is one of the largest producers of steel in the world. Ancient India had not perfected blown glass, and the porosity of pottery technology was unsuitable for storing wet foods—think curries that have been simmering for hours to create the deepest depths of flavor—not to mention cumbersome to clean. Forged, annealed metal, on the other hand, is suitable to hold these wet foods: stainless steel is a great conductor of heat, lightweight, durable and fully recyclable thus retaining its scrap value. Moreover, steel is more hygienic than its wood or plastic counterparts because its surface is impenetrable and uniform in texture.
Stainless steel contains iron, chromium and nickel. The alloyed nature of stainless steel, and in particular its 10.5% of chromium, provides a self-healing feature. When steel is exposed to air or water, a chemical reaction creates an ultrathin layer of chromium oxide, allowing the steel to “heal” itself. If stainless steel is scratched or damaged, this self-healing process allows the metal to regain its resistance to corrosion once more, extending the lifecycle of the material and the reuse of the thali plate. In fact, the surface will always remain as bright and shiny as the day you bought it. Alchemy at its best.