Etiquette of Indian dining
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As in many cultures, proper habits of eating and drinking are very important and widely respected parts of Indian culture, local customs, traditions, and religions. Proper table manners vary from culture to culture, although there are always a few basic rules that are important to follow. Etiquette should be observed when dining in any Indian household or restaurant, though the acceptable standards depend upon the situation.
The usage of spoons and forks is prevalent in the urban areas of North India and food like curry or vegetables is generally not touched with hands. When flatbreads such as chapati, roti, or naan are served with the meal, it is acceptable to use pieces of them to gather food and sop up gravies and curries. In South India, it is considered ill mannered to let your food stain the outside of your fingers or palm while eating and food is to be eaten only with the tip of the fingers.
Not all Indian foods should be eaten with the hands, however. If the food is soupy, such as many daals, spoons can be used. Additionally, foods such as rice may be eaten with spoons in both North and South India, more so in case of formal occasions as in a restaurant or a buffet. In South India, where the practice of eating where food from a banana leaf is still observed, even though only on rare occasions, it is acceptable to eat using spoons sometimes.
Traditional Indian cutlery does not recognize the use of forks and knives while eating, limiting their use to the kitchen only. Spoons were made of wood in ancient times, evolving into metallic spoons during the advent of the use of the thali, the traditional dish on which Indian food is served. Additionally, spoons (usually two used in a clasping motion) and forks are commonly used to distribute foods from a communal dish, as it is considered rude to touch the foods of others.
Contamination with saliva
The concept of 'uchchishtam' (in Sanskrit), 'entho' (in Bengal), 'aitha' (in Orissa), 'jutha' (in North India), 'ushta' (in Western India), 'echal' (in Tamil Nadu), 'echil' (in Kerala), 'enjalu' (in Karnataka), or 'engili' (in Andhra Pradesh) is a common belief in India. It can refer to the food item or the utensils or serving dishes, that has come in contact with someone's mouth, or saliva or the plate while eating - something that directly or indirectly came in contact with your saliva. It can also refer to leftover food. It is considered rude and unhygienic to offer someone food contaminated with saliva. It is, however, not uncommon in India for spouses, or extremely close friends or family, to offer each other such contaminated food and is not considered disrespectful under such circumstances. In certain cases, as in the first lunch by the newly-weds, sharing food from each other's plates may be thought of as an indication of intimacy.
The cow is considered a sacred animal by Hindus and hence beef is not readily available in most restaurants in India. However Beef is eaten by some people in the Northeast, West Bengal (in Muslim majorities) and Kerala. It is also available in North Eastern states where the culture and weather patterns are very distinct from the rest of India.
- Irrespective of whether one takes food with cutlery or with hand (typically right hand), one is expected to wash hands before and after partaking food. During the course of the meal, cleaning your eating hand with cloth or paper tissue is considered unhygienic though with the advent of restaurant dining it is becoming more acceptable.You may be asked to wash your hands before and after sitting down to a meal.
- It is customary to share food with anyone who wants it.
- It is rude for your host to not offer you food multiple times.
- Similarly, it is expected that one should not leave the table before the host or the eldest person have finished their food.
- It was not traditional to use dining napkins or paper tissues while eating, however, this is now the case in most of North India. In South India, an unfolded long towel on right shoulder is a tradition, (mostly followed only on formal occasions) which can be used to wipe your hands after washing.
- It is not necessary to taste each and every dish prepared, but you should finish everything on the plate as it is considered a respect for served food, and food is sacred. For this reason, take only as much food on the plate as you can finish. However, this is not general phenomenon. Depending on the family or community, you can leave the left-over food in the plate if you cannot eat any more. Also, at many places, someone insisting you for trying a dish or serving special dishes in excess is considered as a sign of their affection towards you.
- Playing with food or in any way distorting the food is unacceptable. Eating at a medium pace is important as eating too slowly may imply that you dislike the food, whereas eating too quickly is rude.
- In some parts of India, if a diner finishes earlier than the rest, they may need to wait until everyone has finished to wash their hands. It may be considered rude to leave the table. Sometimes, it may be acceptable for the diner who has finished to wash their hands, however, they are expected to return to the dining area immediately after. In most parts it is acceptable to leave after the elders have finished. This practice, like most others, is also going out of fashion.
- If a meal is served over banana leaves (in South India) then its customary to fold the leaves over from the top (and not from the bottom as this might be considered disrespectful in some parts of India) at the end of the meal.This is to note the host that you have finished eating.
- This is more of a healthy practice than a rule. In some parts of India people prefer not to drink water while eating, and drink it after the meal is finished. This is to ensure a better digestion of the food. In most other parts, people do not really have a practice one way or the other.
- Courses in Indian meal depend on the area. North India has one course and desserts. Gujaratis have roti course with desserts followed by a rice course. South and East India, where meal is mostly rice based, orderly servings of accompaniments make various courses
- In various communities, various etiquette may prevail for indicating end of meal. For Marwaris, the guest must explicitly ask for papad, for Gujaratis, the guest must ask for rice. In South India, serving payasam (kheer) or buttermilk by the host indicates end of meal
- Except for Punjab, food has to be consumed by one hand only, with general preference to the right hand
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