Etiquette of Indian dining
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As in many cultures, proper habits of eating and drinking are very important. Dining etiquette is widely respected in 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 not very prevalent in the rural areas like North India, and food like curry or vegetables is generally touched with the 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. 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 India, more so in case of formal occasions as in a restaurant or a buffet. In South India, where the practice of eating food from a banana leaf is still observed, it is acceptable to eat using spoons as South India is more urban than the rest of India.
Traditional Indian cutlery does not recognise the use of spoons, forks and knives while eating, limiting their use to the kitchen only. Spoons (for serving) were made of wood in ancient times, evolving into metallic spoons (for serving) during the advent of the use of the thali, the traditional dish on which Indian food is served. Spoons 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" (Sanskrit), "engili" (Telugu), "entho" (Bengali), "aitha" (Odia), "jutha" (in North India), "ushta" (Marathi), "echchil" (Tamil), "echil" (Malayalam), "enjalu" (Kannada) in India is a common belief. 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 one's saliva. It can also refer to leftover food. It is considered extremely 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.
Beef eating is considered a taboo in much of India as cows are considered a sacred animal in Hinduism, the majority tradition in India. Hence beef is not readily available and there is a ban on cattle slaughter in most of India barring a few states, though there is no official ban on consumption of imported beef. Non-Hindu communities do eat beef, as it is not considered sacred in their religions, many Indian Christians and Indian Muslims consume beef as they most likely consider this nonsensical. Most restaurants and fast-food chain-based eateries in India also do not serve beef. Meats such as chicken, goat, lamb and pork, and seafood such as fish and prawn are served. Many Indian restaurants in outside India include beef dishes on their menus to cater to non-Hindus.
Muslims in India like Muslims in rest of the world, do not eat pork as consumption of pork is prohibited in Islam; however, Hindus and people of other traditions in India do not practice this prohibition. In Goa, pork vindaloo is a popular dish, and the Kodagu district of Karnataka is known for its spicy pork curries. Pork pickles are popular among the meat-eating population in South and North-East India. Nothing is explicitly stated about the non-consumption of pork in Hindu texts and scriptures, however, it is not common even among Hindus. Pig farming is not common in India, possibly because unlike cattle, goat, lamb and poultry, it can be reared only for meat. Additionally, meat consumption in India is one of the lowest in the world, even for non-vegetarians.
- Irrespective of whether one consumes food using cutlery or with their hand (typically the right hand), one is expected to wash hands before and after consuming food. During the course of the meal, cleaning one's eating hand with a cloth or paper tissue is considered unhygienic, though with the advent of restaurant dining, it is becoming more acceptable. One may be asked to wash their hands before and after sitting down to a meal.
- It is customary to share food with anyone who wants it, however, not from the plate one is eating from.
- It is rude for one's host to not offer guests food multiple times.
- Similarly, it is expected that one should not leave the table before the host or until the eldest person has 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, which can be used to wipe one's hands after washing. However, this is mostly followed only on formal occasions.
- It is not necessary to taste each and every dish prepared, but one should finish everything on the plate as it is considered a respect for served food, and food is sacred. For this reason, one should take only as much food on the plate as they can finish. However, this is not general phenomenon. Depending on the family or community, one can leave the leftover food on the plate if they cannot eat any more. Also, at many places, someone insisting someone to try a dish or serving special dishes in excess, is considered as a sign of their affection towards them.
- 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 still prevalent in India.
- If a meal is served over banana leaves (in South India) then it is customary to fold the leaves from the top at the end of the meal (if folded from the bottom, it means the relationship with the host is broken). This is to note the host that one has finished eating.
- Courses in Indian meals depend on the area. North India has one course and desserts. Gujaratis have a roti course with desserts, followed by a rice course. In South India and East India, where meals are mostly rice based, orderly servings of accompaniments make various courses. The thali course is very common in South India; the vegetarian thali is a very typical, commonplace lunchtime meal in Tamil Nadu vegetarian eateries and canteens (and South India in general), and is a popular lunch choice.
- In various communities, various etiquette may prevail for indicating the end of a meal. For Marwaris, the guest must explicitly ask for papad, for Gujaratis, the guest must ask for rice. Sometimes in South India, serving buttermilk by the host indicates the end of a meal.
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