Many first time travelrs to India are often surprised to find out that eating with your hands in India is okay. You’d use it as you might use a utensil. It’s used as a scoop, can be used to mix food up and shovel it into your mouth. Whether it’s due to resourcefulness or that it’s culturally acceptable, or even the idea that eating with your hands gives the food more flavor, a large part of the Indian population eats with their hands.
If you’re coming from a country in which eating with your hands is not culturally acceptable, is taboo, is bad form, bad manners, your parents didn’t raise you right, the idea of eating with your hands might be a bit of a struggle, as well as, you might not know if you’re doing it right.
It usually takes me a while to warm up when eating with my hands because in my western etiquette, my fingers are used to not touching my food.
Like hiking up your skirt when you’re walking in mud, my fingers don’t want to get dirty. They naturally lift themselves up! Most of us are used to the 3 pronged fork, because you know what it’s like to eat corn on the cob or a drumstick. It’s kinda safe. But this only good enough for picking up solid foods like samosas, not hard to hold foods like rice and curry. Next meal, I’ll venture the fourth finger. But I’ve still got tea cup pinkies and this is ineffective because I’ve still not got a good grip on my food. It still drips through my hands. Then finally, I throw the pinky in there and I’m going all in.
2. Which hand do you use?
If there’s one dining rule in India that you want to remember, it’s that the left hand should never be used where food is concerned. That is because the left hand is known to be the hand that is used for dirty chores such as cleaning yourself after using the toilet.
3. How do you clean your dirty hands?
At most street hawker stalls, you’ll find water pitchers. In cafes, you might see a public sink. The water is for cleaning your hands after you eat and often used as a substitute for napkins.
4. Try not to be a princess.
As a westerner there are certain things I take for granted~ like napkins or rubber bands, plastic bags for takeout. Some vendors are making cents to the dollar, so when you order one thing but want napkins and a takeout bag, etc… that vendor is taking a loss.
While eating papri chaat, my fingers were all sticky from the sauce so I asked Srotoswini if we could get an extra napkin from the vendor to clean up. She replied No, explaining that the vendor makes very little from the food he serves and that the napkins are an expense he has to pay for. This was something I hadn’t considered and it caused a grateful shift in my perspective as a western traveler in India. Napkins and takeout bags are something westerners take for granted as free and plentiful, meanwhile in India, it’s an expense.
I started realizing that everything costs something to an Indian. When I order takeout, everything from the bag to the rubber band adds up for the vendor.