Eating Indian Food with your Hands

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Last Updated on May 22, 2019 by Christine Kaaloa

Travel Tips: Eating Indian Food with your Hands
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.

Eating Indian Food with your Hands

In the past I wrote a post on How to Eat with your Hands in India.  This video adds some additional tips, while the former post offers  tips and more insight.

1. Be patient with your fingers.

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 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.

5. Additional tips: Bring baby wipes and hand sanitizer.

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Eating with your hands in India, eating indian food with your hands
Eating with your hands in India

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  • Tirthankar Bhattacharya
    November 13, 2019 6:56 am

    This is a fun to read article. I eat with own fingers. I am from Kolkata. Want to have food with you together.

  • Lol! Well, I’m half filipino so I grew up watching my grandma eat neatly with her hand! Some foods just taste more ono when you use your fingers! !

    • Interesting Tina. Another person commented the same about being raised filipino and eating with hands. I think it was mentioned before but there’s hawaiian food– poi and laulau. My Hawaiian side, my dad and his siblings used to eat with their hands. …Did not sit well w/ my Japanese mom. Took years to break him of the habit..

  • I don’t understand the taboo thing about eating with hands. Westerners eat with their hands all the time. I suppose not rice thali slopped all together, but sandwiches, hamburgers, fries, ribs, chicken wings, ice cream cones, potato chips, etc are all eaten with hands without them being taboo.

    • True but it’s more or less considered finger food and we have utensils for the rest. I think to understand the taboo thing, you’d have to go to a western restaurant, order something like spaghetti or chili, eat it with your hands. And see the reactions or notice the feelings that well up inside. 😉 haha.

    • Is there any other way to eat spaghetti, besides with your hands? Lol

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