India, like most Asian countries, takes their eating seriously, although the rules in the country are not the most extreme. In India, a meal is a chance for the whole family, visitors and friends to bond and everything on the table matters, from the hand you use to eat your food to the side of the table you get to sit. Your turn for serving food and the time you leave the table may also be the greatest test of your level of respect here. It is always fun to sit down at the table in India and when you do, here are some of the things to expect.
Indians don’t like to eat using cutlery so knives, forks and spoons may not be brought to the table at all. Even if they are, most of the people around you will be eating with their fingers so it would be a smart idea to do the same. Eating with your hands instead of a fork and a spoon may sound outrageous but it is actually quite interesting.
You get to feel every bite that goes into your mouth and enjoy your meal more than when you use the spoon. Indians also believe that is more hygienic since you can trust the cleanliness of your hand more than that of the person washing the cutlery. So, before sitting at the table, you will have to wash your hands thoroughly.
India has the lowest per capita beef consumption in the whole world which is a miracle considering the size of the country’s population. However, the low consumption of beef and beef products in the country is mostly because of religious reasons. For over 80% of Indians, a cow is sacred meaning consuming its meat is considered an abomination. As a result, beef is not served in most restaurants and households in the country so don’t ask for it when visiting. There are other options though and you can always choose mutton or goat meat instead.
Leaving The Table
As we said earlier, Indians take their eating etiquette seriously and your spot at the table, you turn to serve as well as the time you leave the table are a very important part of the meal. Your host will help you get your spot at the table. You have to wait for the senior members of the household to serve their food first before you serve yourself. When you are done eating before the rest of the diners, you don’t just rise and leave. You have to wait for everyone to finish eating before clearing out.
Licking Your Fingers
Eating with your hands means that your fingers may get soiled in broth at one point or another and the temptation to lick them may be high especially if you are not used to eating that way. However, that is considered unhygienic, especially while everyone else is still eating. That is why only the fingertips are used to handle the food and put it in the mouth. When you are done eating, you can lick your fingers, not before.
Don’t Use Your Left Hand
In India, if you are a lefty, you may get some strange looks when you greet people and when you are at the table. The right hand is considered the only hand that can be used to handle food. When you sit at the table, you have to use only the right hand to eat. If you are a lefty, you will be excused though. However, you can’t use both hands to handle your food since that would gather more frowns.
Indians don’t serve their meals in courses as many in the west are used to. Indian food is generally standard and multiple dishes may be served at a go, but they are all brought to the table at once. If you eat sparingly hoping to eat more on the next course, you may leave the table hungry. Just eat your fill of whatever is served. However, if you are a guest, you may be served tea and snacks on arrival before the main meal comes and that is probably the closest you will come to a course.
Finish You Food
Self-service is embraced in most Indian households. However, the host expects that you know yourself and will serve only the food you can finish to prevent any wastage. Unlike China where you have to leave some food on your plate to show your host that you are full, in India, you need to finish all the food you serve on your plate as your way of appreciating the host. Leaving food on your plate is considered disrespectful so it would be smart to serve only what you can eat and eat all of it.
Don’t Eat From Someone Else’s Plate
When eating with your fingers, the rules of sharing food change significantly. In the West, it is acceptable to pick from someone’s plate and feed each other at the table but not in India. Once you serve your food from the common serving dish, you have to concentrate on your plate only. Picking food from someone else’s plate is considered unhygienic. The same goes for feeding someone else.
You Can Always Ask For More
If you can’t see yoghurt, pepper or salt at the table and really need some you can always ask. Actually, asking for more food is highly appreciated by your host as it is a sign that you really feel welcome. However, it doesn’t give you the leeway to place ridiculous demands on your host. Only make simple requests and make sure your host is comfortable to offer them.
Chatting While Eating
In some places, once people sit down to eat, there is no talking until after the meal. Those rules don’t apply in most Indian households though. You are free to chat and share a laugh while at the table. Just observe your table manners and ensure that you only speak when there is no food in your mouth to avoid embarrassment.