Friday, June 13, 2008

Indian Food Etiquette

I was hoping to blog on this small and relatively yet undeceptively overlooked instance of our culture. Our very own eating food with hands. The inspiration came from one of the new ads on the TV from Hindustan Unilever's Rin/Surf detergent bar; where in a typical South Indian wedding, with lunch being served to people sitting on the ground and eating Sambhar, Rasam and rice on the flat level ground served in a banana leaf. The granny comments to her Non-Indian guests "In India Eating with Hands, washing with hands" "You eating...eating..."

Tied Fig leaves, lotus or a complete banana leaves are all part of a traditional set of serving. Yeah all these are bio-degradable alternatives compared to today's aluminium, paper, thermochol disposables. Eating the various condiments like sambhar, rasam, dal with Veggie fries while being served in leaves, sitting on the floor and consuming without spilling and without slurping is challenge in itself for many who are new to this way and which people like me are proud to have accomplished this feat. Mind you many of our so called Modern age Indians are not used to the same. The method is quite a simple one first the wash of the leaf, then the sprinkling of water round the leaf; to negate any dry dust and ants, the way serving is done and arranged in the leaf, with all fries, chutneys, Vadiyams, papads and many other items, its such a delight to see the platter. The way the main course is supposed to be mixed with rice, ghee, and podi (powders) to make it thick and spice it up will appadam, dry frys and pickles is something to cherish and art to perfect. Its such an delight, treat to go through all the rituals and routine for a typical meal.

Specific to different non Sub-Continent cultures and sub-Saharan cultures which developed their own dining Etiquette might have their own feeling of superiority when it comes down to usage of dinning tools. Just trying to compare things; some how I always felt that usage of knives and forks remind me of a battle arena of the Victorian era reminded the diner of the violent act of slaughter. The Chinese chop sticks somehow appear to have provided a polite alternative to knives. Chopsticks are serene instruments that permit diners to lift food to their lips rather than spearing it. They are elegant in both their simplicity and their singularity of purpose. But so far as I am concerned, going further feeding myself with hand appears a highly elevated affair. Something close to the supreme creator extended his hand to curtail our hunger and fill our desires. Its a soft and delicate process for me. And also the observation regarding eating being a sensual experience is right on. Cutlery doesn't provide the same intimacy with food that fingers provide. If one observes the way we eat, we are totally engrossed in eating.

The culinary process of eating evolves over the primary senses - Taste, Smell, Sight & Touch. The only way to feel and tickle all our senses to the maximum is to always include and maximise the sense of touch. Undeniably the hands have the maximum number of nerve endings, and the way the Indian dishes treat is tantalising and why miss it. I feel good about my food which smells good, looks wonderful while serving, feels wonderful to touch and finally the taste after it goes in. That my friend is a complete process.

More so I always felt very good when someone close offered to feed me with their hands. It was for me an ultimate combination of love, affection and care. At this age when my mom offers to feed me or to that matter any of my loved ones do it, it engrosses the mutual trust and faith . Its something everyone has grown up and needs to relieve at a later part of life too.

I have an aunt who always says "why eat rice with a fork when nature gave you one?!" and holds up her hands

Some stupidity from our own lot , an Indian guy says to some other guy who was eating sambar rice with a spoon: "God gave you fingers why don't you use them to eat", the other guy replied "God gave me fingers to hold a spoon and eat with it"

At office cafeteria I have seen lots of people pick up fork to eat a Dosa !!!! I've seen even a dumbo use a spreader and fork to cut bread and thrust it in the mouth. I hated the way the items very savoured with such poor etiquette. Yikeess!!

Last week on a Lunch chatter came a topic on putting clips inside the tummy to stay lean. The topic just send jitters while I imagined to what extent people go to look good. A simple and a cost effective way is to sit down on the floor and eat. For this practice ensures that one bends forward to consume which automatically cuts down on the tummy volume. Such simple and natural methods should be taken in a good spirit rather than throwing them off as something cheap.
I would not know how to enjoy eating a roti with a knife and fork! It has to do with the whole eating experience. Some people just do not know how to eat with their hands. Others have trouble using a knife and fork correctly. Some fail to understand the correct eating Etiquette and what to choose and what not to. So for us all try to know, understand and practice the correct Indian Etiquette and don't let it become cheap by not perfecting this cultural art.

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