Chef Praveen Abraham Chef Instructor Culinary Academy Of India
Eating with one’s hands is a quintessential part of Indian culture. It may sound a tad bit unpalatable, unhygienic or uncivilized to a knife-and-fork audience, but in India the practice of eating with our limbs is a longstanding one. And this tradition isn’t unique only to India but is also visible across other Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia to name a few.
But where does this practice originate?
Tracing the practice through time, we find this practice has Ayurvedic roots. The Vedic principles preach of a sync between the elements of nature and the human body, and according to Ayurveda each finger corresponds to one of the Panch Bhootas [Thumb – Space, Forefinger – Air, Middle Finger – Fire, Ring Finger – Water, Little Finger – Earth]. It is believed that eating with your hand brings all elements together, improving the consciousness of taste and allowing you to feed not only your body but also your mind and spirit.
However, eating with one’s hands is not as simple as scooping foods and placing them in the mouth. The process has a method where first, large servings are softened with the fingers into a homogenous mixture. This mixture has the added advantage of being ready for enzymatic activity due to the agitation, a phenomenon not easily achievable while eating with a knife and fork. Not only does this make it easier to absorb nutrients, but it also allows the body to enjoy a more wholesome meal experience.
This is because eating with hands allows one’s sense of touch to be a part of the food experience. Gauging temperature and texture of foods with your hands allows you to enjoy a more immersive culinary experience, the overall sensation of which cannot be capture by sight and smell alone, or together.
Eating with one’s hand’s is no where near as unpleasant as some pictures might show it to be. In a country as hospitable and people friendly as India, touching the food and eating it with your hand is considered as a mark of respect and friendship. Furthermore, each locality also has their own quirks to this, for example, in South India it is considered ill-mannered to let the palm of your hand or outside of your fingers get stained while eating. This goes back to our fingertips holding certain energies.
In the Indian kitchen, silverware is conventionally used only in the kitchen for preparation and outside for service of food. Even liquids, sauces and gravies are scooped up using small pieces of bread or are mixed with starches like rice, making it easier to consume. The cuisine of India, and the eating habits go hand-in-hand and truth be told, the best way to enjoy Indian food is with your hands. This is true for everything from laddoos to biryanis.
However, there is a concern and apprehension that ‘hands are dirty’ and ‘one shouldn’t use hands to eat’. Well washing hands before consumption goes a long way in getting rid of dirt, and harmful bacteria. These harmful bacteria are different from the good bacteria which are naturally found in our hands, mouth, throat, intestine, gut and pretty much the entire digestive system.
Simply put, if you wash the bad bacteria you’ve collected from your day off your hands, you’ll be giving your body a dose of good bacteria that it needs to stay healthy. In addition to the ingestion of good bacteria, eating with your hand helps improve digestion. How? It is simple really. When you use your fingers to pick up food, millions of nerve endings relay this message to your brain, which then prepares itself for the feast you are about to have. It is also believed that eating with your hand promotes a more mindful eating experience, an important factor required to relish and healthily consume food.
A calm, aware state of mind allows for optimum digestion and prevents you from overeating. This is what eating with your hands offers. And whether you are a 5-year old child or a 50-year old businessman, there is no argument against the fact that eating with your hands is just fun!.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 BrandCai
Akki on March 18, 2021:
There is a lot of science behind eating food with your own hands. Though spoon and fork was never part of the Indian Culture , the new generation has adapted the western culture. We need to go back to our roots of eating with our Hands. A good article to remind us of our culture
Shiladityadutta on March 18, 2021:
Srikanth on March 17, 2021:
Very good article with some research based information. Happy eating
saibaba on March 17, 2021:
super article, most of us wants to go back to our old eating habbits