WHY IN­DI­ANS EAT WITH THEIR HANDS

A TO Z INDIA - - Inside -

This may sound fa­mil­iar to some of you. Re­mem­ber when your mother or fa­ther would tell you to stop play­ing with your food and use a fork and knife? Well, per­haps you still shouldn’t play with your food, but in In­dia you should def­i­nitely set aside that cut­lery and use your hands when eat­ing a de­li­cious In­dian meal.

In In­dia, as well as other parts of the world, eat­ing with your hands is part of the cul­ture. Af­ter all, what could be more nat­u­ral, more pri­mal? Though many may view this cus­tom as un­civ­i­lized, the prac­tice is not as easy as it may look. There is in fact a skill to it and man­ners to fol­low. There are also sev­eral health ben­e­fits from eat­ing with your hands such as im­proves di­ges­tion and preven­tion of di­a­betes. There’s also an even deep sig­nif­i­cance as to why eat­ing with your hands is so im­por­tant ac­cord­ing to In­dian cul­ture.

When did eat­ing with yours hands be­come a thing in In­dia?

The prac­tice of eat­ing with the hands orig­i­nated within Ayurvedic teach­ings. The Vedic peo­ple be­lieved that our bod­ies are in sync with the el­e­ments of na­ture and our hands hold a cer­tain power. Ayurvedic texts teach that each fin­ger is an ex­ten­sion of one of the five el­e­ments:

Through the thumb comes space

Through the fore­fin­ger comes air

Through the mid-fin­ger comes fire

Through the ring fin­ger comes wa­ter

Through the pinky fin­ger comes earth

When you eat with your hands, you are sup­posed to do so by join­ing all fin­gers to­gether. This is be­lieved to im­prove our con­scious­ness of the taste

of the food we eat. Not only are you feed­ing your body but also your mind and spirit. When you touch your food with your hands, you’re cre­at­ing a phys­i­cal and spir­i­tual con­nec­tion with it. You’re also much more present in the mo­ment. When food is touched with the hands, there’s au­to­mat­i­cally more care­ful at­ten­tion placed on it – what the tem­per­a­ture is, how much you can carry, how the hand must be held in or­der to keep the food in it.

Eat­ing with your hands is re­spect­ful!

When you are in­vited into the home of an In­dian fam­ily for a meal, it’s a mark of re­spect to­wards the host and god to phys­i­cally touch your food when eat­ing. How­ever, there is a tech­nique to eat­ing this way. In the south of In­dia, it’s con­sid­ered ill­man­nered to let the palm of your hands or out­side of your fin­gers get stained. Proper eti­quette is to only use the tips of your fin­gers to pick up the food. This goes back to our fin­ger­tips hold­ing cer­tain en­er­gies.

What about soupy food? Do I use my hands for these types of dishes?

In gen­eral, sil­ver­ware is used only in the kitchen for pre­par­ing and for serv­ing the food. How­ever, for more liq­uidly foods such as some dal dishes, a spoon can be used. In the North of In­dia, rice can also be eaten with a spoon but in the South, the prac­tice of eat­ing food (in­clud­ing rice) from a ba­nana leaf is prac­tised.

What about the whole say­ing “you don’t know where your hands have been?”

Well, I sure hope you do. Af­ter all, they are your hands!

You will find that in ev­ery In­dian restau­rant there’s a hand wash­ing sta­tion. This is so you can clean your hands be­fore en­joy­ing your meal. As for the skep­tics who still be­lieve there’s bac­te­ria on your hands that shouldn’t be con­sumed….

Our body has a cer­tain kind of bac­te­ria that pro­tects us from other harm­ful bac­te­ria in the en­vi­ron­ment. This good bac­te­ria re­sides in places like our hands, mouth, throat, in­tes­tine, gut and the rest of our di­ges­tive sys­tem. When you eat with your hands, this good bac­te­ria en­ters your sys­tem and pro­tects you against harm­ful bac­te­ria. So, as long as 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.

Along with the in­gest­ing good bac­te­ria, there are other health ben­e­fits to reap from eat­ing with your hands:

Im­proves Di­ges­tion

When you use your fin­gers to pick up food, mil­lions of nerve end­ings in your fin­gers re­lay the mes­sage that you’r about to eat. This preps the stom­ach for di­ges­tion by re­leas­ing di­ges­tive juices and en­zymes.

Pro­motes Mind­ful Eat­ing

I’ve read sev­eral ar­ti­cles shar­ing the same mes­sage of the im­por­tance of eat­ing slow and only when re­laxed. Eat­ing when your stressed or too fast can lead to some pretty ugly in­di­ges­tion prob­lems you don’t want to deal with. A calm, aware state al­lows op­ti­mum di­ges­tion. Not only that, but it also pre­vents you from overeat­ing.

It’s fun

Whether you’re a 5-year old child or a 50-year old busi­ness man, there’s no fight­ing the fact that eat­ing with your hands is fun. Ad­mit it!

Fi­nal tip!

For In­dia, as well as other coun­tries that eat with their hands, it’s al­most with­out ex­cep­tion that the right hand only is used. Why? The left hand is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered too un­clean to ac­tu­ally eat with since it’s said to be the one used to wipe up in the wash­room.

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