Updated: May 23, 2021
India — What the rest of the world thinks about this country is that it is a land of snake charmers, people shit in streets, poverty, thugs, anti-physics action sequences in movies, traffic jams (also true). I believe India has come a long way leaving those things behind. But one ancient thing is still in practice in India; avoiding silverware and eating directly with hands. I have traveled to 6 continents and 19 countries and I have met many people who wonder with disgust, why do Indians eat with their hands? Here, I am bringing together what I found during my research over the deep web.
Eating with hands is only a part of how people in the Indian Subcontinent eat their food. Indian Subcontinent includes India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Sri Lanka. There’s more than just eating with hands. Only the right hand should be used to eat. Sit as close to the ground as possible crossing legs. Place a sheet of cloth or jute on the ground and sit on it. The eating plate should be kept at a level aligning with the stomach. The back should be straight. Touch the food with the tip of the fingers, it shouldn't touch above the first joint in the fingers. Seems tough, but it is a proper way to eat food.
What if I tell you there is a science behind eating with hands Indian people use to stay healthy?
It is actually true. This science is just a part of something big which is known as Ayurveda!!
Ayurveda is a system of medicine with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent. In countries beyond India, Ayurveda therapies and practices have been integrated into general wellness applications and in some cases in medical use. The main classical Ayurveda texts begin with accounts of the transmission of medical knowledge from the Gods to sages, and then to human physicians.
According to Ayurveda, eating with hands is good for your health. The following points describe how your body reacts when you eat with your hands:
1: Your body is more alert to the food temperature. Your hands will tell your mind if the food is too hot, too cold, or at just the perfect temperature to consume. Your mind then alerts your stomach which is then prepared to digest the food well in advance.
2: The correct amount of food goes in your mouth that you can take in one bite. Imagine feeding a baby with your hands. The amount of food your hands can fit is perfect for you but it will be too much for the baby. Now imagine a baby feeding you. The amount of food a baby’s hand can hold will be too little for you but perfect for the baby.
3: Several good bacteria live on the fingertips, mouth, and throat. The acid in the stomach isn’t enough to digest the food. You need these bacteria to digest the food properly. Also, several of the nerves that end at your fingertips will alert your stomach that you are about to eat. This prepares your stomach for digestion by releasing digestive juices and enzymes.
4: Our five fingers represent the five elements with which our universe is made; Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. It is believed that if these five elements come together when you are eating. They will keep you from overeating and also help in proper digestion.
5: When you eat with your hands, you are not only feeding your stomach, you are also feeding your mind and soul. By touching your food directly with your hands you are creating a physical and spiritual connection with it.
Many people say you don’t know what your hands touched and what places it was in, hands are always so dirty, why should we contaminate our food by touching it directly with our hands. Our hands are always dirty, it’s true and this is the reason why washing hands thoroughly before and after eating came into practice.
It is really really important to eat slowly and when your body and mind are relaxed. Eating in stress or too fast can lead to indigestion problems.
How much to eat?
The amount of food you take on your plate for the first time is enough for your body and mind. The second time you fill your plate, it is to kill your hunger. The third time you fill your plate, it is to satisfy your cravings. An average of 2000 calories intake per day is enough for us. If you eat 3 times a day filling your plate only once, you don’t have to worry about the calories. The second time it should be a concern and the third time it is dangerous.
What about liquidy, gravy, or soupy food?
Although the purpose of a spoon is to cook and serve the food. But for foods like lentils, gravy, or soup, spoons can be used. While most people add a complimenting food like rice with their gravy or lentils to eat with hands, it is perfectly ok to use a spoon for eating food with liquid or semi-liquid state.
Last but not least. It makes Indian food tastier!!
When you dip your roti or chapati(Indian flatbread) in gravy or curry or fill it with Aalu(Potatoes), Baingan ka Bharta (Spicy Aubergine mash), etc., or mix your rice with lentils, Sambhar(South Indian dish made with lentils and vegetables), everyone’s favorite Rajma(Red Kidney Beans), your fingers make sure that it is the perfect mix or filling, which makes the food tastier.
I am not saying one shouldn’t use silverware. Use all you want. It is just a difference in culture. No culture is superior to the other. Respecting other cultures is as important as following our own.