Did you know that you can get literally frowned upon if you take the first bite ahead of older people in Indian dining? And that’s not the only unwritten rule when it comes to Indian dining. That’s why it’s important to learn Indian table etiquette and manners.
First rule: dress properly. Unlike in many western countries, you should NOT feel free to dress scantily when dining in India with the locals. Though almost any kind and style of clothing is allowed nowadays, it is still best to wear modest and non-revealing clothes so as not to offend anyone on the table.
Wash your hands thoroughly before eating. This is one thing that hand soap ads have been telling us since time immemorial. And you better obey it in India (along with trimming your fingernails as it is considered unhygienic). That’s because you would most probably hold your food during the meal. Breads and other finger foods are common fare in Indian cuisine. But those aren’t just the ones that you might need to eat with your hands, there’s also rice. Where people from spoon-and-fork societies find it very difficult to eat rice this way, Indians do so comfortably and efficiently.
Actually, North Indians have been using eating utensils since the 16th century because of the Roman influence. But majority of Indians would eat with their hands not only because they eat finger foods, but also because they believe that food is divine and eating is a sensual experience one should enjoy. One should not only see, smell, and taste what they eat, but also should hold and feel it. But of course, this rule gives an exception to soups and liquid dishes. Utensils should also be used to cook and distribute food.
Another important point to remember is that you should never handle food with your left hand. The left hand is considered dirty and should not touch anything that you’d be taking. This is why drinking vessels are placed to the left of the plate.
Now, if you come from a country where people share their food with anyone on the table by transferring food from their plate to another person’s, you better remember that it isn’t done in India. Indians believe in the concept of “jutha” (also known in different parts of India as “ushtha,” “engili,” “aitha” and “echal”). Jutha is what you have already touched, placed in your mouth, or placed in your plate. It is considered unclean and is therefore rude and unhygienic to be offered to another person. It any case, it may be eaten by an immediate family member or fed to animals.
Sitting around the table also has its rules. Don’t sit just anywhere you like, especially if you’re a guest. Wait to be told where your seat is, and then wait for the elders and those of higher status (socially and politically) to be seated before you do.
As with other countries’ etiquette and customs, Indian dining manners are traditional practices that may or may not have logical bases. So as time passes by, it’s inevitable that more and more people would find some of these practices quite too old to be followed if not unnecessary.
This, however, doesn’t mean it would do you no good to learn Indian customs and traditions as such. Why? Simply because it’s always better to know especially about customary practices that are part of the natives’ daily life. This way, you also get to avoid both offending Indians and getting offended yourself.