Table manners are prevalent in every part of the world with a sense of regionality. We are here with the Indian Dining Etiquettes today.
India is a country known worldwide for its diverse culture and firm traditions. As per surveys conducted by various organizations, India houses more than 10 major beliefs and over 50 communities.
When it comes to food, we have already seen a wide array of cuisines that decorate our nation. Let’s reintroduce you to the common beliefs and traditions that comprise the Indian Dining Etiquettes.
The Indian subcontinent has its dining etiquettes defined in the holy text of Rig Veda. It is an ancient repository of Sanskrit hymns that finds expression in food.
Atithi Devo Bhava
Every Indian rigidly follows one custom that is ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’. It translates to guests are equivalent to God. It is a Sanskrit saying that rightly defines the dynamics of the host-guest relationship in India.
Guests are always welcomed with a warm heart and a wide smile. They are treated with the same respect and devotion as God.
Hence, there are certain sets of rules that accompany this saying. Some of these apply to the host and others to the visiting guest.
If you are not an Indian and visiting an Indian family here is a list of your do’s and don’ts for the day:
- It is customary to never go empty-handed to anyone’s house. Getting a pack of sweets is always a sweeter gesture.
- Leave your shoes or other footwear at the door unless the host requests you otherwise.
- Meeting anyone with folded hands and Namaste is always the norm.
- If you are visiting for a meal like lunch or dinner, you should know there is always going to be a light brunch session served with chitchat.
- Never say no to food when offered as it is a customary Indian way of showing love and care.
- Politely deny an extra serving while having a meal if you are full. If not, eat your heart!
- Do not leave the table until everyone is done or at least the head or eldest member.
- Last but not the least, be thankful and grace your hosts with a few kind words before leaving.
Being a host is not easy either. It is always a dilemma if the guests will like the food or not. Is the ambiance of your home homely enough?
If it’s your first time donning the host’s hat, we are here with a few tips to help you out!
- Make sure you are dressed well and the house is in a presentable manner.
- Be ready with food at least half an hour before the scheduled time.
- Welcome your guests with folded hands, Namaste, and a wide smile.
- Offer some tea or beverage with a decent serving of snacks before the meal.
- Never forcibly feed your guests. If they deny multiple times, relent and agree.
- Always serve your guests first, followed by the eldest family member, and then others.
- Make sure your guests are well-fed, keep a queer eye on your guests’ plate and refill whenever needed.
- While parting, exchange pleasantries and keep a proposal of inviting them again sometime.
Basic Indian Dining Etiquettes
Dining in India is very different as compared to the west. For example, unlike the west, India does not have the custom of serving the food in courses. We serve it all in one go.
India, being the diverse nation that it is, has many communities. Each of them has its own regional set of mannerisms and customs.
However, we have many basic dining etiquettes that are followed in almost every corner of the country. We would like to list them in two categories:
- Always wash your hands prior and after the meal.
- Pray and thank God before starting your meal.
- Eat your food at a medium pace, eating too slow signifies that you dislike the food.
- Always pass the food with your non-eating hand.
- Avoid drinking water between meals.
- Prefer using only one hand for eating your food.
- Do not make sounds while eating your food.
- Do not play with your food, it is considered to be rude.
- Never leave the table unless the eldest family member is done eating.
- Never leave food on your plate. It is not necessary to try every dish but to finish everything you are served.
What comes to your mind when we say dining? A dining table with chairs around, right? This is the general picture that everybody has set in their minds. Nevertheless, this ain’t the case for Indians, mostly.
Indians all over the world prefer to eat while sitting cross-legged on the floor. The system of eating on the table was brought in by invaders which later became popular.
Even the kings and emperors used to sit on the floor cross-legged for meals. The plate was kept on a low table or on the ground itself. There was no distinction between the poor and wealthy when on the ground.
Although, the urban regions are keener on adopting the western style of a dining table. In rural India, even in today’s times, people from all strata of society prefer to sit on the floor and have their meals.
However, as is a popular saying in India, “Everything that happens has a reason for it.” it is not just a tradition but is backed up by a scientific explanation for it too.
The posture in which we sit while eating is called ‘Sukhasana’. It is an easy pose of hatha yoga. This is the stance required to be maintained while meditating.
There are numerous benefits to this. It helps eliminate stress and anxiety. Also, it aids the problem of indigestion and regulates proper blood flow in the body when done while eating.
Hence, Indian traditions were made to benefit the mind and body alike.
Use Of Cutlery
It is a usual practice in the west to eat food with forks and knives. However, in India, there has been no such prevalent practice or even a need. Indian food is generally bite-sized and does not require conventional western cutlery.
Using hands to eat the food is a preferable choice for the masses. Even when it comes to dals and curries, we have our flatbreads. Someone rightly said that Indian flatbreads are edible spoons.
Breaking a piece of chapati, making a boat-like structure, scooping dal in it, and finally delivering it into your mouth. This is how easy it is!
Besides, there is another reason for it too. Eating is considered to be a sensual activity. Touch is an integral part of the eating experience along with the taste of the food.
While eating with hands, fingers are used to feel the temperature of the food. Also, there is a popular inside joke with Indians that food tastes better when eaten with hands.
Complete Indian Thali
As already mentioned above the Indian food is served in a single go. It is usually served on a plate, called Thali.
However, that varies from one region to another. In the southern states, fresh banana leaves are plucked and washed. Then used as a palette to serve food on.
In the northern parts of the country, pattals are used. Pattals are made of dried Sal or Banyan leaves. The leaves, once completely dried, are sewed with long slender stems.
With the modernizing times, the use of such eco-friendly plates has reduced dramatically. People usually prefer disposable paper plates or reusable steel and fiber plates. Although, festivities still witness the old traditions in full vigor.
Apart from the plate, the meal is served on, what a complete Indian meal comprises is rather more interesting.
A complete Indian Thali typically comprises of 11 items:
- Flatbread: roti, paratha, naan, puri, kachori
- Curry: dal(pulses), vegetable curry
- Dish: dry vegetable sabzi
- Rice: plain rice or pulao
- Curd: plain dahi or various kinds of raita
- Chutney: any one type of chutney
- Pickle: any one type of pickle
- Papad: crunchy dal or rice papad
- Salad: raw onion rings, diced tomatoes, sliced cucumber and beetroot
- Dessert: anything sweet
- Water: a glass of water
This is what a complete Indian meal looks like!
It is common to share food with our close friends and family. We keep stealing fries from our sister’s plate, right? Or eat some leftover pizza from your friend?
In India, there is a concept of ‘Jhuta’ when it comes to food. In simpler words, food that has been in contact with other’s saliva either directly or indirectly.
It sounds disgusting, right? Honestly, it is not as gross as it sounds. If we eat leftovers of someone, that is considered as ‘jhuta’. But we do that in our daily lives.
Following this concept, the cook does not taste the food while cooking. Or if it has to be tasted then the tasting is served in a separate dish and then discarded.
The precept of not contaminating all the food or a drink with bacteria or viruses in one’s saliva is of particular concern as the health of someone could be threatened through cross-contamination
Holy offerings cooked for festivals and pujas are never tasted by anyone until offered to the Lord. Once offered, only then it is distributed among all and savored.
On the contrary, in Indian weddings, it is customary for the bride and groom to share food from the same plate. It is considered as a sign of intimacy.
Rules of Sharing Food
When eating together, it is common and a polite expectation to share food with your colleagues and peers. However, when you are eating out there are certain rules when it comes to sharing your food:
- If you and your friend order different dishes, it is conventional to share your dishes.
- While sharing, do not share it from your plate instead, do it from the serving bowl directly.
- Do not scoop your spoon into the serving dish, always use the serving spoon.
- It is better to use a restroom for washing your hands before and after the meal instead of the tissue.
- Never speak with your mouth full of food.
- If the people dining belongs to the two food camps, vegetarian and non-vegetarian, then one should not mix the utensils used by the two. They should be kept separate to honor individual beliefs.
Leaving The Table
There are certain rules for even after you finish your meal. It is not as simple as just finishing off the food and leaving the table. Definite etiquettes are required to be followed.
Once you are done with your food, you should wait for others to finish too. Leaving the table while others are still eating is a sign of rudeness.
If you still want to leave to wash your hands, politely ask for permission, wash your hands, and come back to take your seat in the dining area.
Also, if you are done look around if anyone needs a serving of food or refilling for water. It is considered as a generous act and is not gender-biased. Hence, it does not matter if you are a man or a woman.
Common Myths Regarding Indian Dining
Indian dining etiquettes and mannerisms are passed down to the next generation by the older one. This has been going since aeons because frankly, no one knows when it started.
When something is passed onto by word of mouth over generations, it is justified to have corrupted the original word. Hence, these corrupt beliefs need to be called out.
Here are some things that you might have heard from grandmothers, but we assure you they are complete myths:
- Eating With Left Hand
We often hear parents scolding their children when they eat with their left hand. It is said that it is disrespectful. However, you might be pleased to know that there is no such rule.
Anything that is beyond the usual is often considered to be wrong. Same is the case with using the left hand.
Traditionally, the left hand is considered unclean. The left hand is used while going to the washroom or while cleaning one’s feet or for any other ‘dirty’ activity.
However, it is nothing so. If a person is left-handed, he/she is bound to use their left hand for all the work usually done by the right.
Hence, you can eat from whichever hand you feel pleased. Though, it is preferred to use only one hand to eat.
- Drinking Water Between Meals
Elders often refrain you from drinking too much water between meals unless they ate a hot chilli!
It is said that it is bad practice to drink water in between meals. The reason used to justify it is that it makes you too full. As a result, you do not eat your meal properly.
Although, there is no such thing. It is purely a myth.
- Thanking Host After Meal
Some people say that it is rude to thank the host after the meal as it is deemed as a payment for the food fed. This is utter non-sensical.
If you host a dinner at your place and call over your friends, wouldn’t you like it if they praised your hospitality and thanked you for the food? You would!
Not thanking the host is rather rude. Hence, it is just another myth. All hosts are always delighted to receive positive and hearty feedback from the guests.
- Cuisines in India
There is no concept of cuisines in India. There are regional foods that belong to various states and communities. However, it is just a myth.
Indian restaurants classify Indian food into various cuisines.
- Men and Women Dine Separately
In India, for ages, a good proportion of women were oppressed section of the society. This is not just a myth but a reality of years ago.
In many parts, it is still believed that women should not dine with the men of the family. Doing so makes the food impure for men.
However, if you would try doing this in today’s time, it will not be tolerated in any part of the country. For modern India, it is a disgusting myth that needs to be uprooted from the society.
Why Do Indians Eat With Their Hands?
According to Ayurveda, each finger represents an element of nature. According to the concept “Mudras”, it is said that the Universe is made of 5 elements: Fire, Air, Space, Earth, and Water.
It is believed that our fingers are an extension of those 5 elements:
- Thumb finger connects to Agni (Fire).
- Index finger connects to Varun (Air).
- Middle finger connects to Akash (Space).
- Ring finger connects to Prithvi (Earth).
- Little finger connects to Jal (Water).
While eating with hands, all the five fingers come in contact with the food forming a connection with the cosmos & thereby energizing the food with cosmic energy.
The second reason for eating with hands is that it adds a sense of feel & touch which provides a wholesome experience.
The third reason is that eating in hands helps in better digestion. Our fingers have millions of nerve endings and when the food is touched with fingers, the nerve endings at the fingertips determine the kind of food and sends signals to the digestive system to help it better digest the food. This is not possible when spoons are used for eating food.
India is a country of diverse cultures but a unified sense of mannerisms. Alike every other nation in the world, India also has some basic dining mannerisms and etiquettes that are unique to them.
We discussed as many of them as we could here. We hope we could rightly justify the essence of being an Indian to the core.
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Meet the literarian of our group! She loves crafts, paintings, poetry, food, and can lip-sync dialogues from F.R.I.E.N.D.S all day. The world of words fascinates her, a true logophile. A typical millennial with an old touch.