India is a country obsessed with their food. Cuisine defines the culture from North to South, brings families together for united mealtimes, and is an integral part of Indian culture. However, if you are not used to certain intricacies of the Indian dinnertable, mealtimes and eating out can be fraught with toe-curling social embarrassments. Feel the burn no more, with these simple tips to navigate your survival through the spicy flavoursome waters of Indian mealtimes…
1. Your right hand is for eating, your left hand for cleaning…and you don’t want to know where….
A genius solution to the general bad hygiene in India, your left hand is kept for the dirtiest missions, such as washing your rear, and the right hand for eating, and handling money. Trying to pay your auto driver and having him refuse the money on account of the hand you thrust towards him, is a swift way to learn this lesson! Keep your elbow off the table, and only bring your right hand anywhere near those delicious chapattis, and mouth-watering dahls!
2. Think that what you ordered in the restaurant is yours? Think again!
It seems to be mandatory in India to offer a taste, bite or portion of your food to all around you, no matter if it be soup, salad or biriyani. Expressing love and care through food is a beautiful part of Indian culture, so beware of ordering your favourite dish if you want to consume the majority of it. Let food envy be a thing of the past as you get to sample a piece of every course from everyone’s plate. Best of all, look forward to enjoying a well-licked commonly used spoon as your meal’s aperitif as there are no scruples on ‘mine or your’ cutlery either!
3. Fight over the bill – it’s the rules.
Pounce like a tiger as soon as that bill hits the table, because you can guarantee you will all be fighting to take care of everyone, and be the generous sponsor of the evening. Please don’t try and insult everyone by offering to pay for your share of the food. Social rules here dictate that treating your friends should be pure pleasure, so sit back, relax and let them pay this time…just hope it isn’t your turn when you go to a five star hotel!
4. Annoyed at loud chewing? Get used to it!
If listening to enthusiastic oral mastication is your idea of pure torture at the dinner table, you’d better get used to it! This is the country where the individual, and their immediate concerns are given the most importance. Got rubbish in your car? Throw it out the window so you don’t make your space messy! Never mind that it will corrupt the road and pollute the atmosphere of others. Enjoying your food? Chew loudly and let the whole world know!
5. Spicy food…the survival guide
Should your mouth be feeling as though it is about to turn you into a fire-breathing dragon, tempting though it may be, don’t reach for the water. Ask for ‘Dahi’ or ‘Curd’, whereupon you will be presented with a bowl of yoghurt, which I suggest you eat pretty quickly! Alternatively, chew on a teaspoon of sugar, and feel the flames melt away.
6. Let others serve you if you are a guest; serve EVERYONE if you are a host!
In the West, placing bowls on the table and encouraging everyone to mutually tuck in is the order of the day. However, in India, the guest is God, so expect to be waited on hand and food if you are visiting someone’s home. Uncomfortable though it may be to have the host wait until you have eaten before they eat themselves, it makes them feel much worse if you try and equalize the relationship! Should you entertain at home, make sure your guests are fully taken care of with all culinary requirements before a morsel of food passes your lips.
7. How to eat with the hand
Eating with the hand is a refined art, and one to learn if you do not wish to look like a digger, shoveling in food. One simple trick is to mix the food carefully by squeezing it with your fingers, make it into a ball and pop that delicately in your mouth. Another technique is to get a small amount of rice and curry on the ends of your three middle fingers, and use your thumb to push it towards your mouth.
Other tips I would suggest: try everything once, never question exactly what meat is in the ‘mixed meat’ keema roll, green chilies look suspiciously like green beans, so take care not to mistake them, and if it burns going in, it will definitely burn coming out…(you have water sprays to clean your rear in India for a reason!)