As is true for many different culinary cultures around the world, the dining etiquette that surrounds the way you eat your food is very important in India.

Allow your mind to drift to thoughts of delicious Indian food for a moment. Picture the vibrant colours, imagine the sumptuous tastes and the fragrant aromas drifting up from the steaming hot dishes to delight your senses. Pretty tantalising, right? However, part of the true joy of eating Indian food isn’t simply what you eat, but how you eat it, too. In fact, the how is pretty important. Of course, whilst most parts of India follow pretty much the same dining etiquette, you may discover that some practices – just like the food itself – differ between the northern and southern regions, if you travel around the country.

If you haven’t partaken in the pleasure of a traditional Indian meal, then you may enjoy learning about the do’s and don’ts of Indian dining etiquette. So, that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. That’s right, it’s time to dish up the what’s what when it comes to eating Indian food the traditional way.

Wash your hands

One of the most important things to remember is that you must wash your hands before you eat.

This is because there is a limited emphasis on cutlery in Indian cuisine, so it’s essential that your hands are nice and clean as they will be your primary utensils!

An impressive spread

A traditional Indian meal differs from the typical way of eating in Western countries in a number of ways. One of the key differences is the manner in which the food is served.

Unlike how we tend to eat in the U.K, there are no ‘courses’ in Indian cuisine. Typically, all of the food is served at once, with lots of different dishes co-mingling with one another atop the table.

Individual portions are also not the done thing. Whether you’re dining in a restaurant or in the home of a friend, food will usually be served in dishes to help yourself to, or the host may serve the food for you onto your plate.

The standard Indian meal is made up of a number of different components. The spread before you will typically be composed of flatbreads (such as naan, chapati, roti, paratha or kulcha), curries, daal, raita, rice, pickles and some sweets to top it all off.

Lose the cutlery

Now, this one may go against everything you know as a British diner, but trust us, it remains the done thing in many dining contexts in India to ditch the cutlery and use your hands, instead.

This is done delicately and neatly, with only the very tips of the fingers used, rather than the whole hand. You may find, however, that particularly in some urban areas of India, spoons are used in homes and restaurants to eat more liquid-based dishes like curries and daals.

To conform with traditional etiquette, flatbreads and rice are used to mop up the other dishes on your plate.

Flatbreads are the primary tool used to eat with. To use flatbread, tear a small piece using your fingers and create a boat-like shape that you can use to scoop up curry and transfer it into your mouth.

The primary function of rice is to salvage remaining gravies. To do this, scoop up little portions of rice with your four fingers, capturing any delicious sauces and morsels of veggies and meats as you go, and push the food into your mouth using your thumb.

Eating in this way can feel a little strange at first, and it may take some practice. Learning how to do so properly and with ease is, however, a delicious journey to undertake.

stack of fresh naan

Lead with the right hand

When enjoying a meal in India, make sure to always lead with your right hand.

Even if you’re left-handed, the social etiquette of what is and what is not polite requires that you must use your right hand to eat with. This is because using your left is considered incredibly unclean and, as such, can cause offence.

The left hand is thought to be unclean as it is the hand people generally use for washing themselves, so use your clean left hand to sip on your drink and to pass dishes along to other guests, instead.

Sharing is caring

Dining etiquette in India certainly encourages the sharing of food with others.

If you’re dining in a restaurant with friends, it is customary to share your dishes with one another. The polite way to do this is to share only from the serving dishes, not from your plates, as taking food from the plates of others is considered poor manners.

empty dinner plates

Finishing every last bite

In India, it is considered good manners to finish everything that is on your plate. Leaving anything uneaten is considered impolite.

Of course, you needn’t taste every single dish that is served, but anything you do transfer to your plate needs to be finished. It’s also important not to play with your food and to eat it at a medium pace, too. It is considered rude to eat too quickly and if you eat slowly, hosts may conclude that you are not enjoying the food.

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