Why Indians Eat With Their Hands: The Significance Of This Ancient Practice
Travelers from around the globe often find it intriguing that Indians eat a majority of their food with their hands. This may seem weird or unhygienic at first glance but once you understand the science behind this practice and master the art of eating with your hands, you will relish every meal to a much greater extent. The Vedic wisdom behind Kerala’s banana leaf platter is that when you are served food on a natural material and you eat it with your hands, only then can you fully enjoy all its flavors. Such an experience is believed to not just feed the stomach but also the mind and the soul. Not just in Kerala, Indians from all parts of the country prefer to enjoy their meals with their hands. This is why the farmstays of India celebrate this practice and promote it as a part of the regional culinary art. Here are some of the reasons why this practice first became prevalent in India and why it has continued to live on over the centuries.
1. A Balanced Meal In All Aspects
The importance of a balanced meal is not an alien concept to anyone, but according to Ayurveda, the food should not only provide balanced nutrition to your body but also a balance of different energies. The five fingers are believed to represent the five natural elements. The ancient science states that the thumb represents Agni or fire, which is why infants often suck on their thumbs because it aids in digestion when they are unable to chew properly. Similarly, the forefinger represents Vaayu (air), the middle finger represents Aakaash (Ether), the ring finger represents Prithvi (Earth), and the little finger represents Jal (Water). When the food is touched by all these fingers then a balance of these elements is provided to the body, which in turn ensures a harmonious flow of energy through the system.
2. Offering Respect To The Host
When you are served food in an Indian kitchen, touching the food you are offered with your hands is a way to show your respect to the host. However, eating with your hands doesn’t mean that it can be a messy affair. Ideally, the food should be touched only with the fingertips and your palms and the outsides of your fingers should not get stained. These are the basic etiquette of eating with the hands that are followed in every state of India.
3. Better Digestion
Eating your meal with your hands makes the entire body more aware of the food being ingested. When you pick up each morsel with your finger tips, millions of nerve endings send the message that you are about to eat to the brain, which in turn prepares the stomach for digestion with the release of digestive enzymes and juices.
4. Embracing Mindful Eating
Eating food with your fingers makes you more aware of what you are putting into your body. You will feel the texture of the food, which will reveal a lot about its nutritive content. For example, something deep fried will instantly make your fingers greasy, which will encourage you not to overindulge in that item. Also, eating with the hands controls the pace at which you eat and prevents you from gobbling food like you can with a spoon. This will protect you from the ill effects of stress eating and overeating.
5. Enjoying The Experience
Eating food with your hands is way more fun than fiddling around with a different piece of cutlery for each dish. In India, most food items on the plate can be mixed and matched with the rest of the dishes to create unique flavors with every bite. Eating with your fingers allows you to discover and understand the diverse tastes and textures in an enjoyable manner.
These are some of the reasons why eating with the hands allows the food to satisfy all the senses and helps improve gastric health too. This experience can be best enjoyed at the farmstays that dot the country because, at a farmstay, you will be served authentically prepared food on traditional earthenware or banana leaves, which you can then proceed to enjoy with your hands in the rustic environment. These farmstays offer a glimpse of the various aspects of the Indian culture while satiating your taste buds, thereby making it an experience no traveler should miss out on.