In some countries (like Sri Lanka and India) you might be expected to eat with your hands. Sometimes in these countries a knife and fork (or more usually, a fork and spoon) will be provided for you but often, it’s just you and your fingers… and don’t forget – your hosts (and those around you) will be thrilled to see you eating like they do and will give you much more respect for being culturally aware!
Here are my tips for eating with your hands.
- Watch how other people do it. Watch how much food they try to eat at once, watch the shape they make with their fingers, watch how their fingers approach their mouths, watch if they spill anything.
- Make sure you only use your right hand. The left hand is ‘reserved for unclean acts’ and people will be horrified if you eat with your left!!! A tip is to sit on your left hand so that you can’t easily forget or accidentally jump in with both.
- Only try to eat a small amount at once… don’t be overly ambitious.
- Mush each intended mouthful of food into a small ball, ensure there is enough rice so that it is not gloopy, but enough curry so that the rice sticks together. Here’s where watching others helps – there’s a consistency of rice to curry that makes the perfect ball…
- You should be able to keep palms and fingers above the second knuckle clean… if your whole hand’s a mess then something’s going wrong.
- Hold the ball of food on your four fingers and use the back of your thumb to push or shovel the food onto your tongue from your scoop-shaped hand.
- Your fingers shouldn’t touch your lips or tongue… but don’t obsess about this until you’ve mastered the basic action.
- In some places (e.g. Nepal) licking your fingers is to be encouraged. In other places (e.g. Sri Lanka) it is considered extremely rude. It’s another one to gain from watching those around you…
- Always have bottled water close by in case the chilli gets a bit too much! Be warned, however, that on many tables there will be a jug of water. This isn’t for drinking, it’s actually for washing your fingers in little bowls after you’ve finished.
- Don’t worry about not being an expert instantly. People will appreciate your effort, even if you’re only at the infant feeding stage by the end of your first week!
- Enjoy the process, it’s a new experience and you’ll soon wonder why we use forks for things like fish – it’s so much easier to find bones with your fingers!!!
- Oh, and if you have had food with a lot of chilli, make sure to wash your hands very well before rubbing your eyes! You’ll live to regret it if you forget…
One last (and very important) thing – Always wash your hands carefully before eating.
Ask for soap if it isn’t offered and you feel you need it. There’s a problem here however… there are bugs in the water that you’re not used to and that’s what you’re trying to avoid. Simply washing your hands in water and drying them on a communal towel isn’t going to do you many favours.