Thursday 26 January 2017

Ditch the Fork and let your Hands do the Talking!

A few weeks back I was having dinner with a few of my local, English and German colleagues at a very fancy five star restaurant in Suburban Mumbai. When the food came, most of us looked around for the cutlery, but the waiter informed us that it was the restaurant’s norm to eat with hands. The foreign colleagues, without missing a beat, dug in with their hands readily; whereas some of my local colleagues looked a bit embarrassed and guilty for our choice of the restaurant! This incident got my juices flowing as to why do Indians prefer to eat with their hands – is it tradition, culture, habit, circumstances, something else?

Before getting into some interesting insights on this – let us get one thing out of the way. If you believe that Indians eat with their hands because we used to be impoverished, or due to our lack of “culture”, or because we discovered spoons and forks only after the English colonization – this article is not for you; because (and I am not going to be apologetic about this) you are obviously completely unaware of the rich Indian heritage and tradition.

Firstly, eating with your hands has a number of health benefits, viz.

1. Balances life energies: All five life elements correspond to each finger on our hand (your thumb indicates fire, index finger correlates with air, middle finger indicates sky, ring finger stands for earth and little finger indicates water). An imbalance of any one of these elements can lead to various diseases. When we eat with our hands we usually join our fingers and thumb to eat, putting together all the five elements and energizing the food we eat so it helps us become healthy and keep all our pranas in balance. 

2. Improves digestion: Touch is one of the most strong and often used sensations in the body. When we touch our food with our hands, the brain signals our stomach that we are about to eat. This in turn, readies the stomach to digest the food it will receive, aiding in better digestion.

3.Promotes mindful eating: Eating with your hands requires you to pay attention to what you are eating. You often need to look at the food and focus on what you are putting into your mouth. Also known as mindful eating, this practice is much healthier than eating with a fork and spoon that can be done mechanically. Mindful eating has a large number of benefits for your health and one of the most important benefits is the fact that it  improves the assimilation of nutrients from the food you eat, enhances digestion and makes you healthier.

Secondly, let us look at this from another angle. I would like to request you to look at their hand- it is a mechanical device that can act like a lever, a pulley, a crowbar and what not. It can pick, put and pull. Let us compare each piece of cutlery we use to our hand and see which one wins this-

>Fork - a fork might have 4 teeth, but hands have four fingers and a thumb. Moreover a fork can apply pressure only towards one side. However, our hand can concentrate the pressure towards a central point, giving us a better grip.

>Spoon - which is definitely a more used piece of cutlery, can definitely be matched with our hand for some dishes. All of our fingers joined together can form a close prototype of the spoon. (Though I would never advise anyone to drink soup with their hand)

>Knife - Now this is an equipment that is indispensable for dishes like steak, etc. However, India being the land where cows aren't even bullied by politicians, I think we can remove that from this discussion.

So Indians who eat with their hands get a multidimensional experience of their food which involves more of their brain than those who eat with utensils! Talk about flavor sensation!

We Indians get:

The sight of food

The smell of food, and

The texture/temperature of food with our bare hands.

Like a palette of flavors and textures, we touch our food, we mix our food with various combinations, we mash our food with our hands….some us make little balls and other shapes with our hands….oh what fun! We feel and mix liquids with solids and things in between. Curds with lentils and rice, or chutney? Every time our brain is analyzing the food and textures and combinations and permutations of your favourite thali. Our hand is creating multidimensional tactile images of this food in our mind, anticipating the deliciousness (hopefully) to come.

And then we devour the flavour and texture with our lips, teeth and tongue.

But do remember, that the choice of cutlery depends on the type of food. One can't drink soup without a spoon and one can't eat noodles without a fork/chopsticks and one just can't devour on a chicken leg piece without one's hand.

And last but not the least, look at the below images and visualize them eating with a fork and knife – panipuri, vada pav, alphonso mangoes:

Not only is it absurd, but who has the patience to cut and fork one morsel at a time of these scrumptious foods!! So next time you are faced with a dilemma of Hands vs. Fork, you know what you need to do!!!
Just want to conclude by saying, be proud of who you are and the heritage you represent – do not mean to stay regressive, but progression does not necessarily translate to disregarding your roots and culture. Happy eating all!!

-Gauri Patwardhan
 For So-Saree

P.S. We do not own images used in this post.


  1. Interesting post and love the images. I truly believe in having food with hands than cutlery

  2. very interesting! Personally, I always prefer my hands for eating. I hardly ever use any cutlery! In Italy, I ate an entire grilled fish with hands and everyone was staring at me!



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