Learning To Eat Indian Food With One Hand

Learning To Eat Indian Food With One Hand

I will never forget my first meal in India.  It was on a Sunday night back in March and I had flown into Bangalore for my job interview.  The President, Head of Ops and our Head of Sales for India all took me out for dinner.  Upon my request they selected an Indian restaurant, and when we walked in I could see that I was the only foreigner in the place.  Aside from a highly traumatic, near-death experience over a spicy mushroom that resulted in the entire restaurant staring at me for about two minutes as I gagged, coughed, turned red and basically made a complete embarrassing ass out off myself… one of the coolest things I remember was seeing everyone eat with their hands.  Well, one hand for the most part.  Of course, I only noticed this AFTER my eyes stopped watering from the killer mushroom and I could see everyone again, hehe.

This was dinner at the funky vegetarian truck stop I ate at during my recent road trip from Bangalore to Chennai (read about the crazy road trip here: http://wp.me/pWLM2-48 ). There was no fork and knife option here so I just went for it 🙂

Nowadays, I have started to acclimate and I think that I am much less embarrassing out in public.  Since moving to India on April 16th, I eat Indian food at least one meal per day .  My tolerance to spicy food has gone from “zero” – as my colleague Sandip jokingly advised me after the mushroom incident – to something more like 45% of the natural capacity of my Indian friends and co-workers.  I rarely need a sip of water in between bites anymore and I haven’t coughed or started sweating in a few weeks.  This really wasn’t an attractive look on me, haha!  Although, admittedly, my nose still runs from time to time when I eat something that rather kicks my ass still 🙂  Not pretty but WAY BETTER than turning into a spitting tomato!!

SIDE NOTE ABOUT INDIAN FOOD: It is interesting to see my colleagues bring Indian food for their lunch everyday.  Well, that’s not really true…one of my colleagues did bring Chinese food one day that he ordered in because he hadn’t brought lunch from home.  I have never eaten the same cuisine every day, day after day.  Back home in Spain or California, we’d eat Italian one day, then Japanese or Mexican the next, then Spanish, Thai, or continental….or even one of 30 types of sandwiches available.  I love the variety of Indian food, the regional differences with spices and ingredients.  Yet whenever I bring up the subject of different cuisines with my colleagues they simply beam with pride as they talk about the massive diversity of the Indian cuisine.  They have no interest in eating anything else.  But for me, to be completely honest, after a few days of Indian food for lunch and dinner I start to get bored.  Not because there isn’t variety but because I start to crave sushi or penne pomodoro or tacos al pastor or sauteed chicken and mash potatoes 🙂

Spicy food aside, the next biggest challenge for me has been learning to change my eating style.  I admit that in the U.S. we love our different size forks, different size spoons, and different shapes and sizes of knives.  The more utensils, the merrier.   So up until a few weeks ago I was still asking for a fork and knife at every meal, tearing my bread with two hands, never letting the gravy touch my hands, cutting up my chicken into bite size pieces with a knife then grabbing it with bread, and so on.  Yet everyday at lunch I saw my cool colleagues eating one-handed, and never spilling anything either on themselves or around their plates.   Well, I live here now and want to learn to eat like an Indian.  And so it began.

First, generally speaking, you only touch food with the right hand.  From what I understand this is a hygiene/restroom thing.  (You also never give a business card with just the left hand, or shake with the left).  Now, I still see people tear bread with both hands at times but I can’t say I have ever seen anyone scoop up or tear food with the left.  It was my colleague Padma who assured me that it was 100% acceptable to eat whole pieces of chicken without a knife a fork, tearing small bits off at a time with my fingers.  But it feels so foreign to me to eat in a way that lodges food under my nails that until this week I really hadn’t embraced this much.  But last week I did it.  I made a really big mess splashing gravy around and flicking it at myself as I tried to delicately pull off little bits of chicken but I did it! Haha  I assume that practice will make me less like a toddler and more proficient at it, fingers crossed.  Not sure I’d want to do this wearing a nice dress or on a date at a fancy restaurant quite yet but give me time 🙂  Although I am not 100% sure that I should do this at a fancy restaurant either??  I assume there are some differences in etiquette between eating lunch in the office cantina to dining out at a posh Indian restaurant.  Hmmm, need to talk to someone about that!!

This was my very first lunch in my new flat. I moved in 3 weeks ago, so see the knife there!! haha I am sure the fork was lurking around there somewhere too…I didn’t touch food back then, haha.

As for replacing the utensils, this is done with the traditional flat breads of India.  You use the right hand, grab an edge between the thumb and forefinger and use the remaining three fingers to hold down the bread as you tear off that hunk.  It’s obviously not hard to do but I haven’t mastered it 100% yet so my bread and the things around it do go flying a bit!

From what I see, if someone is eating rice then you grab a spoon (although I still instinctively go for a fork), and soup is of course eaten with a spoon.  Yoghurt with a spoon, etc.  But it is completely feasible to eat an entire meal without using a fork or knife, and only using a spoon to serve the various dishes onto a plate.  I LOVE that so much.  In fact, today I ordered a chicken and gravy with two buttered naan and a sweet lassi for dessert – so no utensils.  How much more natural could a meal be?  My only problem is I am still trying to lose some weight so I always limit my pieces of bread to two maximum – and,  of course, no rice – so I either have to throw some away or end up having to eat the gravy with a spoon…but that just seems weird, like swallowing thick soup.

Next move?  Mastering spicy food, once and for all.  I hate being singled out for my wimpy palette.  Plus I want to be able to try every Indian dish without fear.

XOXO from Bangalore

 

© Angela Carson, Angela’s Adventures in Bangalore blog and photos, 2011

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Angela Carson
Angela Carson

At 21 I left uni, jumped into my Jeep Wrangler, and drove from my native California to live an adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I’ve explored 35 countries on 4 continents, residing in 7 of them (currently Kuala Lumpur is my home). I even have a private pilot’s license and was shot at once by bandits!

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13 Comments

  1. 30/05/2011 / 12:54

    haha! cool! all the “indian” ive ever eaten is surely some weird imitation of the real thing. as truly mexican as the american “chili con carne” is, isnt it?
    you sound like you’re really enjoyint the ride angela, im real happy for you!
    hugs from rome!

  2. Sameer
    01/06/2011 / 17:39

    All the best for that Angela. Honestly beiing born and brought up here I still get my ass kicked with spicy stuff. Hence totally avoid it. Let the adventure streak in you take it forward.

    Chao

    SAM

  3. Kathleen
    13/02/2012 / 18:21

    Hi! Love the pic of your sushi in this post….care to share where I can find some good sushi in Bangalore?

    • 14/02/2012 / 18:19

      Hi Kathleen, that sushi was in Chennai when I went for a weekend to visit a friend. Here in Bangalore my favourite is OKO at the Lalit Ashok hotel but according to general opinion they are not the best. I’ve heard the ITC Gardenia has the best sushi in town but still haven’t tried it. They also serve sushi at Shiros but it is not as nice as OKO in my opinion. Good luck! Come back and share once you have done some nibbling about town. –angela

  4. Reena
    02/03/2012 / 03:28

    would you like to try mangalorean cuisine.theres one restaurant at the junction of coles road and wheeler road.theres also a very good bengali sweet shop called K.C das sweets.try neer dosa(savoury crepe made of rice) with seafood or even pork(it is spicy) or chicken sukka(spicyness could be reduced by adding coconut).

    • 04/03/2012 / 21:05

      Thanks, Reena. I can’t wait to give your suggestions a try soon! -A

  5. 03/06/2012 / 08:44

    Yes, you are absolutely right about Indians having “no interest in eating anything else”. The reason could be that except for British (to a small extent Portuguese and French), there has been not much influence of foreigners in India. Only since the globalization and the expats working in MNCs that there have been cuisines from other countries available in big cities. Also the reason that the variety of Indian food from different regions makes them not to really crave for other cuisines.

    Till I moved to US, I had never been to so many restaurants offering country specific cuisine and I really like trying them. I make sure I don’t eat at one place twice unless I don’t have other options.

    Also I like that you are criticizing about Indians’ interest in trying other food. It is a fact and we should accept it. It would be foolish of someone to send hate mails for pointing such things out. To be honest, without such criticisms your articles would be boring for me (kidding…). Good work. 🙂

    • 03/06/2012 / 08:46

      Adding to comment above, instead of leaving behind some of British cuisine, they took with them the Indian ones.

    • 03/06/2012 / 08:59

      It’s just a really unique and different thing for me here. Never in my life have I eaten the same cuisine so many days in a row. My mom would make spaghetti one night (italian), then fried chicken with mash the next (US), enchiladas the next (mexican) … same was true with my group in Europe but a little less so. To me it just gets boring eating “Indian” too many days in a row. It’s good but I just get bored 🙂

      • 05/06/2012 / 14:50

        Hey, probably this might help.. instead of thinking of the food here as ‘Indian’.. why not try the various cuisines on offer from different states of India.. thus you wont get bored of trying the same ‘Indian’ cuisine each day 😉 just a thought, though! 🙂

        • 05/06/2012 / 23:58

          I love the thought, and in part I hear you. But I just don’t see enough diversity to understand that food from Kolkata is totally unique from southern food. Sadly, my ignorance still in the herbs and cooking techniques does not work in my favour. BUT I like the idea a lot. –ange

  6. jayan
    27/06/2012 / 14:39

    when at home in the states what do you eat for dinner,say. Different dishes cooked generally in the same style? Thats what Indians do. I wasnt born and raised in india, but my parents came from there. Right now these days I cant do without curry.
    Its that security thing I think as I grow older.
    And spice and chilli are important in the tropics where food tend to go bad quickly. The spices and chiilli are anti bacterial and preserve food for some time.
    as eating hands, well we all eat with hands- it fingers you are talking about.
    Curry is beat eaten with fingers because then one can knead and dip and mix curry with main course very well. If eaten with spoon, then the curry and main course tend to be seperate.
    In any case, I’m not in India and I still eat Indian food with fingers.
    You dont feel the difference, because your tongue picks out the spices which makes ALL the regional food taste roughly the same.
    Take plenty of buttermilk to ease the discomfort of spicy curry

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