When eating in India, it’s customary to use your right hand. No prized cutlery from wedding of the year will grace your plate; you would be lucky to even receive a rusty spoon. What is the fuss with right versus left? The left hand is considered unclean, used for washing yourself after a toilet trip, cleaning your ears or something of that nature.

Some travelers feel uneasy on proper etiquette, so here’s a step-by-step guide on how to eat Indian style.

1. A basic thali of chapatti, curried vegetable and soup (in small bowl):

2. The first part of the meal involves eating chpatti with your vegetable. Get warmed up by ripping apart the chapati with your right hand and using the pieces to cup some vegetable. Don’t forget to pinch some chutney in your chpatti before grabbing the veg.

3. Pop the scooped vegetable and chapatti in your mouth. Do this until the chapati is gone.

4. Next, get a heaping serving of rice. Pour some of the soup over your rice to wet it.

This is what I call mixing paint. Artists intermingle oil paint on their boards before applying it to the canvas. You do the same with a thali.

5. Take a small handful of rice, move it to a section of your plate, then take some vegetable and move it to the same spot. Now mix them together with a squishing action, what you want to create is a malleable ball. Add soup if the mixture is too dry.

6. Clasp the ball of rice and vegetable like a piece of dough and eat!

Repeat until your rice is gone or your stomach is a dam about to burst. Soup can be picked up with your right hand and sipped from the bowl – sans spoon.

Final tips:

  1. It is acceptable to serve or pass food with both hands, just be sure to actually eat with the right.
  2. If you’re a gal who enjoys manicured nails, polish nails on the left hand only. The right hand should be bare.
  3. If you normally eat with your left hand, practice eating with your right before leaving for your trip. Practice will make you come off like a travel star.
  4. If you’re traveling North, only dirty the first two fingers while eating. This sounds difficult, but an informant told me curries are drier and there is more bread in a meal than in the South.
  5. Mehndi is one of the many pleasures of India, but if you get a mehndi design ensure it’s not on your eating hand.

The surprising benefit of eating with my hands is how sensual food has become. You begin to develop a personal relationship with it. Touching my food has deepened the flavors, opened up the floodgate of sight, touch, smell and taste. Try this with your lover or spouse, I guarantee eating will take on a new dimension. (Cue the porn music).