Your Namaste Restaurant Experience
When people think India, they think rich in culture, and that’s true. It is the birthplace of the oldest religions and cultures. Officially there are 22 languages recognized by the Indian Constitution.
Based on the 1961 Census of India, 1,652 languages have been identified. For every language there is a culture, this just shows how diverse the country is. Keeping an open mind is important in understanding the different cultures.
Given the vast amount of cultures, saying you want to go to an Indian restaurant can seem a little vague. Nowadays Indian restaurants are easy to go to. You sit down on comfy chairs, eat with utensils and occasionally try eating with your hands. Restaurants tend to offer the all-stars of Indian cuisine, nothing really specific to a region.
What if you were to visit India and eat in a small village where cultural ways are still prominent? You could easily offend someone depending on where you are eating.
If you’re confused on which customs to follow then you’re not alone. To help you, here are some tips on Indian eating etiquette and what you might see at a restaurant.
Welcome to your namaste restaurant experience.
Since there are so many vast cultures in India, it is hard to pinpoint all the specific etiquette procedures. So here are a few general guidelines to work off of to navigate your namaste restaurant experience.
Importance of “Jutha” is high throughout most of India’s cultures. Jutha is a Hindi word which loosely means food that has been in contact with another’s saliva. The concept has different words in different languages meaning the same thing. It is considered unhygienic and rude share food.
There are a few exceptions to the rule. If a loved one, family member, or close friend does it then it could be viewed as a form of bonding. Truthfully, it does depend on the household and individual. Some people are highly adverse to shared food while others don’t mind. But in general, sharing food with complete strangers would be considered inappropriate.
Use of Cutlery:
Different cultures either make use of cutlery or don’t. Nowadays most restaurants and households offer cutlery and it is not looked down upon if you decide to use them.
Majority of the dishes prepared are eaten by hand. This is partially because it is the way to eat a certain dish.
Most of the food comes in the shape of rice, flatbread, curry, or soup based. Depending on the style of rice cooked, in some cultures it is normal to use your hands to eat it.
Generally your flatbread will be in the shape of a circle (it still works if it is rectangular).
- Rip off a piece of the flatbread in the shape of a cone/triangle.
- Big enough so when you fold it in half you are able to hold it with your index finger and thumb.
- Create a scoop out of it by either rolling the sides together forming a cone or pinch the middle. and wrap it around your finger making a cup shape.
- The idea is to make a scoop shape without any holes in it so nothing pours out.
- Dip the scoop into the dal or sabji.
- With dal, gather enough so it’s filled enough but not over flowing or barely wet.
- With sabji, squish the scope into it and kind of claw it out.
- Eat it and repeat.
The action itself becomes intuitive after a few bites. Feel free to use two hands when tearing the flatbread but dip with one hand. Masters of this are able to use just one hand to tear and eat with.
If you’re having troubles with dal, ask for a spoon which you can use to pour it into your flatbread scoop.
In parts of South India some cultures eat rice with their hands.
The rice is generally thicker and clumpy so you’re able to do it.
- Eat with your right hand, this is mainly because the other hand is seen as used for unhygienic purposes
- Use the tip of your fingers
- Mix the food
- When eating, lower your head and lift the food to your mouth
- Push food into your mouth with your thumb
- Keep eating till the plate is clean
Types of Forms:
Here is how you may see food prepared in a namaste restaurant:
Food you will typically see will be cooked in ghee. Ghee is clarified butter which is made by melting down butter and extracting the liquid residue.
Foods offered in a namaste restaurant will generally use a lot of ghee making them fatty. Food prepared in homes will use considerably less ghee and are more wholesome.
The main types of dishes you will see are dal and sabji with roti or rice. Both of these dishes usually include “thorka”. Thorka is a base ingredient of most of dishes. It includes diced onion and garlic simmered in oil or ghee then spiced with “loon”(salt), “mirch”(pepper) and masala.
Dal (lentils): Made from dried, split, skinned lentils that are stewed and spiced. The dish itself can be soupy or thick. Mixed in rice or eaten with roti.
Sabji (Sautéed vegetables): Sautéed diced vegetables with masala and turmeric powder. You can pretty much make any vegetable into sabji.
Roti/Naan (flatbread): There are many forms of roti; it is made from stoneground wholemeal flour known as atta. At a restaurant you will most likely be offered naan which is fluffier. Atta can be deep fried, cooked on flat stone, tandoori oven, and various other methods.
Basmati rice: The rice is long and slender compared to other types of rice. When cooked, in some parts of India it is garnished with cumin seeds and green peas. Rice is highly diverse so it may include a multitude of combinations of spices and added ingredients.
Types of Food by Culture:
Although there are hundreds of culture in India, there are a few predominate food cultures. Here is a list of cultural namaste restaurants.
Bengali: Mix of sweet and spicy flavors focusing on five main spices (panch phoron): mustard, fenugreek seed, cumin seed, aniseed and black cumin seed.
Gujarati: Mainly vegetarian, eats rice, dal, and roti with every meal. Some dishes have more sugar than salt giving it a sweet taste.
Kashmiri: Uses less garlic and onion and more for meat eaters. Wazwan a specialty skewered meat that is slow cooked. Dishes make regular use of dry fruits in curries.
Mughlai: Very spicy and makes use of ground spices. It is famous of its meats such as kebabs and kofta.
Punjabi: Famous for its regular use of roti, dal and sabji. Famous non vegetarian dishes are tandoori chicken and butter chicken.
Rajasthani: Are sweet dishes are had before the meal. The desert landscape shapes the food; dishes mainly include milk and dried lentils.
South Indian: Most dishes include sambhar (type of lentil stew), rasam (watery soup), vegetable curry and pachadi (type of yogurt). Most of the dishes make use of garam masala which is a combination of hot spices.
Things To Keep In Mind
Whether you are visiting India, going to an Indian restaurant, or invited to someone’s home, it is important to be respectful. Ask if you are unsure of the customs since it is hard to keep track of all them. Observe your audience, most of the time they will help guide you. Make an effort; it makes your namaste restaurant experience that much better.