Styles of eating differ between Hindus and Muslims. Hindus usually take their meals individually, a feature that may have developed as a result of rules regulating eating practices across castes. The Muslim stress on brotherhood spilled into custom as communal eating is the norm. A dastur khan, a form of tablecloth, is spread on the floor, over which is placed the various dishes of the meal.
In most Indian households, meals are eaten without the use of utensils other than the hands. It was the British, with their western sensibilities that introduced the use of fork and large spoon. No one ever dines without first washing their hands. Even the humblest of roadside stalls in India would not consider offering food without first offering a lota (water vessel) for hand washing.
Only the right hand is used for eating, the left being considered ‘unclean’ (too bad if you are left-handed!). With the right hand, break off pieces of bread – chapati, naan or roti (try it, it’s not as easy as it sounds with one hand) and scoop up some of a dish, fold over the bread to form a neat morsel and transport it to your mouth. In the northern states this is done very delicately using just the tips of the fingers of the right hand while in the south, almost the entire hand, up to the wrist, may be used.
Depending on religion and/or caste as well as education, women frequently eat separately and after the men have been served.
In southern India, banana leaves are often used as plates, but more universal throughout the country is thali service – the thali being a circular metal tray on which are placed a number of small bowls called katori, also made of metal. Rice and chapati are placed directly on the tray while curries and other dishes are served in the katori.
Contrary to western belief, not all Indian dishes are curries. In fact there is no such thing as a spice called ‘curry.’ Each Indian chef, cook and housewife mixes her own blend of spices for each dish. This spice blend is called a masala. Spices are kept at hand in a circular ‘spice box’ and are ground fresh for each masala. Curry 2 U’s logo features a stylized spice box.