Five years of living in Indonesia has taught me a trick or two when it comes to eating. There are basics that are fairly common knowledge, such as dairy helps to relieve the burn of spicy food, and don’t drink the tap water. Higher level skills include knowing to clean fresh vegetables with bleach or salt or potassium, using a food umbrella to keep bugs out, and burying the tiny dried, salted fish under that last bite of uneaten rice. Life has relocated me for a season to North India, where my repertoire of eating tips continues to grow. This “how to” comes to you from Delhi.
Many people in India eat with their hands. There are many benefits to this cultural norm. For one, people are often without a fork, but rarely without a hand. Also, you know exactly where your hand has been, but have no idea where that fork has been. (This goes beyond germs – it includes the fact that it might have been in the mouth of someone of a lower place in society.) We ate with our hands in Indonesia as well, so I am not new to this. There are techniques for wadding food into balls, scooping them up, transporting them from plate to mouth, and flicking them in. The process is a different animal here in India, where much of the food involves yogurt and eating is a much saucier event. It is so saucy, in fact, that plates here have ridges. Behold, the tali. The flat plane of a plate with the side barrier of a bowl.
Now, you should know that on food labels in India, “calories” are referred to as “energy.” What’s not to love about that? Many folks are concerned about consuming too many calories, but everyone loves to have lots of energy. There is plenty of food to love in this country, but one of the most delicious ways to consume calories is the breads. I am here today to tell you that the roti, naan, parottha are good for more than just the energy. All of those lentil dishes and chutney sauces create quite a messy hand while eating, but fear not. Your meal comes complete with a 100% edible napkin. When eating a tali of rice, savory daal, creamed spinach with paneer cheese cubes, chicken in a yogurt sauce, and creamy black beans, it will surely come with some form of delicious bread. Just save a bit of your bread for the last bite. Wipe your fingers on it discreetly before folding it up and eating it as the grand finale to your meal. Voila! Clean (ish) fingers. I like to think of it as the “nankin”.