Rule one is: eat with your right hand only. In India, as right across Asia, the left hand is for wiping your bottom, cleaning your feet and other unsavoury functions (you also put on and take off your shoes with your left hand), while the right hand is for eating, shaking hands and so on.
Use of the right hand When dining in India, always use your right hand. Even if you’re a lefty, you must use your right hand for eating. Indians consider the use of the left hand to be unclean and offensive. So the left hand remains dry and is only used for drinking water or passing dishes.
Passing objects in India In India, the left hand is hand associated with personal hygiene —and that includes putting on and taking off your shoes. It’s also considered generally impure. That’s why you should never use it to pass an item—be it the salt and pepper shaker or a business card—to another person.
According to Ayurveda, the nerve endings of the fingertips are believed to boost digestion. In fact, you become more aware of the textures, taste and aromas as you eat using your hands and engaging the fingertips. Eating with your hands has more health benefits than eating with spoons.
The left hand is traditionally discouraged at table because it is the non-sacred hand, reserved for profane and polluting actions from which the right hand abstains. One example of these tasks is washing after excretion.
All of India’s most widely practiced religions have dietary laws and traditions. For example, Hindu texts often praise vegetarianism, and Hindus may also avoid eating beef because cows are traditionally viewed as sacred. Muslim teachings, meanwhile, prohibit pork.
Kamayan, or the act of eating food with your hands, is not only a practical way of eating your food (as it eliminates the need to clean spoons and forks), but also a good way of bonding with the locals. It breaks social boundaries, and is seen by most Filipinos as a better way of enjoying your food.
Soviet bloc countries continued to maintain strict policies against left-handedness that persisted well into the 1970s. Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia and the Iron Curtain countries all made right-handed writing compulsory in school. In Albania, left-handedness was actually declared illegal and was punishable as a crime.
In many parts of the world, the left hand is considered unclean, usually because it’s used for “ablutions”. If you’re left-handed and visiting places like India, Nepal and the Middle East, you may have to pretend to be ambidextrous – it’s incredibly rude to eat, pick anything up or hand over money with your left.
All Indians wash their hands thoroughly prior to dining, then eat with their fingers, with the use of minimum cutlery. Traditionally, the fingers are also used to feel the temperature of the food to one’s taste and to combine flavors.
In accordance with US “cut-and-switch” etiquette, diners begin with the fork in their left hand and the knife in their right, but after they’ve cut whatever it is they’re about to eat, the knife is put down and the fork is transferred to the right hand. The fork is a relative latecomer to the place setting.
An itching left palm means money to be paid out, while an itching right palm is money coming in. But is there any truth to this one? Some experts say yes because itching palms often signifies new internal energy moving through the hands. The left hand is the passive, or receptive, hand and the right is the active hand.