Hand hovering over a platter of food
The Rules For Eating With Your Hands In India, Africa And The Middle East
Eating with your hands is deeply rooted in tradition and culture in India, Africa, and the Middle East. Etiquette varies by religion and region, but some key principles are shared.
The first rule, unsurprisingly, is thorough hand washing prior to eating, not just for hygiene reasons, but also as a sign of respect for the food and those sharing the table.
Use only the right hand for touching or passing food. Eat using only your thumb, index finger, and middle finger, and only lick your fingers once you have finished eating.
Many of the regions’ cuisines feature flatbreads which serve as a perfect tool for scooping up flavorful dishes. Starches like rice or wheat also help with consuming runnier foods.
The right-hand rule applies across the regions, having been explicitly mandated in the Muslim hadiths. The left hand is reserved for unclean activities like going to the bathroom.
Eating without utensils also has roots in Indian Ayurvedic teachings, where using the whole hand to eat is believed to stimulate mind-body connection and promote mindfulness.
In the Middle East, customs also determine the amount you eat as well as how you eat it. Communal meals symbolize unity and sharing, with each person taking only what they need.
Meanwhile, in North Africa, the act of “gursha,” where one person creates a perfect bite and then feeds another person, adds an intimate touch, fostering closeness among diners.