Dining in India is a communal event.One rarely encounters a person dining alone.While there are no written rules of etiquette for dining, everyone seems to know what rules to follow.
Traditionally,people always sat on the floor while eating. The western concept of the “Dining Table” was introduced only when the British came on the scene. Even then , it was viewed as a foreign concept, and most Indians sat on the floor. Today, with space limitations, convenience and modernization, the Dining Table is a standard fixture in a majority of the India homes. There are still some rural areas though, who still practice the old system. Modern or not, during ceremonial events, weddings, etc, one may briefly revert to the system of sitting on the floor to eat, just to keep the tradition.Sitting on the floor should not be thought of as sitting on the bare floor. Far from it. Depending on the status of the family, the diner may sit on a mat, a small wooden decorative plank , or even a silver plank.
In earlier days, food was served on a Banana leaf. Now a days it has been replaced by plates for everyday meals.The plates are usually made of stainless steel. China or porcelain plates are rare. One eats with their hands. At the best, spoons are given while serving sweet puddings in cups. Forks and knife are unheard of, since the common meal of Roti and curry or rice and lentil soup does not need the use of them. For this reason, rule number one is, always wash your hands before sitting down for a meal.
Water is always served with any meal. It is usually served in a stainless steel glass placed to the left of the plate.
There is a reason for the position of the glass of water. This is to indicate that the diner uses his left hand to grab the glass of water and eats with his right hand. Only the right hand is used for eating. It is considered very demeaning to eat with the left hand.
In a lot of households, even today , an elder person will serve the food to the diners. Courtesy and respect is shown to this person. Food is served in moderate portions. The server does not mind returning to serve a second portion. Serving a lot at one time is discouraged because it may lead to wastage, which is much frowned upon.This rule applies when seated at the dining table and serving themselves.
Offering food from one’s plate, even if the item is untouched, is a great offense and never done.Probably this originated in ancient times to discourage the free exchange of germs between people sharing their food.The theory behind this custom,is lost, but the practice continues.
Chatting while dining is okay, but speaking with one’s mouth full is not tolerated.
Everyone waits for one another to finish up. Considering the fact that food is served, this usually means that all are proceeding at the same pace through the various courses of the meal.
Unless it is a very special event, each diner picks up his own plate and glass and takes them away to be washed.
The meal finishes with everyone washing their hands with a generous amount of water.
Small children are free to leave at his point, but the older ones have the task of cleaning up the floor. The floor is well cleaned, washed and mopped after every meal.