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Eating with your fingers
Marryam H Reshii |
August 09, 2005
I have a confession to make: not only do I not enjoy eating Oriental food without chopsticks, but I am unable to eat noodles with a fork.
On the other hand, I have no reservations about eating Indian food with Western cutlery. I am not one of those who believe that Indian food is best eaten with the fingers, but I'm beginning to wonder whether I was wrong all this while.
It started with a meal that I had at InterContinental The Grand, New Delhi last week. Chef Praveen S Bhatnagar regarded my knife and fork with stern disapproval. "Indian food is meant to be eaten with the fingers," he sniffed pointedly. "That's why the food is cut into bite-sized pieces. Try it."
Now, I'm up to a challenge just as much as the next person, so I obediently ate with the tips of my fingers, taking care not to let them come into contact with the admittedly delicious gravy of the Hyderabadi murg (chicken) I was polishing off.
"No, not that way," he reprimanded. "Let your fingertips actually touch the gravy." I confess that messing up my fingers did not cause the Hyderabadi murg to come alive in my very hands as I was half hoping it would.
According to Chef Bhatnagar, one's tastebuds actually get awakened with the touch of one's fingertips. Besides, one eats not only with the mouth, but also with the eyes, nose and fingers: visual presentation, aroma and difference of textures are what make the difference between a good meal and a great one.
I was not convinced, so I went to Chef Kunal Kapoor to shed some light on the subject. He heads what is one of the capital's finest Indian restaurants in a five-star restaurant: Made in India at the MBD Radisson.
According to his theory, all mothers break up lumps of rice with their fingers before feeding it to their infants, and the very fact that the little dears thrive on it is proof that mother's love is actually transmitted through the fingertips.
"Then, there's the way we Indians eat. One morsel of roti with dal and sabzi, and another with dahi and achar is optimised by eating with the fingers."
The reason why Indian food doesn't contain large pieces of meat such as steak or pot roasts is because it would not be consonant with the tradition of eating with the fingers.
I still wasn't convinced, so I sought the help of Bikram Pal Kapoor, practitioner of acupressure.
I got the same answer, albeit couched in technical terminology. "Not only are the fingertips centres of acupressure, but each fingertip relates to one element of the universe: air, water, earth, fire and ether. They are highly sensitive to touch and so can aid our enjoyment of food. However, the more important reason is that our fingertips transmit emotions and also happen to be the most hygienic eating tools that we have. And yes, eating Indian food with our fingers vastly improves the taste of the food." I'm still not entirely convinced, but I am aware that I am in a minority of one.