“Hands down slurrrp and burrrp, Oprah!”

You just pinch the poori with two fingers, the index and the middle, apply pressure on the puffed wheat bread and the metal plate that holds it and tear it away with your thumb. Then you hold the torn piece with your thumb and index finger and dunk it in the curry allowing all your fingers to swim in the spice filled sauce, eat the soaked bread while making sure both your fingers go in your mouth and come out clean thereby soaked in your own saliva, make a slurping noise and then finish off by licking off all the remainder fingers. That’s how you eat with your hand in India….. How difficult is that??

Well, as difficult as an average Indian would find it to lift rice or noodles or even a dumpling for that matter using a chopstick…

A whirlwind of storm my pledged brothers and sisters raised back home calling it insensitivity towards culture and tradition when Oprah made a simple comment of some Indians still eating with their hands.  Please stop being ridiculous for cuisine’s sake…
To be rhetoric I have not seen Indians eating chaats like bhel poori, sev batata poori, ragda pattice, or kulfis and rasmalai’s with their hands even if they’re finger licking good!

On one hand a whole cult of chefs are raising standards of Indian cuisine taking it to global standard, elevating it to a level above the stereotypical underpinnings of French cuisine; then we have some gourmets as well as critics who voice that Indian food heritage has not received the recognition that it deserves since age old techniques have not been noted and glamorized like that of the French Culinary Archives and have still remained grandmother’s secret recipe. On the other hand we have these obnoxious theories of social TV network star’s insensitivity towards our culture and cuisine, riots because of beef being served in international hotels and restaurants in Bombay and many others which are crazy hurdles and negative publicity for the marathon that India is running on international gastronomical level. No wonder we haven’t yet competed in the Bocuse D’ Or France finals, the Culinary Olympics.

Even the Somani’s daughter-in-law rightfully clarified that there are no such rules in enjoying Indian cuisines other than eating a lot and expressing the deliciousness of the prepared food. What Oprah did was to clarify the rules of traditional eating than following what she is actually used to and insulting the table by asking for a fork and knives, which in my opinion is a polite and a cautious way to approach any culture. Some may say she used the word “Still” in the sentence which made it looked primitive and backward so my advice to Oprah or anyone else visiting India would be to choose their words carefully, because English being our traditional first language (sarcasm intended) we tend to take offense by opting to take the literal meaning of an uttered sentence than that of the actual intended one.

Wake up my dear Indians; stop wasting time in sharing articles, creating Facebook picture shares on one of these dramatic publicity stunts. Look in the mirror and ask yourself how many of you know the traditional rules of eating? How many know what to do with that little mound of salt that is served in your thalis if left untouched after all food is over or when does the banana leaf end points to the right and when is it placed vertically? I wager on the fact that most do not know the actual order of traditional service in Indian meal as to what is served first and last, that very few know all the courses in Wazwans (some hospitality bachelors and bachelorettes would rattle off thirteen courses in traditional French menu but not know our own). Take a vote among the current Cosmo-Crowd on knowledge of the graces uttered before beginning an Indian meal, or necessity of using certain specific spices and herbs for certain ingredients or even a simple knowledge of why do we use stainless steel plates and banana leaves to eat the food in and am sure the count would be low considering the vast population of my country.

Few days after Oprah’s controversial dinner at the Somani’s the OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) was invited to a huge, glamorous party at the esteemed Godrej’s villa which was flocked by all our Bollywood stars. Entertainment included dancers clad in minimal dresses dancing westernized steps to modern Indian music, live singers from AR Rehman’s musical school, and of course food from Mumbai’s well known catering kings… So if UK’s Daily Mail and other renowned publications around the globe are right about Bollywood shunning the OWN’s show simply because of Oprah’s eating statement, why don’t I see all our favorite stars wearing our traditional dresses at the party? And do you think the food there was meant to be eaten while squatting down on the ground and slurping with your hands?

However, playing by the rules of the game of diplomacy and showing the other side of the coin- Yes, dear Oprah, Indians still eat with their hands, but so do a lot of other people around the world; I have myself seen Michelle Obama dipping naan in some chicken tikka masala at Washington DCs beloved Rasika (honored to say I had myself plated the dish for her), Dona Karan licking her fingers, Leonardo Di Capri grabbing kebabs with his hands, Jessica Alba cleaning the plate off with her thumb at the world acclaimed Michelin starrer Tamarind Tribeca (pleased to say that I manage the operations there)! Leave aside Indian food, a common American would be eating burgers, hotdog, nachos, tacos and a whole list of western favorite foods with their hands licking the mustard sauce and ranch dips off their fingers. Acclaimed Chefs like Roy Choi, Boloud, Keller and many others are encouraging diners to use their hands in their restaurants for few of their courses. Technically, eating with hands has got nothing to do with culture but has everything to do with the dining experience itself; it adds a sense of personification to the etiquette of eating and enhances it. As the phrase goes, when in Europe dance like the Europeans do, then when in India eat like the Indians do – Just sluurrrp and burrrp all the way through the food map of India!

Anyway, I think I have wasted enough time in this publicity drama but couldn’t help getting involved since it concerned food… It is time I put MY hands to work to enjoy my delicious Shake Shack Burger loaded with caramelized shiitake mushroom and seared Angus steak – uh oh, here is an Indian eating beef…any issues there anyone?



Add yours →

  1. This really is an eye opener

  2. An amusing read, Viraj! Yes, we *still* eat with our hands, as does so much of the world. Perhaps she meant in a formal setting? Who knows! Well, God made hands before man made forks, is what I like to say ;-D

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