Why does South Indian food taste better when you eat it with your fingers?

I can think of three reasons.

First, there is a placebo effect.  For the Westerner/outsider, eating with your fingers seems exotic.  For (many, not all) South Asians, eating with your fingers brings back memories of family and comfort foods.

Second, your fingers are highly versatile and they are often the best implements for consuming these foods and blending together spices, condiments, and foodstuffs themselves.  There is a reason why humans evolved fingers rather than forks.

Third, and how shall I put this?  A lot of South Indian food is vegetarian and eating with your fingers adds flavors of…meat.  The fleshy sort.

Eating a dosa with fork and knife is a very different experience, for Tamil food on the palm leaf all the more so.


Yes Tyler, perhaps a picture of you eating Indian food with your fingers?

Without context, this restored comment loses its impact.

Not that anyone especially wants 'Monica' to return, with her flattery and almost on topic banter.

'I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a little bit'

Fleshing the theme out, so to speak.

Such serendipity at the brutally algorithmic level.

This comment is so good, I want to eat it with my fingers.

Its like you read my mind!

And only if you take pictures.

Stick around. His posts are always that good.

Context gone - understandable in this case.

Besides, the only Monica on the web I care about is found doing the DJ thing at http://www.wfmu.org/playlists/ML

Being a South Indian myself I add my two cents

1. South Indian food (The Lunch/Dinner) is essentially rice with a liquid (Sambar + Variations, Rasam, Curd) (No breads) The spices in the sambar need to mix with the rice and the mixture is not fully solid, A spoon might work but the fork is a disaster as spices do not stay on the fork. Also an important ingredient is the vegetable which generally is dry or with a thick gravy. The mix makes the taste heavenly, Also coconut being an important ingredient mixes well when the fingers are used.

2. Idli Dosas and the likes are snacks which again is eaten with coconut chutney and sambar (which is a liquid) The taste of the Dosa intensifies when it is soaked in Sambar/ Chutney and the taste is intensified when the fingers are used as the fingers allow the dosa to take the shape and absorb the spices better

3.Indians prefer using the finger!!!! We are bought up that way


Just to clarify, we aren't all brought up to use the "finger"! Some of us can be quite polite!

Why exactly is it impolite to eat with your finger?

A lot of Politeness is about convention and contextual. Searching for rational reasons is mostly futile.

Why is it ok to wear shoes into a church but not a Hindu temple? Why is it considered impolite to eat with the left hand in India? How about slurping your drink? Or brushing someone with feet, even accidentally?

You do not wear shoes in a temple because of a number of reasons. Cleanliness is one, where you do not bring external dirt into the sactum sanctorum. Unlike a church, you do not sit up on a bench, and thus have to sit on the floor - and that is difficult with shoes or sandals on. You can't bend down and do the sashthanga pranaam wearing shoes.
On eating with the left hand, my friend, as all of us who use water rather than toilet paper to wipe your behind, it is the left hand that is used. So you avoid eating with the left. Again a sign of cleanliness.
Also, because one uses fingers, you wash your hands before and after a meal. That is also cleanliness.
So customs and politeness develop due to reasons, but is part of the culture.

He was making fun of Vijay. Vijay used the word "finger" which could also mean the "middle finger", instead of using the word "fingers". Now re-read his remark.

As evidence of reflexivity in human interactions, describing reason 3 impairs the premise.

I can certainly attest to the family/comfort food association.

I think you are close on the third point - it is more the warmth and texture of the hand than any "flavors of...meat."

A stainless steel spoon tastes cold and slightly acrid when combined with most foods. I usually prefer eating various masalas with a plastic or ceramic spoon - less conductive and more neutral in flavor. But eating by hand also benefits from the lack of an obstacle between food and tongue. The knuckles of the hand also bring food particles closer to the nose.

From a practical perspective, most South Indian dishes require a little work as you eat - removing bits of whole spices, breaking down certain vegetables (eg. drumsticks), mixing with rice, separating meat from bone. Hands are much more efficient than anything else for such tasks.

A Fuchsia Dunlop article about the flavors of metallic cutlery: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/776ba1d4-93ee-11e1-baf0-00144feab49a.html

>>>Why does South Indian food taste better when you eat it with your fingers? <<<<

I vote for placebo. Self perpetrating bias too. You've probably heard it tastes good so now it does. Or you've invested effort / embarrassment in eating a strange way ("by hand"), so now you'd rather believe it was worth it.

Alternatively, the "Emperor's-new-clothes-effect": All the sophisticates say it tastes better, so you'd hate admitting there's no difference.

Of course, true natives say it tastes better with hands, which isn't surprising because man's a creature of habit. If you've had soup with a spoon all life, no wonder switching to a straw at 45 would make it taste yucky.

Feed some dosas to randomized non-globalized, non-sauve westerners (without even telling them about their Indianness) and ask if they tasted better with or without cutlery. I think you'll re-question the premise.

Put me down for placebo, too.

Food is overdue for a debunking of the type that hit wine. To be sure, there are still wine snobs, but now we know they are just kidding themselves and signalling their cosmopolitan status.

Eating with hand is not a status thing, though. If anything, I avoid eating with hand because of status.

Depends on the company you keep. Sometimes status symbols reverse at the top. The peasant to food-snob hierarchy is not monotonic regarding the status of silverware.

Our perception of how a food tastes varies when other senses have some input to it (smell, touch, vision). Maybe one can just call it a placebo effect.
Eating with hand and the way some folks mash the food, changes the texture just a little bit for it to taste different (maybe?)
Just like there is some food I cannot eat (like Dill) because of their texture. And why some varieties of pasta which do not look much different to some folks, might taste different because of their texture.

This and Turang below have it right. If you eat with S. Indians you notice that the hand does more than convey food. This is even clearer on the palm leaf at weddings and so forth: you get widely-spaced dollops of rice, sambar, veg dishes, pickles, chutneys etc. and it's up to you to combine them. To oversimplify, much S. Indian eating is rice-plus-something and the hand does the mix.

And for anything with dosa or idli (or flatbreads) cutlery only makes it harder.

Here's a question in the opposite direction: Turkey has these great pizza-like things, called pides, which are easily eaten with the hand. But in the restaurants I visited, everyone ate them daintily with a knife and fork. Is there a Turkish taboo on fingers?

Because Turks are wannabe Europeans.

Rather than the presence of a "meat" taste -- which, ew -- you might consider the lack of a metallic taste.

Why would spoons taste like something and fingers not taste like anything? It doesn't make sense.

Between mouthfuls, we tend to keep squeezing and mixing rice with rasam or other variations of it, breaking up the grains and this adds a certain desirable taste to the liquid part.

The less genteel but proper way of eating South Indian food for some is not merely to eat with fingers, but with the palm! 'The' is deliberate. Only the right palm is used.

>>>Only the right palm is used.<<<

Offer the reason, and watch appetites diminish for the squeamish......

Here is a quote to show that lustily eating with the palm has an ancient history. -

"adhan pinne paar soru Mooda neiy peydhu muzhankai vazhivara" - And after adorning ourselves we will eat paal soru ie rice cooked in milk and ghee as your prasadam and the delicacy will be so full of ghee that the ghee will flow down our elbow as we eat."

This is not possible if eaten with only fingers. The palm needs to be involved.

Translation found by a Google search from Tiruppavai which dates from more than a thousand years at http://cp.sify.com/webdata/asayana.com/home.htm

I'd suggest a fourth explanation, though its more of a placebo plus effect: I feel more satisfied and nourished when I eat with my hands. There's something organic about it.

Is wiping your butt more hygienic if you use your fingers?

Is wiping your butt more hygienic if you use your fingers?

Only if you use the other hand to eat with.

How do you wipe your butt, with a fist? Or your feet? Oh, you have a bidet.

"Eating Utensil Type Can Influence How Things Taste, Study Finds"


There's a reason you were born with fingers and not mini bidets.

It's more hygienic than using YOUR fingers!

It occurred to me that most of what 'we' do to prepare vegetables is to make them more meaty. I want functional MRIs on people who claim to like vegetables prepared the most veggie to the most meaty.

Why does pizza taste better when eaten with our fingers?

Perhaps simply because we are able to get a larger bite into our mouths by using our hands. And that leads to more spices, ingredients, food hitting our taste buds at the same time.

"There is a reason why humans evolved fingers rather than forks."

Many reasons actually, none of them being blending spices and condiments together.

Re: "Why does South Indian food taste better when you eat it with your fingers?"

Let me guess.

A: Because you didn't wash your hands.

It's obviously the mixing/blending factor, as pretty much any South Asian will tell you.

Lol, dosa with fork and knife.

First, I'm not sure why you're saying "Southern" Indian food. A lot of North Indian food is eaten with the hands, too, and Indian food in general. (...and also tastes better that way)

Second, Oprah should read this blog post (...Google "Oprah" and “So I hear some people in India STILL eat with their hands")

Third, the meat thing is funny, but I don't think it's true.

The first one re. Indians is the most accurate explanation.

We associate forks and spoons with a high level of formality to be observed in presence of strangers. Eating with your fingers reminds me of sitting on a 2 feet by 3 feet flat wooden platform 3 inches from the ground in front of your mother making fresh crispy parathas on demand for you in the chulha next to her.

People brought up in other cultures can never understand that feeling.

1. Placebo. May be, for some.

2. Blending together. Amen.

3. Meat? Not quite right. Probably you meant to connect it with Freudian stuff.

This reminds me of something that happened when I lived in Taiwan, about 25 years ago.

Pizza Hut had just opened, so I went. I ordered a pizza. As I waited for my pizza to arrive, I noticed that everyone around me (all Chinese) were using a knife and fork to eat their pizzas. My pizza arrived and I ate it, slice by slice, by hand. By the end of my pizza, everyone around me had switched to eating with their hands.

I believe it is objectively true that pizza tastes better when eaten by hand.

Reminds me of this incident - Winston Churchilll once was dining with Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. Typical of Indian custom, the philosopher washed his hands well before eating. Usual to Western style, Churchill was busy with spoon and forms while eating and seeing the Indian President using his hands, suggested him to use the spoon and forms for better hygiene. The wizard quipped stating that since nobody else could use his hands, the method he followed was most hygienic. (source: http://mads.io/13fnMqV)

If I may add, this phenomena is not restricted to just 'South' Indian food. Rajasthani daal bafla should not - must not - be eaten with anything but your fingers to be properly enjoyed.

There's a reason fried chicken can be finger-lickin' good.

Did I read dosa in the same sentence as fork and knife? *humongous gasp*

eating with the fin-gers is so fin-ally good that it brings back memories of finger pain-ting and fin-ger lickin good kfc. the fingers have so man-y sensitive nerve endings in them that they back eating an ex-perience in itself. eat means emotional awareness training act-ually. to eat is not just to fill your bell-y but to taste (which is the oppo-site of haste).

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