Eating with their hands is a spiritual thing for Hindu people. In their religion, they believe that each finger represents one of the five elements. Earth, wind, air, fire, and water all come together to create a better connection with the food. For Muslim people, eating with their hands is also a spiritual act. The Prophet Mohammed preached eating with hands, and it's been a common practice since. Food is meant to be eaten slowly and consciously, and eating with the hands helps with that.
This is a traditional Ethiopain meal featuring injera
These religions, along with several African countries like Ethiopia, treat mealtime as a communal activity. In the Middle East and Africa, everything is pulled from a communal dish. As for Indian traditions, people share off of each other's plates.
Each culture has their own special type of bread. India and the Middle East scoop with the familiar naan or pita bread. Ethiopians and Eritreans go with a spongy, pancake-like injera. Fufu, a dough ball, is used like a spoon in Western and Central Africa. When using these edible utensils, make sure you're not double-dipping. That's considered rude and kind of gross.
Another rule for eating with your hands is to only use the right. In most cultures, the left hand is reserved for more dirty jobs. Although in our culture eating everything with your hands may seem dirty, it is not in this context. Hand-washing is required before meals. Sometimes a bowl of water is even passed around so that diners can clean up before eating. In the desert, hands can be cleaned by rubbing sand between them.
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If you are new to the hand-eating culture, it's best practice to follow what others are doing. For example, don't just start eating. Wait for the host to break bread first. If you're not sure the host is going to break bread, wait for everyone else to start digging in. When eating, only use your fingertips. Think of how you grab french fries. It's a delicate, intentional grab instead of a crass mash. Finally, although it may seem tempting, do NOT lick your fingers. It's just as rude as double dipping. Nobody wants to ingest your saliva with their meal. Instead, wait until the end of your meal to lick your hands clean.
Eating a meal with your hands can be a liberating experience. With no utensils in the way, you can truly be one with your food. Plus, it's a great way to share a meal while bonding with your companions. That along with all the bread involved, it really seems like a dream come true. In these cultures, a clean plate is a happy group. Enjoy!