Indian Dining Traditions: Festive Feasts to Everyday Rituals

Dining etiquette is highly valued in Indian society, as it is in many other nations with rich culinary traditions. Indian dining customs are a window into the country's rich food cultural. While dining etiquette is generally consistent across the country, it's possible to encounter variations in practises from one region to another. 

In India, serving food is different from Western culture as there are no designated 'courses' for meals. The food is served all at once, and the dishes are served in a way that encourages sharing among everyone present. Different regions have their own unique traditions when it comes to food. In some places, it is strict to avoid wasting food, while in others, it is customary to leave a portion of the food as an offering. The practice of meal served on banana leaves, and when you're done, simply folding them from the top to indicate that you've finished. These are some of the great examples that symbolize the diversity and uniqueness of Indian culture. 

The courses in Indian meals vary based on the region, and different communities have their own customs to signal the conclusion of a meal. For some, it is a common practice for people to sprinkle water around their plates as a way to purify the eating area, which highlights the importance and reverence they have for food. 


Celebrations and festivities have a significant impact on our eating habits as well. During Diwali, in Tamil Nadu, there is a delightful dish known as kovil kadambam. It is a flavorful combination of rice and lentils, enhanced with the addition of small bitter turkey berries and a variety of traditional vegetables. This delectable dish is typically served in temples during festive feasts, adding to the joyous celebrations. In many homes in the northern regions and throughout India, it is customary to offer food to God before serving it to everyone in the household. In Rajasthan, particularly in my home, only pakka (fried) food is prepared during the festivals. No simple meals like dal or rice are cooked, denoting the special foods to take part as a part of celebrations. Towards the eastern part of India, the tradition of meat eating is essential during the Kali puja.  

Role of Ayurveda

As per Ayurvedic principles, the day is divided into four parts, each lasting for 4 hours. These parts are closely connected to the gradual increase, peak, and subsequent decrease of a particular dosha in the body. The influence of the dosha's intensity is closely connected to the movement of the Sun. Ideally, it's best to have your heaviest meal around noon. This is the time when the Pitta dosha, which is important for many digestive functions like increasing appetite, producing saliva and gastric enzymes, absorbing nutrients, and separating the food into useful and waste products that are expelled from the body, reaches its peak. The Sun has a significant influence on Pitta dosha, which is interesting because Pitta dosha is closely connected to agni (fire), one of the two main elements that make up Pitta dosha. 

Cookbook author Krish Ashok shares, that when you're eating, it's expected to use only your right hand. In Indian culture, it is generally considered more clean to use the right hand for eating, regardless of whether you are left-handed or right-handed. This tradition stems from the belief that the left hand is associated with activities that are considered unclean and offensive. Even in temples, the prasad is offered in your right hand and not in your left hand. As a result, it is customary to keep the left hand dry and use it only for drinking water or passing dishes. Krish also adds, “My mother, being more religious than I am, adheres to certain beliefs and practices that might not align with my views. For instance, there's a belief in feeding crows as they are considered our ancestors, a practice she upholds. Such traditions significantly differ from home to home and region to region, illustrating the diversity of customs within our culture.” 


It is equally important to prioritise cleanliness and hygiene. When cooking, it's advised for the cook to avoid tasting the food directly and to avoid the use of the same utensil for stirring. After you’ve used a utensil to taste the food, you make sure to set it aside right away for washing. Food that has been touched by fingers or utensils used for eating is referred to as 'jootha' or "Uchchhishta" (contaminated).  

When eating, it is thought of as impolite to allow food to stain the outside of your fingers or palm. It is recommended to eat using only the tips of your fingers, although many people mistakenly believe it is acceptable to use more of their hand. One should not touch or hold the plate with your left hand while eating. Also, it is highly recommended to eat with your hands because it allows you to feel the temperature of the food before you take a bite. This helps prevent any burns or blisters in your mouth that could occur from eating hot food. 

When it comes to food consumption, some cultures emphasise the importance of not wasting any food on one's plate, while others believe in only eating what one truly desires and leaving the rest. Sharing food is encouraged, but it should be done from the serving dish, not your plate. Leaving food on your plate is not appreciated, and eating at a moderate pace is polite. 

In some places, it is a practice to leave a dollop of food as an offering. This act is seen as a way to show respect and honour the essence of the food. The belief is that by doing so, one is expressing a desire to partake in the positive energy of the food while leaving behind any negative energy from the past. If you happen to finish your meal before others, you should remain seated until the host or the eldest person at the table has finished their food. It is generally considered impolite to leave the table while others are still eating. Once done, wash your hands after eating and dry them using the towel provided.  

The courses in an Indian meal can vary depending on the region. In North India, you can find a variety of delicious main courses and delectable desserts. In Gujarati culture, it is a practice to enjoy a meal that begins with a course of roti accompanied by delicious desserts, and then followed by a course of rice. In South and East India, meals are typically centred around rice and consist of a variety of accompaniments served in an organised manner, creating different courses.   

Different communities may have different customs when it comes to signalling the end of a meal. In Marwari culture, it is common for guests to specifically request papad, while in Gujarati culture, guests are expected to ask for rice. In South India, when the host serves buttermilk, it is a sign that the meal has come to an end. While in the East, it generally ends with a sweet as a symbol of a sweet ending.

These practises align with particular beliefs and customs that are followed in different religions and communities. It's worth noting that they can differ greatly depending on the region and cultural group.