Why Do Indians Eat With Their Hands?

Why Do Indians Eat With Their Hands? April 16, 2015

It never occurred to me to ask this question. As soon as I found that some cultures eat with their fingers instead of utensils I was thrilled and immediately stopped using utensils as much as possible! I’ve always loved eating with my hands for two reasons…

One: Whatever the material of utensils, they interfere with the taste of the food. It adds metallic or plastic or wood taste to your food. I hate that!

Two: I’ve always felt like the taste of the food is heightened when my fingers brush against my lips.

It turns out that there might be something to that feeling.

When we were visiting India one of my friends asked why Indians eat with their hands and I was startled because I happen to think it’s the greatest idea ever and I had never wondered why! One of my other friends sitting at our table said that it was for ayruveda, the ancient Indian health science.

Doing a little googling back home I found that there’s an Indian saying “eating food with your hands feeds not only the body but also the mind and the spirit.” That sounds like my experience!

The hands are considered the most precious organ of action. This is linked to the Vedic prayer of

“Karagre vasate Laksmih karamule Sarasvati Karamadhye tu Govindah prabhate karadarsanam”

(On the tip of your fingers is Goddess Lakshmi, on the base of your fingers is Goddess Saraswati; in the middle of your fingers is Lord Govinda), which we recite whilst looking at our palms. Thus, this shloka suggests that all the divinity lies in human effort.

Our hands and feet are said to be the conduits of the five elements. The Ayurvedic texts teach that each finger is an extension of one of the five elements. Through the thumb comes space; through the forefinger, air; through the mid-finger, fire; through the ring finger, water and through the little finger it is earth.


They say that the interaction of the fingers with the food and your lips stimulates digestive juices in the stomach. 

Feeling your food is a tactile way of eating and your stomach get signaled as to what is being eaten. Your hands become an extension of the digestive system. Millions of nerve endings in your fingers relay the message that you’re about to eat, including the temperature of the food, level of spiciness, etc. to prep the stomach for digestion. Handling the food with your fingers releases digestive juices and enzymes.


When people say “You don’t know where those hands have been” that is the strangest thing to me. Of course I know where they’ve been! They’re my hands! I know whether they’re clean a lot better than I know whether the silverware I’m given at a restaurant is clean. So at times I may embarrass my dining companions, but I take any opportunity at all to eat with my fingers!

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