The Food Ritual

Finish that South Indian meal perfectly.

Indian food is rich in flavour. And traditionally, we eat food with our hands. Or rather just our right hand. There’s a tiny ritual we follow at home when we finish our meal. I watched Cast Away again recently and that convinced me that this ritual is just so right!

Meals at home generally involve three “courses” or “rices” or whatever you want to call it. The structure of the meal is ingenious. You begin with a dollop of ghee on your palm, which is considered a brain-tonic in local folklore, but basically just tastes oh-so-good-and-sinful. You add a few drops of ghee with hot rice. You then add Sambar or Kuzhambu (the more tangy version), a spicy orange gravy with vegetables and some dal mixed in (it feels so weird to describe Indian food this way). You mix thoroughly with the rice. A vegetable curry (say okra or potatoes) is served alongside and you eat the two together. When you’re feeling particularly unhealthy, you also have it with some vadaam (fryums). Once you finish the Sambar rice, you then have some rasam rice. Rasam is a more liquid and less fiery version of Sambar. You mix it with the rice and have it with the curry. Rasam rice tastes even better with fried potato curry (or madam/aplaam) and takes a bit of a back seat so that you can really enjoy the rich flavours and taste of the vegetable curry.

Once you’re done with that, you finish up with some good old curd rice. The curd rice takes the edge off, cooling your tongue and quenching your thirst. It also seems to sort of get into your stomach and cool down stuff there too - I don’t know the science behind it, but I guess it basically brings down acidity? Anyway, it just feels right. You have curd rice with some pickle / curry. And you look at your plate. Enter family ritual.

You’ve just finished one hell of a meal. There are little streaks of curd on your plate that are impossible to scrape off. There are a few grains of rice, some spicy oil drops from the curry and a little bit of Sambar lingering in the corners. Now here’s what we do. We take some drinking water and wash our hands over the plate. We then proceed to mix everything on the plate into the water. You now have some amazing spicy buttermilk, a mild version of your entire meal on your plate. You pick up your plate and drink the buttermilk.

You’re left with a shining steel plate. You haven’t even wasted a grain of rice. Your hands are washed and clean. The plate is super easy to wash and isn’t going to have dried food crusting over. You just feel so content!

I know many people find the concept of eating with their hands quite icky! Wonder what they think about this?