You might think this is a strange thing to post about, but some people (me) worry about every aspect of the country they are going to visit. Including details such as how they eat their food, or if there is a certain etiquette to eating in restaurants or in a local persons home. So I've written this guide to eating in India for those of you who (like me) like to be over prepared before they arrive.
The first thing you should know is that people in India eat with their hands, specifically their right hand because this is seen as their clean hand. This does not mean that you have too! Most restaurants will provide you with cutlery with your meal if they recognise you as a 'foreigner'. If you do choose to use your hands to eat, I personally find I eat more food when using my hands because I eat it faster, make sure you wash your hands both before and after your meal!
If you get sick at all during your trip, don't automatically look to the restaurant you ate at last night, it could just be that you forgot to wash your hands or you didn't wash them thoroughly enough. It is important to wash both before and after your meal to avoid contaminating yourself with whatever bacteria you picked up off of the table you sat at or anything else you touched in the restaurant. This does not mean that the restaurant is dirty, bacteria is everywhere, even in your home, it is just the bacteria that your body is unfamiliar with that could cause you to become sick.
Using your hands to eat comes pretty naturally once you start, but only using your right hand isn't as easy as it sounds. You automatically want to use your left hand to aid your right hand, but the left hand is considered dirty in India, so if you want to do it how the locals do you may aswell do it properly.
The steps to eating with your hands are simple yet useful to know. Of course this refers to if you are eating local food, some sort of curry with rice and a bread.
You keep the bread in place using your palm and tear a piece off with your fingers. Use your piece of bread as a sort guard to prevent your hand from being covered with food, so lay it over the curry and pinch it up enclosing it in the now folded bread and place it into your mouth.
But what do you do when you have eaten all of your bread and still have curry left? Use your rice! So place your rice and curry next to each other. Use your fingertips to form a sort of ball with the rice, I balance it on my fingertips and use my thumb to guide it into my mouth to avoid making a mess. I tend to almost stuff the rice ball with the curry but I have seen people push their rice through their curry and up into their mouth, it just depends what you find easiest and are most comfortable doing.
Always remember, you can always ask for a spoon if you don't want to use your hand.
There is a huge range of restaurants in India, you will see everything from fancy restaurants to the local cafe, even to a street stall with a few stools or a bench beside it. Most restaurants serve Thali, which is almost like a small buffet. It is a large plate with a variety of local food, you have to try it at least once during your visit, they are always amazing! Each restaurant in each city have their own version of Thali, it is never the same so don't be put off if you don't like it in the first restaurant you visit, because chances are if you go nextdoor and order it there it will be different.
Curries tend to be large enough to share between two people, so unless you have a large appetite don't underestimate the portion sizes, especially the rice portions!
Some restaurants have a communal sink where, you can wash both before and after your meal. It tends to be a large sink or tub near to the kitchen. Some restaurants even bring water to your table to pour over your fingers onto your dirty plate to clean your hands.
Finding any food other than the local food is a task! It is inevitable that you will get bored of Indian food after a while of eating it for breakfast lunch and dinner so you will want to find some "western" or "continental" food. Unless it is a fancy restaurant don't order anything other than the local food! I have eaten some disastrous pizzas and toasted sandwiches during my time in India because they just don't know what it is supposed to taste like so they just cook what they think is right. I once had a pizza served to me that had tinned tomatoes as the base with a spreadable cheese as the topping, safe to say I didn't order a pizza from a small local cafe again! I also once ordered a cheese toasted sandwich from a cafe which when it came out was a heap of salad between two pieces of toast with a little cheese sprinkled over the top, I could have cried when I saw it I was so desperate for just a small taste of home that I didn't even think about the "don't order unless fancy" rule.
Although the local food can feel very repetitive and you will be bored of eating rice 3 times a day, it is always the safest option. It is always cooked fresh so you won't get sick and it is a quarter of the price of any other food on the menu. I useful tip to know is, when you're eating out be as specific as you can regarding your food, especially the level of spice you want, this will give you an idea as to whether they cook the food from fresh or not. If it is cooked fresh then they can make it as a much or as mild as you like. I have left many restaurants to find another after being told I could not customise my spice level because they don't make each meal fresh, it is better to be safe than sorry.
The last think you HAVE to try in every city you visit in India is the local street food. It always tastes amazing and will forever shock me how cheap it is! You can get a two egg omelette with tomatoes and onion inside a sandwich for 10 rupees! That's the equivalent of 10p in English money, it is ridiculous how much food you can get on the streets for next to no money at all.
Always go to where the locals are, if there is a long queue at one stall and nobody at the guy 100 metres away, there is a reason. If the locals eat there it will be safe to eat and taste amazing. You can buy a huge range of food on the streets of India. You can get samosas, pakodda, mirchi bhaji, pav bhaji, pain puri. You can also get deserts and sweets on the streets like a jalebi or a gulab jamun, then you can also get a cup of chai tea - the most amazing tea I have ever tasted in my life! From the first time you taste it you just can't get enough, I am a coffee drinker when I'm home but coffee in India isn't too great, same goes for the normal milk teas, but the chai tea is ridiculous! It is also crazy cheap no matter where you get it from which is always a bonus.