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As in many cultures, proper habits of eating and drinking are very important and widely respected parts of Indian culture, local customs, traditions, and religions. Proper table manners vary from culture to culture, although there are always a few basic rules that are important to follow. Etiquette should be observed when dining in any Indian household or restaurant, though the acceptable standards depend upon the situation.
Though Indian cooking uses an extensive array of specialized utensils for various purposes, Indians traditionally do not use cutlery for eating, as many foods - such as Indian breads and curry - are best enjoyed when eaten with the hand.
Eating with one's hands is a technique that may require plenty of practice. First, the hands must be thoroughly washed, with particular attention paid to the fingernails. Having long fingernails in India is considered unhygienic.
Using the fingers, the food should be scooped onto the flatbread (naan, roti, etc.) and quickly brought to the mouth. In North India, when eating curry, the gravy must not be allowed to stain your fingers—only the fingertips are used. The usage of spoons and forks is prevalent in the urban areas of North India and food like curry or vegetables is generally not touched with hands. When flatbreads such as chapati, roti, or naan are served with the meal, it is acceptable to use pieces of them to gather food and sop up gravies and curries. In South India, it is considered ill mannered to let your food stain the outside of your fingers or palm while eating and food is to be eaten only with the tip of the fingers.
Not all Indian foods should be eaten with the hands, however. If the food is soupy, such as many daals, spoons can be used. Additionally, foods such as rice may be eaten with spoons in both North and South India, more so in case of formal occasions as in a restaurant or a buffet. In South India, where the practice of eating where food from a banana leaf is still observed, even though only on rare occasions, it is acceptable to eat using spoons sometimes.
Traditional Indian cutlery does not recognize the use of forks and knives while eating, limiting their use to the kitchen only. Spoons were made of wood in ancient times, evolving into metallic spoons during the advent of the use of the thali, the traditional dish on which Indian food is served. Additionally, spoons (usually two used in a clasping motion) and forks are commonly used to distribute foods from a communal dish, as it is considered rude to touch the foods of others.
The concept of 'uchchishtam' (in Sanskrit), 'entho' (in Bengal), 'aitha' (in Orissa), 'jutha' (in North India), 'ushta' (in Western India), 'echal' (in Tamil Nadu), 'echil' (in Kerala), 'enjalu' (in Karnataka), or 'engili' (in Andhra Pradesh) is a common belief in India. It can refer to the food item or the utensils or serving dishes, that has come in contact with someone's mouth, or saliva or the plate while eating - something that directly or indirectly came in contact with your saliva. It can also refer to leftover food. It is considered rude and unhygienic to offer someone food contaminated with saliva. It is, however, not uncommon in India for spouses, or extremely close friends or family, to offer each other such contaminated food and is not considered disrespectful under such circumstances. In certain cases, as in the first lunch by the newly-weds, sharing food from each other's plates may be thought of as an indication of intimacy.
The cow is considered a sacred animal by Hindus and hence beef is not readily available in most restaurants in India. However Beef is eaten by some people in the Northeast, West Bengal (in Muslim majorities) and Kerala. It is also available in North Eastern states where the culture and weather patterns are very distinct from the rest of India.