A south Indian food is usually served with a leaf. Most people born in India even south Indians do not know what are the procedures and the steps you need to follow when eating in a leaf. Each movement gives information or means something to the person who is serving you are to the host.
Do you know how to eat in a Banana Leaf?
Do you know what are the procedures to follow before , during or after the meal when you are eating in the leaf?
Do you know what food to place in which part of the leaf?
Before the Meal
Traditionally, A south Indian food is usually not served on a table. Men are requested to sit down on the floor with their legs crossed. Women have a different posture to sit down on the floor. Today the meals are served on tables but when you sit down to have your meal you need to follow the correct sitting posture.
Once you are seated, the Banana leaf will be placed in front of you. The leaf should be in the position as mentioned in the picture 1. The small part of the leaf should be to your left hand side and the larger part of the leaf should be to the right hand side. The reason for this is because as you use the right hand to eat your food, you will have more space on the leaf.
Usually banana leafs which are cut from the plantain are very large. They will cut them into smaller parts for serving the food. The tip of the leaf is usually called the “head of the leaf” and the the head of the family should use that part of the leaf.
Once the leaf is placed in the open position, you need to clean the leaf with water. You need to sprinkle water on the leaf and wipe the sprinkled water with you hands. Once this process is done, the leaf is ready.
During the Meal
There is a procedure to serve the meal. There is a place reserved in the leaf for every type of the food. Refer the below numbers to the picture above to be clear in the position.
- The salt, pickle etc will be placed on the top left corner of the leaf. The reason is that these do not mix up with other food items and spoil the taste. These are to be used for curd rice only.
- The sweet is place is the bottom right corner. In south India, the meal start with a sweet and ends with a sweet. The sweet placed in position 2 should be consumed first.
- The top of the leaf is reserved for the vegetables. All the types of vegetables, fries etc are placed in this part of the leaf and this is consumed throughout the meal.
- The bottom right corner or the 4th position is for Papad, vada and other snacks.
- Slight to the right of the 4th position is for Variety rice like lemon rice, tamarind rice etc.
- The center of the lower part of the leaf where the main course is served. The rice is usually serviced in this portion.
When having the rice it is usually mixed with curry and consumed. The order of the curry should be in a specific order
- Dhal with ghee is mixed with rice.
- Sambar – A curry made with Dhall
- Puli Kulzhambhu. – A curry made with tamarind
Before curd, you will be served the dessert that is the Payasam /Gheer / Sweet porridge. This is placed in position number 2 again.
After the Meal
After you are complete, the the leaf should be closed informing the chef that you have completed the meal. There is a procedure in closing the leaf and there is a meaning attaching to it.
If the upper part of the leaf is lifted and placed in the lower part of the leaf then it means that you are very satisfied with the meal and you continue to maintain this relationship with the host.
If the lower part of the leaf is lifted and placed on the upper part of the leaf then it means that you are not satisfied with the meal.
Ok, now you have read about what all process that you have to follow during the meal and how the host will read your actions. Do you know how to read the hosts actions?
When you visit someone, they should serve meals in the Banana leaf. If they serve you in normal plates it means that there is no special importance given you. if they serve meals in Supari tree’s bark then it means that you are considered inferior to them.
If there is any dish made out of Greens/Palak then it means that “You are not invited again. Do not come back to our house”
Most of the Indians themselves do not know about the last 2 points. These last 2 points are generally not followed. Even the older generations do not know this culture. Once my Aunt’s (Brother’s sister) in-laws had visited my grand parents house when she was newly married. My Grand parents did not know about this Palak culture, they served Palak in that day’s lunch. My aunt’s in-laws did not speak a word. They had the food very casually and went back to their come. They never came back even for my grand father’s funeral which was after 25 years from that lunch party.