In ancient India, it was also believed that touching food with your fingers and then putting it in your mouth brought forth the right digestive fluids to help you eat. Eating with your hands makes you aware of what is going in your mouth. It makes eating less of a mindless chore and more of an experience where your presence is required. I have no evidence to prove my next statement except I stand behind it 100 percent: food eaten with your hands tastes better.
I have taught my kids to eat with their hands. And I am proud of that. Yes, when we eat out, they can use forks and knives and chopsticks better than I can. But at home, we eat as we desire, with love and abandon and with clean, washed hands.
My friend's tirade came to an end: "Are you listening? Have you heard a word I have said?"
I looked up at her. The Indian inside me wanted to scream. The hostess inside me needed to be polite. "Eating Indian food with a fork and knife, I have read," I said as graciously as I could, "is like trying to make love through an interpreter."
Despite herself she laughed, and picked up her fork and knife. The rest of us ate with our hands. In the end, I licked my fingers for good measure.
Monica Bhide's latest cookbook is Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She lives in Washington, D.C.