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Dining In Punjab

Ah the exotic that is India. Dining is no exception and is based on the cultural premise that eating is a sensual activity to relish. Touch is part of the experience along with the taste, aroma, and its presentation. The etiquette of dining varies with the region of India as with much of their culture.

In Punjab friends and family will gather together to dine and will sit usually around a table unlike other regions where they are seated on floor mats. Traditionally the woman of the house will serve everyone, ensuring that glasses are topped with water and roti is served hot as needed. She will typically eat after everyone is satisfied or join the table whilst continuing to ensure everyone is served as needed.

Food is served on individual plates with portions being separated in small bowls. This may include a portion of curry and yoghurt served with a spoon of homemade butter, pickled vegetables and roti. Salad will be served on a platter for the table to share which usually includes daikon radish, raw onion, tomato or cucumber cut up individually. Roti, which is an Indian flat bread, is used to eat your curry with. Fingers are used to tear the roti into individual pieces and fold into a small pocket to scoop a desired amount of food. Therefore there is little to no use of cutlery with Punjabi dining except for perhaps a small teaspoon used to mix the curry.

Sikh's are strict vegetarians due to their spiritual beliefs of not taking another's life. Serving utensils must not be mixed between non vegetarian and vegetarian meals to avoid cross contamination. A Sikh also cannot touch any utensils that may have touched non vegetarian foods. It is also bad manners to share any utensil, glass or food that you have used as it is considered unclean.

Punjab is a major producer of wheat, rice and dairy products. Therefore these products also form the staple diet of Punjabi people. Dairy products such as clarified butter, sunflower oil, paneer and butter are used in cooking. Clarified butter is most often used as the variant to ghee. Beef and pork are not consumed in the state of Punjab due to religious prohibitions. Alternatively those who do consume meat will eat goat, chicken or lamb as an alternative. But you will find that the vast majority are vegetarian and as such there is a wide array of traditional vegetable dishes. Predominately they will cook with chick peas (choley), lentils (dahl), peas (mutter), potatos (aloo), carrots (gajara), mustard leaves (saag), cauliflower, paneer (homemade cheese) and tofu.

Curry is typically consumed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A large pot is prepared for dinner and left overs consumed the following morning for breakfast. Roti will always be prepared fresh and consumed immediately or shortly after. There are other forms of Indian flatbread that are traditionally consumed for breakfast with curry. This includes paratha, which is a thicker style of roti as it is layered then fried. Paratha can be made simple or mixed with spices and vegetables such as potato or cauliflower. Poori is another Indian flatbread that is deep fried till it is crunchy to the bite. Some form of dairy can also be served as an accompaniment such as Lassi, a yoghurt, water and spice blend drink or homemade yoghurt. Tea, known as cha, will be served early in the morning upon waking. Breakfast is not normally served till late morning. Lunch is not necessarily eaten unless you are particularly hungry, so it is an individual preference.

Whilst I have read many articles that state that chewing with your mouth open and burping are considered rude it is quite the contrary from my experience. In fact it would seem that it is considered good manners to do so as this shows that you are enjoying your meal. It is considered rude to eat with your left hand in Southern India as the left hand is usually what one uses when they go to the bathroom. As such it is considered to be unhygienic to use your left hand whilst eating. Whilst that may be the custom in the south it certainly isn't in the north as you will notice everyone uses both hands to eat.

Within one's home hygiene is of utmost importance, however you will find that with street food or restaurants this is a completely different story. Even locals only eat out on special occasions to avoid food poisoning. It is usually expected that if you dine out you will have some degree of food poisoning the following day. As there simply is no legislation in place to enforce a minimum standard of food preparation and hygiene. Although don't let this stop you from experiencing the many wonders of Indian cuisine.

How do I stay healthy? I simply avoid dairy foods such as cheeses or yoghurt. Avoid any foods that may smell, taste or appear to be off. If dining out I eat minimal amounts of foods that could lead to food poisoning, such as meats. Boil drinking water that is not bottled. Avoid water that isn't bottled or appears to be rebottled. These practices help me to avoid becoming deathly ill. As I certainly have had my fair share of food poisoning whilst living in India. You won't be able to avoid all illness though it will reduce the severity of symptoms by far.

Who else has had the pleasure of dining in Punjab?

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