Savoring Tradition: The Art of Eating with Hands in Southeast Asia

Savoring Tradition: The Art of Eating with Hands in Southeast Asia

If you visit Southeast Asia, don't be surprised if you see many people eating with their hands, without using a spoon, fork or chopsticks. In Southeast Asia, the custom of eating with your hands dates back to ancient times and is still a common practice in many parts of the region. 

The tradition of eating with the fingers can also be found in the Middle East, India, and almost all of Southeast Asia except Vietnam. This is because the Chinese influence in Vietnam is greater than in other countries in the region.

To pick up food, especially rice, the thumb and fingertips are used to place a small amount of rice on one side of the plate and form it into a clump. The fingertips then act as a rough spoon shape, and the thumb is used to push the lump onto the spoon. 

While eating with your hands is often associated with cultural values such as togetherness, sharing, and respect for food, some people in the West have also considered it an "uncivilized," "unsanitary," and even "cannibalistic" act. However, these notions have now become the epitome of deep cultural acceptance. 

People are increasingly recognizing the values of togetherness, sharing, and respect for food that are reflected in every spoonful of food taken with the fingertips. On the other hand, scientific research has shown that eating with your hands can not only enhance the taste of food, but also improve the overall sensory experience.

This phenomenon occurs because the nerve endings in our fingers signal the brain that we are about to eat. The message is then relayed to the stomach, which begins to prepare for digestion by releasing the necessary enzymes.

Interestingly, a study published in the Journal Appetite suggests that eating with your hands may contribute to digestive health because of the good bacteria on everyone's fingers. Every food contains microbes that can be harmful to the body in the long run, but because they are so small, they are invisible even when there are many of them.

However, the presence of good bacteria on our fingers can counteract the side effects of these harmful microbes. Therefore, eating with your hands is preferable to using a spoon or fork, as long as your hands are clean.

Eating with your hands has even more benefits, such as improving blood circulation, preventing overeating, and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. The habit of eating with our hands tends to make us eat more slowly and feel full more quickly. As a result, we don't rush through our meals, which prevents overeating and even helps us control our weight to stay healthy.

Southeast Asian dishes, which are usually eaten with the hands, consist mainly of rice, curries, vegetables and sauces. People use their fingertips to mix the ingredients and then spoon them into their mouths.

While there are no specific rules for eating with your hands in Southeast Asia, it is important to wash your hands thoroughly before and after eating and to use your right hand to eat your food.

Eating with your hands is also associated with religious practices, such as Islam and Hinduism. In Islam, eating with the hands using 3 fingers is a Sunnah recommended to its followers. For Hindus, on the other hand, eating with your hands has a deep spiritual dimension. In their religion, each finger is believed to symbolize one of the five elements: earth, wind, air, fire and water. By combining these elements, they create a deeper connection with the food they eat.

Overall, the practice of eating with one's hands in Southeast Asia is deeply intertwined with the traditions and cultural values of the region. It is a unique aspect of Southeast Asia's culinary heritage and reflects the importance of togetherness, sharing and respect for food in local cultures. Eating with your hands also has a positive effect on your body.

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