"Why do Indians eat with their hands?" Westerners often have this question for those of South Asian descent. They feel that it is uncultured and uncivilized for people to eat with their bare hands. The people of the West have their forks, spoons, and knives, while the East Asians have their chopsticks. They wonder why, even in this day and age, Indians insist on eating with their hands.
Ask any Indian, and he will say that in order to completely enjoy Indian food, it must be eaten with one's fingers. Most Indians maintain that eating food with the hands is far easier than eating with cutlery no matter how habituated one may be to using forks, spoons, or knives. In defense of the practice of eating with the fingers it may be said that this leads to a certain minimum level of hygiene. It forces people to wash their hands before and after meals.
Moreover, many Indian foods such as naan or roti (types of flat bread) are best eaten in this way. What Indians do is that they break the bread, dip it in one of the condiments -- curry or chutney -- before eating it. Rice is customarily blended with curries so that each mouthful is unique. One point to note is that in the past, meals were served on banana leaves. Using forks or knives to blend curry and rice on banana leaves would have only resulted in shredding the leaves. Eating with the fingers was definitely a better bet in those days!
One thing that should be noted is that Indians eat only with the right hand. The left hand is considered unclean, and eating with it is frowned upon. However, while serving food or while passing a dish to someone else, it is the left hand that should be used.
Despite the basic rules of eating being the same, a number of differences arise on moving from one region to another. For instance, in northern India it is impolite to dirty more than the first two segments of the fingers. Since Northerners eat a lot of breads and generally have drier curries, this does not pose too much difficulty. However, in the South, where people eat a lot more rice and enjoy soupy curries, it can get somewhat messier.
There is a philosophy behind this Indian practice of eating with the fingers. In India, eating is perceived as being a sensual activity. The idea is that one should be able to enjoy the process of eating with as many of the senses as possible – taste, smell, sight, and touch. Ask any Indian, and he will say that Indian food tastes best when eaten with the fingers.