How to Eat With Your Hands (Rice and Curry)

By Mark Wiens 29 Comments

How to eat rice and curry with your handsHave you ever eaten with your hands?

Of course…

…hot dogs and sandwiches and kebabs and fried chicken…

But, what about a piping hot plate of rice and curry?

Unless you’ve been to Sub-Saharan Africa, parts of central Asia (mostly meaning India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar – around this area of Asia) or the Middle East, eating rice and curry with your hands was probably not the custom.

If you have been to one of these destinations, you’ll have definitely encountered a plate of rice and runny curry with only your natural hands to eat with!

When it comes to Sri Lankan food, the majority of people eat rice with their hands, but eat other dishes with spoons.

To make this article a bit easier I made a quick video while I was in Sri Lanka about how to eat with your hands.

Here are a few steps written out:

1. Wash Your Hands

Whenever a restaurant knows their customers with be digging-in fingers first, they will either have a sink (hopefully with soap), or they will provide a pitcher of water and a bucket for you to rinse off your hands.

In the case of nyama choma, there’s always a pitcher of water to wash your hands before eating.

2. Eat Only with Your Right Hand!

This is important…

Remember the article I wrote a few weeks ago explaining how to use a squat toilet?

Well it just so happens that eating with your fingers and using a squat toilet are two very different tasks that should be conducted with opposite hands.

You right hand is used for eating!

3. Use the Tips of Your Fingers

I often call it eating with your hands, but actually, it’s more about eating with your fingers.

You don’t want to just grab an entire fist-full of rice and curry when you are eating…you want to lightly grab food with the tips and lengths of your fingers.

4. Mix Your Food, Then Grab a Chunk

Even in India and Sri Lanka where silverware sets are available, many still choose to eat rice and curry with their hands.


Because I think it just tastes a little better.

Plus, you can easily play a little bit with your food, mix the rice and sauce to the perfect desired consistency, and feel the food you’re about to eat!

After you mix things around a bit, you sort of smush a chunk together to make it slightly compact before inserting it into your mouth.

Another Note: Eating with my hands while growing up in Africa, I just sort of grabbed food from the plate, however in Sri Lanka it is customary to begin eating from the part of the plate that is closest to you. You then create a little hole of rice in your plate and have a little area to work with (thanks to a video comment on Youtube!).

5. Lower Your Head and Lift Food to Mouth

One technique that works well is to slightly lower your head in a sideways manner – a little more than you would when you’re eating with a spoon.

How to eat with your hands
How to Eat Rice and Curry with Your Hands

6. Push Food into Your Mouth with Your Thumb

The final step before the rice and curry reaches your mouth is to gently release the food into your mouth with your thumb pushing the rice off your finger tips.

If some rice falls, no problem as your head is slightly lower than normal and your plate is immediately below.

Depending on the consistency of the curry your hands will definitely get a little caked in sauces – but that’s alright too, you’ve just got to get used to it!

7. Repeat Until Plate is Clean!

The last step is to continue the process until your plate is completely clean and you are ready to ask for seconds!

Just remember to always use only your right hand, even if you have a piece of roti that you need torn in half, you should do it with just your right hand.

When you’re finally stuffed, wash your hands again and you’re ready to go.

Do you like eating with your hands?


29 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Anna Lieff-Saxby

    5 years ago

    A useful guide. I admire the deftness with which people who’ve grown up eating with their hands display. And if you don’t use utensils, the separation of left and right hand makes complete hygenic sense.

  • Jade

    6 years ago

    it is true, but I am a left hander. However, I do use cutlery most of the time.

  • Megan

    10 years ago

    Eating with your hands is strange at first but actually really fun. I think it makes the food taste better! We went to Sri Lanka in December and wrote about eating with our hands. We’d love if you’d check it out 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Hey Megan, glad you enjoy eating with your hands too. Nice to see your post, will check it out now.

  • John

    11 years ago

    The two gentlemen behind you are both using utensils!

  • Claire

    12 years ago

    The first time I ever ate with my hands was at a wedding in Bangladesh. I was all dressed up in a beautiful sari, and…………..eating with my hands. It was an odd feeling! I didn’t actually care for the experience but when in Rome, right?

    • Mark Wiens

      12 years ago

      Haha, sounds like an interesting experience – thanks for sharing Claire!

  • Raymond @ Man On The Lam

    12 years ago

    My dad always used to say, “Fingers were made before forks…”

    I’m in Tomohon, Indonesia right now and hands are definitely the eating instrument of choice!

  • Erin

    12 years ago

    It does take some getting used to but I enjoyed eating curry and rice with my hands in Sri Lanka and India.

  • Yomadic Nate

    12 years ago

    I have one serious question. If you have naan, or bread, or similar, can you use your left hand to assist in breaking the bread up? You need two hands to break bread. Does that mean, the whole “use only one hand” thing goes out the window?

    • Carrie

      12 years ago

      I was just about to ask the same thing. 😀

    • Mark Wiens

      12 years ago

      Cool, thanks Carrie!

    • Mark Wiens

      12 years ago

      Hey Nate, in reality, you should try to break your naan or other bread using your same right hand. This could differ by country / culture, but from places I’ve been, it’s most proper to use just one hand – though I sometimes cheat a bit… I’m not an expert, still practicing!

    • Yomadic Nate

      12 years ago

      Thanks Mark, I enjoy eating curry with my hands, but wasn’t sure about the “bread etiquette”. Practice makes perfect!

    • Mark Wiens

      12 years ago

      Cool, hope you are doing well now!

    • Bhusha

      10 years ago

      Not really, almost all indian breads like the naan, chapati, or roti can be broken with one hand. The trick is to pinch the edge of the bread with your forefinger, keep the remaining three fingers on the bread to establish a grip and pull (with your thumb the pinched part). Then use the pice of bread (which you broke off) to scoop the curry or the cooked the vegetable, bend down a little, not too much and insert the bread into the mouth by pushing it gently with your thumb. Usually novices and toddlers use both hands. Eating with the right hand is good practice, but not a must (only excused if you are left handed). To practise, you can use a slice of bread, though it will not be as flexible as a chapati or roti. Using this technique who get you throughout India where indian breads are eAten

  • 2summers

    12 years ago

    When I went to India, I had a terrible time trying to eat with my right hand. I am left-handed and my right hand is completely uncoordinated. Tearing bread was especially impossible. I usually gave up and asked for silverware 🙂

    • Danu

      12 years ago

      You can eat with your left hand.. right hand is not a must but it’s a good practice… some of my friends who are left-handed use their left hand for eating.. btw I’m a Sri Lankan

    • Mark Wiens

      12 years ago

      Cool, thanks for sharing Danu – that’s really good to know for left handers!

    • Andy

      9 years ago

      I am from Nepal. n this is how it is in all the countries in the east.

      You normally do not eat with your left hand, as it’s used to wipe your ass after toilet. 😛

    • Mark Wiens

      12 years ago

      Thanks for leaving a comment of your experience. Since, I’m right handed, I can only imagine eating with my “left” hand, it would definitely be a struggle!