One of the great honors in India is getting invited home for a meal. It is a sincere expression of friendship and a fantastic way to build some high-level relational capital.
But getting invited is just the first step. Now an even bigger challenge awaits you, one that no one has ever conquered before in the India experience.
Eating enough food to make your host happy.
When you eat with an Indian family, and especially when the mother, or woman of the house, has prepared the meal, you want to make her happy. She is very happy when you eat plenty of food.
But this brings up one of the most difficult Catch-22’s I’ve ever encountered. The host is happy when you eat all the food on your plate. But if you eat all the food, you immediately get another full plate. However, if you do not eat all the food, the host is sad because it suggests you don’t like the food.
To make it worse, the host has an extremely short memory. Even if you are working on your fourth plate, and you can’t finish it or your stomach will burst, the host may still think you didn’t like it. The number of plates you eat doesn’t count. The only plate that matters is the one in front of you. If it’s empty, you get more. If it’s not empty, you didn’t like it. (This is an extreme generalization.)
So how do you make your host happy while not consuming more food than at a hot dog eating contest?
Remember to be a Good God
Being a gracious guest in India means at its foundation that you allow your host to treat you like a god. It is an honor for them to feed you, so your aim should not be to sneak out with as little food as possible. Your primary motivation should be to allow the family to serve you and enjoy it the meal. However, there are a few ways you can do this while keeping your potions down to Grizzly-Bear size.
10 Ways to Eat Without Exploding
1. Mentally prepare to eat a lot
Don’t kid yourself; you are going to be eating a ton of food. It’s better to accept it first and figure out how to manage it along the way.
2. Relieve yourself of the pressure to make your host 100% happy
As explained above, this is an impossible task. It’s much better to shoot for 80% or 90%. You will have to stop at some point, and it’s ok if you leave with the host thinking, “He/she was very nice, but doesn’t eat so well.”
3. Only eat when someone is in front of you
Food eaten out of sight does not count. Don’t grab a quick bite when no one is in the room. If everyone has left for some reason, stop eating until they come back.
4. Never serve yourself
It is customary for your host to serve the food onto your plate, although it is ok to serve yourself in some situations. To guard your stomach capacity, limit yourself only to what others put on your plate.
5. You have to earn the right to refuse food
The first time you visit a family, they won’t accept your protestations very well. However, if you’ve been there a few times, they will be more willing to give you less.
6. Be careful what you compliment
Whatever you praise, you get more of. Don’t go overboard in talking about how every part of the meal was amazing. Praising certain dishes is great, but limit yourself to those things that you know you can handle more of.
7. Learn the local word for ‘enough’ and say it early and often
In Tamil, the word is ‘pothum’. From the first time I get food put on my place, I say “Pothum, pothum, pothum.” They give me as much as they want regardless. I say the triad again the second time. By the third time, they think I might be serious and let up a little bit.
8. Pace, pace, pace
If you really like something served early on, remember that a lot more food is coming. Limit yourself on the early dishes to save room for later. Don’t forget that no meal is complete without tea or coffee at the end.
9. It’s easier to say no to a snack than to a meal
If you are staying at the home for a while, you may get offered a snack before the meal. No matter how good the snack tastes, don’t eat too much. It is acceptable to refuse a snack, but you have no option when it comes to the meal.
10. ‘Dieting’ is not a restriction
If you have any dietary restrictions, let them know ahead of time and they will do their best to accommodate. However, the most offensive reason you can give is “I am on a diet”. Make sure other people in the family know about any restrictions and they will help you in refusing some of the food.
Eating with an Indian family is a fantastic experience everyone should have, but it is a challenge on the stomach. What other tips have you found for eating a lot of food in India?
Image Credit: sherrymain on Flickr