Eating on a Banana Leaf
Food on a banana leaf
What does eating on a banana leaf mean?
Simply speaking, eating on a banana leaf means just eating food served on a banana leaf. However, there is more to it than gorging delicious food placed on a fresh green banana leaf. This may sound weird to most of us who have been accustomed to being served food in ceramic or paper plates, but the practice of eating on banana leaves is quite common. In places such as South India and some parts of South East Asia like Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar and Thailand, eating food served on a banana leaf forms an important part of social customs and traditions. Yes, I know what you are thinking folks, no more washing the dishes. For all the lazy dudes out there, this should be a good reason to start eating on a banana leaf. Hold up though! Don't start chucking your plates out the window yet!
Food served on a banana leaf
Eating food served on a banana leaf is a humble experience
Why should you eat on a banana leaf?
From the nature lover perspective:
Have you ever thought about how much processing goes into the manufacture of a ceramic plate? Heat is a necessary process involved in its manufacture and heat equals energy consumed. All energy is dirty. The banana leaf is the perfect plate provided by nature. It is completely natural and 100% biodegradable. Banana trees are found in abundance in tropical areas and most households have at least a single plant in their courtyards. They have absolutely no cost. There are no harmful chemicals or colors on a banana leaf. The entire plant is consumable. The stem is consumed as a vegetable and so is the fruit and the flower. The leaves are used as plates. This plant has more utility than most of the gadgets we buy!
From the foodie perspective:
Every body likes food served on a banana leaf. It is fresh, clean and more hygienic than a hot plate. Food served on a banana leaf tastes better and fresh. In fact, the food acquires a subtle, distinct sweet aroma and taste when placed on a banana leaf. The best aspect of all this which a foodie really likes is, he doesn't have to clean the dishes after eating. He can just settle down for a good snore!
An Indian meal served on a banana leaf is traditionally called a thaali. You can have a North Indian or a South Indian thaali.
How to eat an Indian meal on a banana leaf?
There is a process or a sequence which a person is expected to follow in order to enjoy a delicious meal on a banana leaf. It is not mandatory to follow the procedure and you can still eat in any way you want, but the sequence is a part of the experience. If you really don't like people telling you how to eat your food, hey, you can do anything you want, even eat the banana leaf itself.(Caution! This last statement is a joke. Don't take it seriously. The banana leaf is inedible).
- Wash your hands well. All meals served on a banana leaf are eaten by hand and this is not just a traditional thing. Using cutlery can rip the delicate membrane of the leaf.
- First of all, when the banana leaf is placed before you, you need to wash it. Sprinkle some water on the leaf and use your hand to gently wipe the surface. Tilt your leaf to drain the excess water. If you are in a good restaurant, the leaf may already be washed and it may come with food already served on it. So don't bother with this step in that case. However, if you are eating at a more traditional venue, you have to wash the leaf.
- Wait for the food to be served. In most traditional Indian meals, the dessert is served first. You could start eating it or you could just save it for the end. No pressure.
- After the dessert is served, next come the curries. You could have several vegetarian or non vegetarian curries served. Don't start eating them yet as they are meant to be eaten with the rice.
- Next, the rice is served. Mix your rice with one of the curries and start eating. Do not mix all the curries together as this will ruin the unique taste of each dish. All the dishes served including the rice are refillable usually for no extra charge. Think of bottomless coke!
- Once you are through the curries, the traditional Indian liquid soups are served. These are not meant to be consumed like soup, but like the curries, they should be mixed with the rice. Take care not to go for too much soup in one go as it could overflow your banana leaf and spill. Probably the only disadvantage of a banana leaf is, it has no rim.
- Once you are done with the soup and rice, you are given yogurt. Typically Indian dishes are spicy and therefore yogurt is eaten to soothe digestion.
- Finally after you complete the yogurt and any leftover dessert, you need to fold the leaf. If you are satisfied with the meal, fold the top part of the leaf towards yourself. If you are not happy, then fold the bottom edge of the leaf away from you. Symbolism at work.
A typical Indian meal on banana leaf
Next time you come across an opportunity to eat on a banana leaf, grab it. It is a unique form of experience which you will not come across often. Unless of course you wanna hunt for banana leaves back home and eat KFC chicken on it! Remember the tips above and follow them. You will not only enjoy a delicious meal but also earn the respect of people who follow this tradition.