Breaking down the art of eating out of a banana leaf (Vazhayila)
Through this article, I would like to make it up to our dearest vazhayila (banana leaf) for all the times a few of my North Indian friends attempted eating out of it using a spoon. I apologise to you, I know it tore you apart!
The feeling of devouring a neatly packed pothichoru during a train journey, digging into a moist kizhi porotta that has soaked up all the goodness of beef, or burning our fingers a little while we try to steal a bite of a piping hot meen pollichathu, all of this boils down to a single emotion.
If there is a synonym for multi-purpose it is ‘banana leaf’. Looking to serve food the most eco-friendly way there is? An alternative for plastic packaging? In this fast-moving world where almost everyone is a part of the rat race, vazhayila could be that friend who could save you from the biggest household challenge – ‘Dish Washing!’.
Let us now break it down:
- Though most of us may have turned to spoons and forks, there is this one time it just wouldn’t work and that is when you are dining out of a leaf. The edges of any cutlery would tear the leaf open and a delicious meal would dissipate. Dining using our hand is considered disgraceful and impolite in many parts of the world but has multiple benefits like improving digestion, helping us with portion control and also makes food more delicious! YESS, it is true.
- There is no hard and fast rule on what should be served on a banana leaf, though one wouldn’t be stupid enough to serve steak on it, maybe you could try and let me know in comments on how that went? Anything that you could easily relish using your fingers can be served on a banana leaf. Yes, you can serve non-vegetarian dishes too.
- No matter how spotless and green it looks, make sure you clean the leaf yourself once before they serve your food. Sprinkle some water on the leaf and wipe it with your cleansed palm.
- If you have long fingernails, you will have to be extra patient with your meal. Take your time, do not tear the leaves open and try to be okay with the tiny green strands of the leaf that get mixed with your food. IT IS NOT GOING TO MAKE YOU FALL SICK.
- If the idea is to use the banana leaf as a packaging material then make sure you apply heat by moving it at a distance above an open fire so that it becomes flexible and does not split open. For added protection, wrap the package with newspaper.
- The banana leaf is placed in a way that the tapered end of it is to your left.
- As per the Hindu custom, when funerary rites are performed, the ‘pindas’ (balls made of rice and sesame seeds) are placed on an empty leaf thrice, thus while serving a traditional meal, rice is never served first nor in threes.
- It is a good practice to always pick up your leaf once you are done with your meal. You can omit this step if it is a wedding.
- When it comes to folding the leaf, there are numerous sentiments attached to it. It differs between states, occasion associated with the meal, indication of contentment, while the basic science behind it might be otherwise. Did you get confused? So is everyone.
- It is more or less a Tamil tradition to fold your leaves as per the occasion. Fold the leaf towards you if the event is a joyous one like marriage, birthday, festival etc. Fold it away from you if the meal was served during a funeral or an occasion related to death.
- The way the leaf is folded can also be treated as an indicator of how satisfied one is with the meal that was served. A leaf folded towards you signifies that you were content and if it is overlapped against you, you convey that you weren’t satisfied.
- The basic science would be to fold it against you as there could be leftovers on your leaf and by doing so, you save yourself from it spilling over.
Those of you who have been a part of the ‘hail banana leaf’ community (just kidding), please do let me know if this article was useful for you. For those who are yet to soak in the idea and experience a new culture, let’s take it one bite at a time.
Also here are a few other articles/blogs about the art of dining on a banana leaf that I found really interesting:
- How to create an at-home banana leaf dining experience by Pairs Well With…
- The art of dining on a banana leaf by The New Indian Express
- 7 reasons why you must always eat on banana leaves by Times Of India
- The South Indian banana leaf story by Mumbai Foodie