Answering The Why’s and How’s to Food in India

விருந்துச் சாப்பாடு – Tamil Feast

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You have just toiled out in the fields, covered in sweat. The long journey home starts and you can’t wait to devour the delectable foods that await at home, even with the understanding that once the food is all finished, you’ll be heading right back to the fields. The journey home is finally finished, taking shoes off and washing hands, you go and sit down in the Padmasana pose. The food finally arrives, you dig in with your hands and feast on the food. You get up, wash your hands, slip your shoes back on and head out, this time with a full stomach. This is just one normal day in the life of an Indian farmer. Indian food and traditions are widely practiced but many people do not know the science behind these traditions and others don’t know these traditions. Because of this, I decided to research some main staple foods such as sambar and rasam and the science behind why they are so good for the body. I also decided to research some century-old Indian traditions and the science behind why in India, we sit in a Padmasana (Criss Cross) pose, why we eat with our hands and also the sequence that food is eaten in.

In India, during any meal, we always sit in a Sukhasana/Padmasana (Criss Cross). There are 9 main reasons for this. The first reason is that it calms the mind down. When you sit in a Padmasana pose, it applies pressure to lower spine which helps with relaxation by lowering stress hormones and relaxing your muscles. While this is happening, when you sit in a Padmasana pose you rock back and forth. Then, while rocking back and forth stomach acids such as bile are secreted. This leads to chemical digestion where the enzymes break down the food into smaller chunks and these smaller chunks enter the small intestine. In the small intestine, vitamins and minerals in the food are absorbed. Next, the large intestine absorbs the water from the undigested masses to maintain homeostasis. Eventually, the food is secreted. Although there are many more reasons, the final main reason why you eat in a Padmasana pose is that it aids in mindful eating. While eating the food, you concentrate on all the senses and how the food is affecting them. The smell of the food, the visual appeal, how it feels on your hands and how it tastes. This not only helps you to calm down and focus on the food, but you can also mindfully make better choices about what your eating.

Another age-old Indian tradition that is followed while eating a meal is the well-known fact that you should eat with your hands. One of the main reasons is an Indian spiritual belief. In the Vedas (Indian Book of rules and rituals similar to a bible) eating is supposed to evoke passion and emotion which can only be activated when you use your hands to feel the food. Each finger is an extension of the five essential elements: your forefinger is air, the thumb is space, the middle finger is fire, ring finger is water, and pinky is earth. When you use your five fingers, you are essentially using the five elements and bringing into using your digestive juices to improve digestion. Also, while you’re using hands to eat the food, the pressure receptors in your fingers warn your brain that food is coming which prepares your body for the food mentally and physically. Alongside the receptors that are stimulated in your finger, your other senses are also stimulated which make you more aware of the food. Another reason why we eat with our hands is that it helps control how much you eat. This happens because when you eat with hands, it takes a longer time to eat which controls how much you eat. Also, you are also more aware of the process of the transition of food from the plate to your mouth and awareness is key to control. Finally, eating with your hands is also more hygienic. When using hands to eat, you can trust your hands to be clean because you have the power to wash them, but you don’t know how clean a fork or knife will be at a restaurant.

Order in which South Indians eat food and the health benefits of each food

The order in which the three main dishes are consumed is, first the sambar and rice, then the rasam and rice and finally, the curd or yogurt rice. The sambar rice is eaten first because when proteins in the sambar are ingested, hydrochloric acids are released which are vital to protein digestion. The rasam is then eaten to further assist the breakdown of the proteins in the sambar. Then finally, the curd helps digests the remaining proteins left while stopping bad bacteria from thriving. The curd also soothes and cools the palate after spicy dishes like the rasam. These are the reasons that Indian food is eaten in this specific order.

Alongside the order in which the Indians eat the food, there are various health benefits in each dish. Sambar is a high protein dish which helps repair and grows muscles because that is the job of protein in the body. The sambar also contains many fiber-rich vegetables such as, drumsticks, pumpkin, eggplant, and tomatoes which positively impact your cholesterol and heart conditions. Because this dish is dal based, it also has many vitamins and minerals that are good for the body: Iron, Zinc, Folate, and Magnesium. The various spices in sambar are tamarind, curry leaves, red pepper, mustard seeds and turmeric which all aid in the digestion process and immune system. Next is the rasam, which contains a variety of vitamins and minerals. The four main vitamins are Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Thiamine Ion, and Riboflavin. On the other hand, some of the minerals in the rasam are Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc, Iron, Calcium, and Selenium. Aside from the vitamins and minerals, rasam helps lose weights because it flushes out toxins in your body and helps speeds up your metabolism. It also has antioxidants which help keep your skin healthy. Finally, the other extremely beneficial dish is the thayeir/yogurt. Yogurt has more protein and health benefits than milk because of it more concentrated and less water so the number of protein and calcium. Also, while eating, the yogurt helps bind the rice and curry together to make it easier to eat with your hands and cools your mouth after spicy dishes like sambar and rasam.

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