Sunday, July 27, 2014

Etiquette for Dining and Tea in India

"Every second soiree or intimate gathering in the city is themed on a high tea. And although hosts call it high tea, more often than not they end up serving the regular Hyderabadi fare — chai, biscuits and crisp samosas."

Some Basic Indian Dining Etiquette 

  • Not known for their own punctuality, Indians expect foreigners to arrive close to the appointed time for which they have been invited. 
  • Depending upon the circumstances and occasions, Indians enjoy entertaining in their homes, private clubs, restaurants, and other public venues. Dress modestly and conservatively. Remove your shoes before entering a house.
  • Politely turn down the first offer of snacks, tea or coffee. You will be asked again and again. Your saying "no" to the first invitation to eat or drink, is part of your visit's protocol.  
  • Be aware that India has some diverse religious dietary restrictions. These restrictions greatly affect the foods that your are served. Sikhs do not eat beef. Hindus do not eat beef either. Many are vegetarians. Muslims do not drink alcohol, nor do they eat pork. Many hosts and hostesses serve foods to avoid the meat restrictions of the various religious groups. Chicken, lamb and fish are the most commonly served main courses at non-vegetarian meals. 
  • Wait to be told where you should sit.  
  • You may be asked to wash your hands before and after sitting down to a meal, as much Indian food is eaten with one's fingers. Always use your right hand to eat, whether you are using utensils or your fingers.
  • If utensils are used, they are generally a fork and a tablespoon. Table manners can feel somewhat formal, based on the religious beliefs of the various groups. 
  • Guests are often served in a particular order: the guest of honour is served first, followed by the men, and the children are served last. Women will typically serve the men and then eat later. 
  • In some situations, you may be allowed to serve yourself from a communal bowl. In others, the food may be put on your plate for you. 
  • If you leave a small amount of food on your plate, it is an indication that you are satisfied. If you finish all of the food served to you, it appears that you are still hungry, and is an insult to one's host. 

How To Do a High Tea in India


"If you thought throwing a high tea was just another regular affair, think again. We give you a dummy's guide on how to host the perfect high tea.
 
Every second soiree or intimate gathering in the city is themed on a high tea. And although hosts call it high tea, more often than not they end up serving the regular Hyderabadi fare — chai, biscuits and crisp samosas. Like every party, the high tea too calls for certain dos and don'ts. Socialite Vinita Pittie, who is known for throwing some of the best high teas in the P3 circuit, gives you a lowdown on the basic high tea etiquette. 
To begin with, the correct timings for a high tea is between 5 pm to 7 pm, anytime before or after that is considered a low tea. Also, it's not elegant to call someone home for a high tea and serve them regular chai with just 'two' biscuits on the plate. If that's what you plan on serving, then don't call it a high tea. Just say a tea and cracker session. 
One common mistake which everyone tends to make during a high tea is serving dishes that are appropriate for dinner. Many hosts like to serve chola bhatura and samosas for high tea. While there is no rule that this doesn't fit in the menu, but it would make sense to keep the portions bite-sized. 
Some of them even tend to have live cooking sessions. This is a terrible idea. Nobody likes waiting for food, so by the time you fry your hot vada or even make a quick bhel puri, guests are tired of waiting and simply skip it. 
Three Tier Stand for Afternoon Tea at the Taj Mahal Hotel ~ For a High Tea, "Keep the menu simple with half the items that compliment each other. For example, don't serve a Lebanese spread with jelabis for dessert or an English spread with Italian pasta." 
Ladies usually focus on serving a lavish spread. The general misconception is 'more, the merrier'. But this is where they tend to overdo it. You don't need 20 items with contrasting flavours on the menu. Instead, keep the menu simple with half the items that compliment each other. For example, don't serve a Lebanese spread with jelabis for dessert or an English spread with Italian pasta. Some people like having fruits in the evening, so it's good to keep a bowl of fresh fruits for them. 
The best platter of refreshments would be two or three varieties of finger foods (spicy chips, cutlets, nachos, cookies), two varieties of light but filling savoury snacks (sandwiches, pakoras) and a sweet (cupcakes, kalakand, barfis). Heavier fare like pulav, curd-rice and rasmalai are a strict no-no. Salads and tea are not a good pairing. 
Never-ever serve fizzy drinks as a welcome drink, unless someone requests for one. Apart from the regular tea, one should include at least three varieties of teas — green, oolong and fruit. Remember, not everyone likes hot drinks, and hence, it's always a good idea to stock up on cold drinks like sherbets and squashes. You can even serve a fancy sorbet with fruity flavours.
The hostess should not invite more than she can chew. Every invitee should know at least two people in the group. Dainty china is the best crockery. Serve food on tiny, delicate dessert plates. Light music, aroma candles and fresh flowers add to a perfect ambiance. 
If you are a guest, don't slurp your tea or sip your tea from a spoon. Swallow your food before you sip your tea. Never swirl the tea around in the cup as if it were a wine glass. Don't use your napkin to blow your nose. Finally, it's all about good food, good people and good conversations. The success depends on how good a time you've had." As told to Dipika Pillay for The Times of India

Darjeeling, "The Champagne of Tea" 

A rock garden in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India
"Flying to a remote corner of India and braving the long drive into the Himalayas may seem like an awful lot of effort for a good cup of tea, but Darjeeling tea isn't simply good. It's about the best in the world, fetching record prices at auctions in Calcutta and Shanghai, and kick-starting the salivary glands of tea lovers from London to Manhattan.

In fact, Darjeeling is so synonymous with high-quality black tea that few non-connoisseurs realize it's not one beverage but many: 87 tea estates operate in the Darjeeling district, a region that sprawls across several towns (including its namesake) in a mountainous corner of India that sticks up between Nepal and Bhutan, with Tibet not far to the north.

Each has its own approach to growing tea, and in a nod to increasingly savvy and adventurous consumers, a few have converted bungalows into tourist lodging, while others are accepting day visitors keen to learn the production process, compare styles and improve their palates — a teetotaler's version of a Napa Valley wine tour, but with no crowds."
NY Times, 2007