Eating in Nepal or with Nepalis? Consider these cultural norms though they seem illogical

Being Nepali means one has a lot of cultural values, but they also come with some absurd beliefs and superstitious stories. The scriptures and stories passed down for generations have seemed all-natural that most Nepalis so far listen to and believe in. Nepalis are also big foodies, yet there are many additional cultural norms that exist in Nepali society around the food or misconceptions they believe in while eating. If you are eating in Nepal or with Nepalis, you can consider following them to avoid any cultural misunderstanding.

1. No eating food during eclipses

no eating in nepali during a solar eclipse
An annular solar eclipse as seen from Kathmandu, on Sunday, June 21, 2020.

Most Nepalis have probably heard elders caution them not to eat during any solar or lunar eclipse. Cooking is also prohibited during an eclipse. This is due to a popular superstition that Nepali communities that eating during an eclipse will affect the food. This meal will cause stomach trouble and indigestion. Hence, if you are eating in Nepal, in particular with the senior citizens, avoid eclipses.

2. Do not use the left hand

left handed eating in nepal
Representational image. Photo: Pexels/ YEŞ

People in Nepal eat with their right hands most of the time, scooping and feeding themselves. But it is believed that you should only use your right hand to eat, pass food and clean your mouth. Because the left hand is either considered unhygienic or inauspicious, food is not considered worthy of being eaten or handled with the left hand. Some left-handers, however, eat with the same hand.

3. Once food touches your lips, it’s impure (jutho)

Wolfgang Korn eating Nepali food.
Wolfgang Korn eating Nepali food. Photo: Courtesy Wolfgang Korn

If you are eating in Nepal, this is something you must know. In the Nepali tradition, touching food with your lips is considered jutho or impure. As a result, Nepali people do not consume meals that others have consumed. There are other superstitions around this, such as developing sores on the sides of your lips once you eat such food.

This is also why you should never cook with uncleaned or jutho utensils. Tasting directly from the utensils you are cooking is also prohibited as per the tradition.

Many older individuals want a more pure dining experience. Before or after eating, people usually clean the space because people believe that eating where other people have eaten is unsanitary or unreligious.

4. You should not eat plain white rice only

Rice culture in nepal: The staple food of Nepal
Rice: The staple food of Nepal

There is a belief about eating in Nepal that plain white rice should not be eaten since it is only done after someone in the family has died. It is customary in Nepali culture that the bereaved family avoids salt and eats only white rice with milk, dairy products and sugar. 

It is also believed that when a person dies, their soul must proceed to the next realm/lifetime. With its spiritual capabilities of absorbing energy, salt may interfere with the process of passing on by taking necessary spiritual energy from the just departed soul and “weakening” them, making it much more difficult for them to reach where they need to go.

While eating in Nepal, if you are to mourn for someone, remember to avoid salt, but also remember its health impact.

5. Do not put your hand on your head while eating 

woman in distress
Photo: Pexels/ Andrea Piacquadio

It is claimed that supporting your head with your hand while eating is deemed disrespectful or unsanitary. Since ancient times, it has been thought that if you eat with your left hand supporting your head, your enemy would steal all of your food. This culture may just exist to encourage optimal eating posture, so no harm in following it while eating in Nepal.

Eating with your head supported is also considered impolite to the chef since it gives the impression that the dish is monotonous or uninteresting in some way. It is also a good habit not to support yourself with your left hand. It is also said that it will make you lazy.

6. You should not eat before your elders

Newa Bhoj
Newa Bhoj organised by Fairfield by Marriott. File Photo: Fairfield by Marriott

Many communities in Nepal believe in this old culture. While this culture has gradually faded in recent years, many people, in both rural and urban areas, continue to practise it while eating in Nepal. 

Eating before elders are regarded as rude in these cultures. This is because seniors are held in high regard in such societies and must be treated professionally even in casual settings such as family dinners. Because of this line of thought, they must not be surpassed in the eating sequence.

To respect the belief, you also may want to prioritise your seniors while eating in Nepal.

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