Hygiene and Health
A Look back at the Traditional Kitchen Etiquettes
Long ago, the earthen
stove was used for cooking the food naturally. It was usually made up of clay
and a chimney stood above the stove to expel the smoke. It was fired either with
cow dung patties or twigs. The twigs would be collected by the household ladies
when they went out to fetch water from the river or well. They were stored
separately at different places and brought in only before the process of
cooking. Few people also drew kolam in front of the stove which brought
in auspiciousness and reminded of the almighty. The act of cooking was not just
done to barely satisfy hunger, but it was performed as a ritual, as an offering
to God himself and the offered food was considered a prasad. This
awareness reminded people not to waste it.
Every night the lady in the house would sweep the entire kitchen, the cleaned vessels were kept in the kitchen and the stoves were cleared of the half-burnt woods and ashes. They would then get up in the morning, have a bath, pray to God, come to the kitchen, light the stove, and then start to cook. The eating place would be completely sprinkled with water and wiped clean before people were made to sit down and eat. Those were the times when your nails had to be kept clean and no long nails were permitted.
There was a small
portrait of the Goddess always inside the kitchen. The food was first offered
to Goddess Annapoorani or Ishta devata before anyone could taste it. The
assortment of food was usually served on a banana leaf on the days of
celebration and festival times. On normal days, the plates replaced the banana
leaf. The vessels with food would be kept right next to the person who is
eating and there would be someone who would serve the food with right hand. People
who were eating were not allowed to do self-service.
One would be restrained from entering the kitchen and have breakfast, sans bath. No one could overstep this unwritten rule. While eating slurping noises were to be avoided. Not much of conversations were permitted, because it was considered not a good habit, and sometimes choked the person, if minuscule food particles entered the windpipe. People were asked to chew the food properly and eat. Wastage was completely abhorred, as it was considered a prasad. Sometimes a small portion of the food were left out in the corner of leaf for other living beings.
Every time the food
was served during a lunch little bit of salt was placed in the corner. Each
group of people belonging to a set of philosophy would begin by serving one
particular item. For example: one sect would begin by serving rice, another
would serve everything else first and rice later. Sometime jocular exchanges were
made, “You know, we serve rice first, we don’t have any suspense, but when you serve,
we don’t know what’s gonna come next!” When rice was cooked, it was first
offered to God; then to a crow, which is considered to impersonate forefathers;
and only then it was served to family members.
All the vessels, after
the process of serving, are left at the backyard of the house for cleaning.
After everyone had eaten food, the place was once again cleaned by sprinkling
water, and smoke of the benzoin (sambrani) is spread throughout the house to
maintain the pleasantness and positivity. Ladies of the house wear a set of
clothes while cooking and they change their attire while the food is being
served. This system was followed in several households those days.
Even while drinking
pudding, milk, or water they did not let the tumbler touch their lips. It was
considered an unhealthy practice to sip the tumbler because they knew that
there were possibilities to transmit germs by the act. Spilling food while
eating was considered to be an unhygienic habit. Children were taught not to
spill food while eating from an early age. People were requested to keep their
mind calm and physique tidy before they settled for having food. Generally,
everyone ate the first serving politely and comments were only shared after it.
In a traditional kitchen, importance was given to cleanliness as much as it was given to a balanced diet. People washed their hands properly before eating and if they had gone out for work, they washed both their hands and feet. These were some of the etiquettes followed in a traditional kitchen to prevent contamination and spread of germs.
On auspicious days,
the various foods prepared were first offered to the Supreme with neither a
thought of tasting it nor smelling the aroma of delicacies. There would be a Kamakshi
lamp inside the kitchen which was most of the times kept alive and the fire
from the lamp was used to ignite the stove. There was always some kind of
snacks, fruits, or savories available in a traditional kitchen and no one would
be allowed to starve at any point of time. The humbleness and innocence of
people, who belonged to ancient times were evident when they thanked Maata
Annapoorani for providing them the day’s meal. They considered the food to
be the gift of God.
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