Remember your mother saying, “get your fingers off that food!” Or something similar? Most westerners grow up being told NOT to eat with their hands, but when you travel to Nepal, get ready for some finger-licking Nepali Thali! It’s actually polite to eat with your hands in Nepal, and it’s what the locals do. However, you will garner much respect if you decline the “champcha” (spoon you will be offered with every meal) and scoop up that rice and curry with your fingers and just eat it.
There’s a bit of a technique involved, and you may have to practice a bit, but basically, you scoop with your 4 fingers, bring the food up to your mouth and push it into your mouth with your thumb.
There are a few other rules to remember while eating.
1) Always wash your hands before and after eating.
2) Be sure your finger nails are trimmed very short.
3) NEVER eat or take food with your left hand.
4) Never eat off of someone else’s plate, or take food from another’s plate.
5) If offered water from a communal water jug, never let it touch your lips. Just tilt your head back and poor it in.
6) Don’t lean on your left hand (or let it touch the ground) while eating. If sitting on the ground, sit cross legged with your plate in front of you.
7) The host or waiter will always offer you more of each dish and put each item on your plate separately. So, if you don’t want anymore, let them know. In Nepal, it is impolite and actually bad luck to waste food.
8) There are still people of some Nepali castes who will not eat with others, including tourists, so depending on where you are (especially in remote regions like Dolpo) you may encounter this. Just accept that their beliefs are not the same, and enjoy your food.
9) Get a Nepali phrase book, or a Lonely Planet Guide for Nepal and memorize the “food words” — this will come in very handy because you gotta eat!
10) Be wary of outdoor food vendors (like on the streets of Kathmandu), drinking un-purified water (especially while trekking in Nepal), or anything you even suspect might unsanitary. Food borne illness is very common in Nepal with tourists.