it’s no mystery that each culture view meals very differently and has a very different etiquette, I won’t get over the common ones you find in any travel guides though. I want to list a few interesting differences on how we approach dinner in Europe and India be it in a restaurant or at home with guests.
In Europe it is common for the entire party to consult their menu card, and each of them order individually what they want, then the food will be served to you already arranged on a pretty plate and according to what the restaurant judges to be an individual serving.
In India, you generally consult each other, and select one or two dishes for a small party, more if you are in a big party, the food reach your table in serving dishes and the waiter does the service on your plate, one dish can feed at least 2-3 persons, hence the reason why there is no individual ordering.
I remember being a bit bugged by that at first having been used my whole life to the continental approach. My family still has major issue about it each time they come, they also still have difficulties grasping the idea that when you order “Murg badami” on the menu that is ALL that you get as continental menus list the meat dish on the menu, but the side veggies and rice is always included.
In Europe you order the ENTIRE meal at once, it is rude to make the waiter come with the menu several time during the meal, so you choose your starter, your main course and drinks ALL at the beginning, then the waiter has the responsibility along with the kitchen to time the serving of each dishes carefully letting the time for you and your party to finish your starter before bringing the next course. The only thing you generally don’t order immediately is the dessert, at the end of the meal it is ok to ask the waiter to bring in the dessert menu if you wish for a sweet treat.
In India you first order the Starter, eat it then ask for the menu again and continue ordering the next course, eat, go for the next course…and so on for as many time as you want. I always loved that concept, but again my family find it very odd. My dad even travelled on his own before visiting me and then asked me about it because at each meal they would each order a dish and end up with a monster quantity of food but also ordered the starter and main course together, only to have the food reach their table in a totally random manner.
In Europe you top your meal with coffee, or tea for those who prefer that option, you order it when they bring your dessert to the table if you chose the dessert option, or when they remove your empty plates if you don’t want to have any sweet ending to your meal. Every restaurants even foreign cuisine one will have a coffee option.
In India coffee is rarely done in restaurants, I’ve seen a few Indian cuisine high end eating place doing it, but that is not the norm at all. Some continental cuisine restaurants do have the option but not all.
Party at home
In Europe when you have guests over or go to someone’s place here is how a dinner party goes:
-Guest arrive and sit down in the living room, the hostess serves snacks and light wine, typically white wine that won’t linger on the taste buds, guests engage in light talking while the hostess finishes preparing the food or dressing the table (though generally the table is dressed and decorated before the guests arrive).
-Once the hostess is done with the final touches to her meal she invites guests to sit at the dinning table, bring the food do the service, a heavier wine is generally served, most meat dish ban fish or poultry generally calls for a strong tasting red wine. Though a rose wine does too, water is ALWAYS served on the side, and guests will drink wine as a savoury treat and water to wash their palate to enjoy the taste of the food better.
The meal itself is the main event, people take time to eat each course and do the talking, it is not uncommon to be seated at the dinning table for 2-3 hours at a dinner party.
After the dessert is served, coffee and liqueur is offered, again guests spend time talking, and in some cases even start playing card games, board games and relax after the heavy meal until the mood quiet down enough and the guests leave…generally coffee and digestive spirits is the cue that the evening is slowly drawing to an end.
In India things go in a much much different order, I’ve been to a fair share of home dinner parties to notice these:
-Guest arrive, sit informally in the living room, snacks are served by the hostess along with alcohol if it is served in this house, wine is not common, rather it is beer, vodka and whiskey that is commonly offered, though in more traditional homes, women don’t drink, men retreat to another room to do so.
the drinking and snacking take most of the evening, with guests talking a lot, watching TV or playing card and board games.
-Toward the end of the evening(not before 10pm in general) the hostess will put the food on the table and announce the dinner is ready, guests sit at the table if it is a small party, or will carry the plate on their lap and sit in the living room or on chairs if it is a large party, no time is wasted eating the food, no alcohol is generally served at meal time, and dinner is generally the cue that the evening has drawn to an end, expect your guest to leave almost immediately after they finished their meal or after the sweets if you offered some.
DH of course find the notion of drinking all through the meal a bit odd, but likes it, though when we have guests over at our place we do naturally fall into the Indian pattern.
For my part I find the pushing the main course late in the evening odd, especially when a 10pm meal is eaten so shortly before going to bed, truthfully my stomach has difficulties handling it, and I much prefer the continental format of taking loads of time at the table and give at least 2 hours between the end of the main course and bedtime, and love the notion of not wolfing down a fancy meal in half an hour flat and take it as cue that our time to leave has come.
I also can’t really can’t do without having a cup of tea or herbal infusion after a meal, in Europe drinking warm fluids after a meal is considered good for digestion, so whenever we come back from a party or the restaurant I do take the time to make myself a cup at home, and offer the option to my guests when they come home.