IT WAS ONE OF those incredible epics of history: the story of Indian indenture. 150 years ago, two ships, the Belvedere and the Truro, left the ports of Calcutta and Madras carrying people to labour in South Africa.
By then the indentured had already journeyed from their villages and were bundled into depots. Many had never even left their villages before and they faced a long voyage across the ocean.
We joined the Indian community on the night of the Face of SUTRA Talent Show in the celebration of 150 years in South Africa, and saluted their heritage, traditions and customs.
From the unknown past, banana has been a part of the Indian culture. Planting a banana tree in front of the house is considered very important. A banana leaf is a long leaf which has a long rib in the middle. It is used for various purposes.You can savour the mild tea-like flavour that the banana leaf imparts during cooking. Many recipes rely on the banana leaf for their trademark taste, fragrance, and appearance.
Aside from contributing culinary aesthetics, the banana leaf is also a practical kitchen tool. As a food wrapper, it functions like a plastic wrap, parchment paper, and aluminum foil to prevent drying, sticking and retaining heat. You can lay a banana leaf down and serve food on it like a plate or placemat, and fold it into various shapes as to-go containers. It’s also great for lining steamer trays to prevent sticking. It’s bio-degradable too. That’s ancient green living!
The banana leaf is an easily and readily available plate. It is easily available and readily disposable. This is the reason why banana leaves are used in functions like weddings, birthday celebrations and other auspicious celebrations at home. In India used banana leaves are fed to the cattle and are disposed of without causing much pollution.
Eating from a banana leaf is considered hygienic and healthy. Any guest can be served on a banana leaf which is considered humble and respectful. Since it is served on the leaf that is tender, you cannot use spoons, forks or knives. One’s fingers (right hand) are one’s ‘forks, spoons and knives’. Ask any Indian, and he will say that Indian food tastes best when eaten with the fingers.
It is considered auspicious to put a bit of sweet dish (dessert) on the banana leaf to eat before the actual meal is placed thereon.
According to tradition, one has to eat carbohydrates (rice) first, then protein (dal), iron-rich vegetables and fat (curd). This is the order in which food is served and consumed as well. It is even more traditional to sit on the floor on a mat and eat one’s food. One has to squat as if one is sitting in the padmasana (lotus) pose .
There is a recommended way to serve someone eating from a banana leaf. The host serves the meals from containers: white rice, vegetable curry and a wet dal that spreads on the leaves. In little metal utensils alongside the leaf are served the non-veg dishes.
To show your appreciation after a satisfying meal, fold the banana leaf towards you (i.e. inwards) to signify that the meal was good. Folding the opposite direction (i.e. upwards/away from you) signifies that the meal was not satisfying.
It’s a wonderful experience eating from banana leaves. It is truly recommended that you try it. Don’t worry about cleanliness because the leaves have to be washed properly of course! The presentation of one’s food on the leaf is already such an enticement (in my opinion, everything looks extra delicious!), and it does taste as good as it looks! Eating from a banana leaf is still considered auspicious. It has medicinal properties too. It is believed that eating from a banana leaf regularly will leave your face and skin with a shining radiance.
Thus a banana leaf plays a great part in the day-to-day life of many people in India.
1) What are some of the benefits of serving food on banana leaves?
a) In the past there were no plates available; banana leaves were easily available and were large enough to contain all the food. Also, there is no particular smell in the leaf that can put you off.
b) Easily disposable and environment friendly (clean). Burn them and the ozone layers are not affected.
2) Why does food taste better when served or cooked in banana leaves?
a) As there is no chemical reaction, the food keeps its value intact: it can endure heat and react well without tearing apart from the heat.
b) The green leaf adds value to food (just like any other greens) and it contains the leafy taste to make it better!