Banana leaves are eco-friendly plates to eat off of. This is a quick guide on the ins and outs of eating on a banana leaf.
Banana leaves are synonymous with happy times.
In my mind eating off of a banana leaf has always been associated with celebrating special occasions. Banana leaves lined dining halls at South Indian weddings and were used at extended family dinners in India to welcome my immediate family back to our homeland. Banana leaves are synonymous with happy times.
I often reminisce about attending large South Indian weddings where banana leaves signaled to my salivary glands that a good meal was about to be had. Picture a huge dining hall with long rectangular communal tables. There are no seating assignments or linens perfectly matched to the wedding color scheme. Instead vibrant green banana leaves lay as eco-friendly plates waiting to be filled with an array of dishes. Sitting down and picking your banana leaf indicates to the numerous waiters holding large copper buckets to head your way. Picture it like an informal Brazilian steakhouse where instead of suit-clad waiters walking around with large skewers of meat, there is a staff of monochromatically white-dressed workers, sometimes with a chef’s hat, walking around with big buckets of stews, chutneys, flatbreads, rice, and sweets. Sitting down is the equivalent of having the green side of the card facing up at the steakhouse; it opens you up to the myriad of dishes that are specially made for weddings. Folding your banana leaf in half is like flipping your card over to read red, or that you are full and satiated.
My past visits to India always feel far away but they seem especially distant during the pandemic, when the only human interaction was with my husband Andrew and our favorite neighborhood restaurant owners. Last year, as I was scrolling through Instagram, my other pandemic hobby, I spotted artwork by Manasi Arya titled “Everything tastes Better on a Banana Leaf”. When I saw this artwork, it instantly brought back memories of the happy times when food was a communal experience instead of a coping mechanism. I instantly wanted to recreate this artwork.
Andrew and I got takeout from various restaurants in our neighborhood and enjoyed eating pizza, nachos, and fries on a banana leaf. We laughed at the slight absurdity of what we were doing but also just enjoyed talking about our food like we did when we dined at restaurants. Eating on a banana leaf made this weekly pandemic routine feel special.
A Guide To Eating on a Banana Leaf
For those who have never eaten on a banana leaf, here is a quick guide on the ins and outs:
- Where do I buy banana leaves in the United States? Banana leaves can be found in most Asian grocery stores in the freezer section. Wash your banana leaf in warm water and pat dry before serving food on it.
- Your main carbs like rice, roti, and parottas are placed front and center for easy access while “side dishes” like pickles or chutneys are placed on the farther half of the leaf.
- Food is often eaten from center right -> left for ergonomic reasons, because you eat a banana leaf meal with your hands and your right hand is most likely your “eating hand”.
- If rice is served on a banana leaf with liquid-y stews, make a well with your rice and have the stew poured in the center so it can be trapped and absorbed by the rice. During South Indian weddings, there are usually many liquid-y dishes like sambars, rasam, kolumbus, and stews, so divide your rice mound into smaller mounds to get a little taste of each dish without filling up on too much rice.
- Once you are done with a banana leaf meal, it is customary to fold the banana leaf in half towards you. This indicates that you are done eating and makes the banana leaf easier to pick up and dispose of.
As per usual, these aren’t strict rules but rather best practices that I’ve picked up over the years. I’ll be so ecstatic if you do as I simply did and get some takeout and eat it on your banana leaf plate! Everything does taste better on a banana leaf!