Banana leaves in Indian culinary tradition – Durban, KwaZulu-Natal


  1. Introduction
  2. Eco-friendly kitchen tool
  3. Banana leaf plates
  4. Dishing up on a banana leaf
  5. Medicinal properties of banana leaves


When indentured labourers came to South Africa 150 years ago from India, they brought much of their culture and customs with them, and with it the use of banana leaves in culinary customs. The banana has been part of Indian culture since earliest times and is used for various purposes. Due to the mild, tea-like flavour it imparts during cooking, many recipes rely on the banana leaf for their specific taste and fragrance.

Eco-friendly kitchen tool

The banana leaf is a handy, eco-friendly, bio-degradable kitchen tool. Instead of using aluminium foil or plastic wrap, Indian mothers used to wrap food in the leaves to prevent drying or sticking; it also retains heat and is great for lining steamer vessels to prevent sticking.

Banana leaf plates

Banana leaves are useful to lay down and serve food on it like a big plate or placemats, especially handy to use at functions like birthdays and weddings when there are a large number of guests. Eating from a banana leaf is considered hygienic and healthy. To serve guests on banana leaves is considered humble and respectful. Because the leaves are soft, one cannot use cutlery; Indians agree that traditional Indian food tastes best when eaten with the fingers. It is also the custom to eat something sweet from the leaf before the main meal is dished up.

Dishing up on a banana leaf

When  food is served to people eating from a banana leaf, the host serves white rice, vegetable curry and a wet dhal directly from containers onto the leaf, and the non-vegetable dishes from small containers next to the leaf. Protocol prescribes the order in which the food has to be eaten: the rice first, then dhal, then iron-rich vegetables and fat, and thus the food is served in that order. It is also traditional to sit on the floor on a mat in the lotus pose (padmasana) when eating. To show appreciation, guests will fold the banana leaf towards themselves after the meal, this signifies that the meal was good. Folding the leaf in the opposite way, away from you, signifies dissatisfaction.

Medicinal properties of banana leaves

Indians believe that banana leaves also have medicinal attributes. Eating from a banana leaf regularly should leave your face and skin with a shining radiance.

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