Spotlight, November 7, 2014: Ẽṭo
Food customs in North India are influenced by the idea of ẽṭo (pronounced, as closely as I can determine: engtao). Ẽṭo can refer either to food which has come into contact with the eater’s saliva and therefore become permeated with his or her essence or to the state of being so permeated due to contact with the mouth or another object which is ẽṭo. Your hands can easily become ẽṭo if you hold a cup while drinking or a fork while eating, so you must wash your hands immediately afterward in order to prevent the spread of this ẽṭo condition.
By touching an object or food that another person has made ẽṭo, you take in some of their essence, so people are very careful around those from whom they wish to stay distant. On the other hand, people who wish to be close to someone else (e.g. a wife to a husband, a servent to an employer, or close friends or siblings among themselves) will often freely share food. Such fastidiousness likely prevents the spread of disease, and the custom provides a form of social structure.
Source: Lamb, Sarah. White Saris and Sweet Mangoes: Aging, Gender, and Body in North India. Berkeley: U of California, 2000. 30-34. Print.