Eschew Cutlery; Eat with your hands

It seems at last the western world is waking up to the pleasures of eating with one’s own hands. The New York Times has an article today reporting that upscale Manhattan restaurants are offering ‘eat with you hands’ menus.

…Though a basket of silverware is provided at each table, when the grilled pork chop or market salad arrives, servers advise customers that they’ll be missing out if they pick up a fork. “Then there are a lot of questions like ‘Am I really supposed to?’ and ‘Is there something else I need?’ ” Mr. Choi said. “But the moment we answer ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ people usually just go for it.”

I have seen this happening a lot.  When I take my friends to Indian or middle eastern restaurants, tell them we traditionally eat with hands and lead them, I have seen almost everyone following.  In every parties that I host at home for my colleagues and friends, everyone is encouraged to eat with hands and invariably everyone does.

One of my uncles once quipped, “Why should I tear that delicious bread with a knife, immobilizing it and shove it down my throat with a ghastly looking weapon called fork”.  For him, to use knife and fork was disrespecting the host who has masterfully crafted the great food.  (Granted, you need spoon for a soup and knives cut the pork).  I am pleasantly surprised Sarah DiGregorio’s article uses that exact term weapon.

“Eating with the hands evokes great emotion,” she said. “It kindles something very warm and gentle and caressing. Using a fork is unthinkable in traditional Indian eating. It is almost like a weapon.”

This brings to an interesting conversation I once had with a close friend when we lived in Glasgow.  During one of her visits to our home, very early in our friendship, we offered her Dosa and suggested that she ate with her fingers.  Reluctantly obliging to our suggestion, she later remarked, “Don’t you think we british are very hygiene conscious?  I am. Almost to the point of being a paranoid.  When I go out to eat, I always wipe the forks and spoons with a paper towel.”  I had to retort, “Well, we seldom leave our hygiene in someone else’s hands.  I always carry with me, what I eat with. I always use soap and water to clean my hands before I eat and use my right hand.”  She later remarked that was a big  lesson in etiquettes and cultural outlooks for her.  I am glad to say that almost after ten years when she visited us in Toronto, she never touched a fork laid on her table,  during her entire weeklong stay.

As DiGregorio points “ ‘Great’ does not have to mean one narrative, the European narrative.”


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