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One night, we had two South African women over for dinner. The menu was Indian, and the mode sit-down. Prepared to have a little puzzlement over the eating-with-fingers part, I was surprised to see one of them dig into the puri-sabzi with her fingers and eat with delicate gusto. The other held the rolled-up puri in the left hand and ate sabzi with a spoon held in the right, apologizing for her “lack of manners”. Her enjoyment of the food, however, was equal to her companion’s. I was happy that they enjoyed the food, regardless of the mode of eating.
So this particular bit of news is disconcerting….
Recently, when the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, was clicked while digging into a pizza at the popular Italian Eatery , the picture went viral. Reason? Of Italian-American heritage, poor Bill was crucified in print and on video for eating his pizza with a knife and fork. The media went into a frenzy calling this a ‘flub’ and Forkgate was discussed more than the policies that this ten-day-old-mayor proposes to implement at the office.
Is this is as important as it has been made out to be?
In Western countries, besides the knife, fork and spoon, a number of special utensils such as those for buttering bread, eating oysters, fish, fruits, etc. are devised and may be present at a traditional Western sit-down dinner. Who can forget the scene in the film Titanic where Jack (di Caprio), all decked in his borrowed finery is flummoxed by the array of knives and forks by the side of the plate. Later, however, this lack does not come in the way of his proving himself a better human being than many others at this table.
In India, the custom is to eat with your hand, specifically, with your fingers. A good meal is relished on a banana leaf by cupping mouthfuls of food with the entire palm, especially the rasam-rice or liquidy kheer, often slurping it up and licking one’s fingers after a meal. There is a certain earthy satiety about eating traditional food in this manner.
In a country, where most of our countrymen go to sleep with just one meal in their belly, one would imagine that there is very little fuss about this.
But, the reverse is true.
The hair-splitting with regard to the mode of eating pasta or paratha, dosa or doughnut, curd-rice or risotto has now reached our shores. This means that most of us are rather circumspect about the method of eating food, however tasty it is. Many of us eat traditional foods such as idli, dosa, parathas, samosa with knife-fork-spoon and some of us eat with our fingers. But does this diminish our enjoyment of our food? Surely not!
Growing up in a middle class family in the seventies meant that we rarely ate out. So the juggling of a knife and fork was a ‘skill’ that I had to master in my late teens, because hotels (as restaurants are referred to, in India) supplied these utensils and I did not want to appear gauche. Naturally, my first few attempts were hilariously disastrous.
Then, came the art of eating noodles and spaghetti with the fork, twirling it around and then aiming it at my open mouth, with some delicate balance. Another humour-laden experience.
Later, came chopsticks, which I had to use in my mid-twenties. Will never master it , though. Because, age and its consequent wisdom has taught me certain things.
Whatever the mode of eating, the final aim is to eat. To satiate one’s hunger; which is one of the primary and basic urges of humans since the day of their birth. Provided one’s table-manners do not offend one’s companions, the rest is merely detail.
Unfortunately, modern living has created a section of people, which is overly conscious of the techniques of eating food as much as the variety of food being eaten. Not only that, they ridicule, humiliate and look down upon persons who cannot or will not eat in a certain ‘sophisticated’ way.
So, pizza should be folded longitudinally in your fingers and bitten into, sushi held with chopsticks, bread should be broken with fingers and buttered with the butter knife…and so forth.
Reverse snobbery or just obsession? I leave you to decide.
Do you have any episodes to share?
Pic credit: David Wright
Hi. I am an anaesthetist by profession living and working in Mumbai.
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