On the Left Bank in Paris you will find a gourmet restaurant called La Tour d’Argent, famous for its age (founded in 1582) as well as its duck (canard à la presse). Legend has it that several centuries ago, it was in this very location that the humble fork was introduced to the City of Light.
Quite a revolution in an age of spoons, the dinner fork spurned an entire panoply of utensils, from teeny lobster forks to flat butter knives and spiked grapefruit spoons. Today at a fancy restaurant in Paris or anywhere else, you are likely to encounter a gleaming collection of knives, forks and spoons of various sizes with which to devour your food.
At my house, however, a different type of tool is used during breakfast, lunch and dinner: Fingers.
While eating with your hands and fingers is frowned upon by mothers teaching table manners everywhere, and slurping up spaghetti through your knuckles on a first date might not be the best idea, these social norms are just made-up rules to keep society in order (and to protect those whose hand hygiene doesn’t cut it). But clean hands (and a sink nearby for cleaning up after) can add a new dimension to your food that you have probably never experienced since kindergarten. Didn’t you want to get more in touch with your inner child?
Eating with your hands gives you a deeper sense of your food, because you are bringing more sense receptors to the table. Temperature and texture become more profound when you can feel them on your fingers first, and the experience of consumption is extended even longer for a more pleasurable process.
Conscious eating becomes easier to achieve because you are relating to your food through touch and allowing extra time for the journey to your mouth. When the average American takes only six minutes to eat a meal, slowing down to eat peas and carrots piece-by-piece extends the enjoyment and refocuses the mind on the present moment.
While many no doubt regard the idea of eating with one’s hands as barbaric, before turning up your nose at ice cream as finger food, remember that many cultures traditionally do not use cutlery. The finest curries in India are eaten with a steaming piece of naan and nothing else, and in Nepal a table set with silverware would just make everyone uncomfortable. In Bangladesh and Pakistan as well, fingers are the forks of choice for street food to gourmet dinners.
When is the last time you ate mashed potatoes with your fingers? Age 5? Dare yourself to try to eat your next meal utensil-free (might want to skip the soup course). Savor your salad bit by bit, tear at your chicken like a cavewoman and indulge in dessert one finger full at a time. You will find that you eat slower and remember your meal much more vividly, and may even catch yourself giggling over goulash and laughing in your lentils.
Eating with your hands is a great way to inject some levity into your meals, to do things a little differently and slow down and savor your food with fingers: The original forks.
“God gave us fingers – Ma says, 'Use your fork.'” (Shel Silverstein)