Decolonize your eating habits and enjoy your next meal cutlery-free!
Have you ever been scolded by your parents (or that one grumpy uncle) for eating with your hands? Like some kind of animal? Well, it probably won’t come as a surprise when we tell you this: the idea that it’s “uncivilized” to eat with your hands is a Western one—and one we think it’s important to decolonize. Cultures that eat with their hands come from all over the world, and we think you should expand your manual repertoire beyond pizza, burgers, and fries. Ready to dig in? Well, roll up your sleeves, wash your hands, and let’s get to it!
Eating is a sensory experience that begins with touch—the weight of the food, the temperature, the textures. Are you grabbing something sticky? Crunchy? Are you going to burn your fingers? Are you going to lick them clean afterward? 20% of your brain’s sensory nerves are in your lips and tongue, but another 15% are in your hands. Why deprive yourself of all that extra?
Eating with your hands isn’t just a sensory experience, either. It’s a connection to the cultures, cooks, and ingredients involved in assembling those recipes. While you’re and that includes the generations of cooks and artisans who developed these foods and brought them from around the world to your table. And remember—just because it’s not considered impolite to eat with your hands doesn’t mean there aren’t any manners involved. For example, in most of the Muslim world, it’s considered inappropriate to use your left hand to eat!
Ready to create a bond with your food that transcends the plate? Let’s get started.
This doughy, warm, and comforting dish is a pan-African staple! This moldable, malleable dough is pinched off in pieces called ‘swallows’. They can be made from a variety of grains and starchy vegetables, most commonly fufu, or boiled cassava flour—but every country has its own varieties. Swallows aren’t just their own delicious bite of food—they’re a sponge for savory soups, stews, and those last little leftover crumbs you can’t bear to leave behind at the end of a meal.
If you haven’t experienced Injera, we recommend immediately searching for Ethiopian Food Near Me. This sourdough-risen flatbread looks like a crepe, has a delightful spongy texture, and tears off easily. Once you use it to scoop up stews, curries, and bites of meat, you’ll wonder why anyone ever invented the spoon.
This slow-cooked North African stew is named for the beautiful earthenware pots used to cook it. Its history goes longer than many civilizations—the earliest known mention of it is from the 9th century, in One Thousand and One Nights!
The unique domed top of the tagine preserves every drop of water within it, vital in arid regions with not enough of it to go around. Long hours of stewing in the pot cause an incredible alchemy: meat, veggies, and spices meld into more than the sum of their parts. When you’re ready to dig in, grab some khobz, a round Moroccan bread with fluffy pockets, designed to pick up that perfect scoop.
You’ve probably already had naan, the familiar fluffy Indian bread with a delicious smokiness from being cooked in a tandoor. If you’ve never had roti, you won’t find it too intimidating: imagine a flour tortilla, and you’re most of the way there. Roti has a subtler flavor profile, making it the perfect vessel for the star of any Indian meal—curry!
The Indian Subcontinent is home to almost two billion people, so it’s unlikely you don’t have an Indian restaurant in your area—but roti has made its way into cuisines from all around the world, including throughout the Caribbean.
Sticking to the subcontinent, let’s hit the samosa stand! Samosas are fried pockets shaped like pyramids, bursting with veggies or meat, and spiced to perfection. When we’re talking sensory experiences, samosas are a great example of everything important about eating with your hands. We can’t count the number of nearly-burned fingers we’ve gotten trying to wait for them to be cool enough to eat. Who knew food could teach you about patience, too?
Not so handy with chopsticks? Get into some hand rolls (they’re called temaki in Japan)! They contain all the same ingredients from your favorite cut rolls but are arranged into a convenient hand-held cone. Eating sushi this way is a whole new experience. Because of the different way the ingredients are arranged in a hand roll, you’ll be able to see them up close, taste them better individually, and best of all, the sheets of nori will leave your fingers deliciously salty.
You can enjoy a Bao any time of day, and you can find one anywhere from street food stands to fine dining restaurants. These fluffy steamed buns are light, delicate, and very subtly sweet—and that’s before you take a bite and discover what’s inside! Bao can be filled with anything from sweet red bean paste, to savory Char Siu barbecued pork, and even broth! Good luck picking one up without giving it a squeeze—because the dough is steamed, the texture is smoother than a baby’s cheeks.
When you unwrap a tamale from the corn husk it’s steamed in, it feels like you’re opening a present. In a way, you are. Tamales hold a special place in Mexican cuisine and culture because they’re made from a kind of corn flour called masa. For Mexicans, corn isn’t just a crop, it’s a symbol of Mexican identity itself, the food the gods chose to feed the people. And tamales, while extremely versatile (find them filled with cheese, chilies, and any kind of meat—there are even dessert tamales!), can be a bit of a process to make. Because it can take the whole family to handle the task, you’ll often see tamales served at holidays and other celebrations.
Hungry yet? We hope that learning about some traditional hand-held foods made you think about how you engage with the sensory experience of eating. So, push that cutlery aside for your next meal—there’s a world of options at your fingertips!
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