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How do I eat this? And other etiquette questions.

In our travels in Europe we have often been presented with food items that we had no idea how to eat, or how to eat politely. I've been musing about starting a thread on the topic, and today I saw a related question embedded in a long response on another thread: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/italy/10-eating-and-drinking-rules-italians-live-by; MariaF was talking about a photo of fava beans and commented:

I would enjoy a discussion on how to eat them.

So here we are!

Here in the States it is often considered normal to use our hands for many items that in other countries are eaten with knife and fork. Sandwiches, pizza, fried chicken come to mind. I was startled (and impressed) when as a college student I saw some students from China who were eating their hamburgers with chopsticks. Messy, but they got the job done.

I remember being so pleased when on a food tour in Rome the guide explained how to eat fried artichokes: pick off the crispy leaves by hand and eat them, then use your knife and fork on the plump, tender stem and heart.

At a restaurant in Venice, my husband ordered prawns (or a related shrimp-like dish.) The presentation was a couple of giant critters, in full shell, in a pool of aromatic sauce. How to eat? We knew it's okay, or even expected, to use your bread to sop up the sauce, but how to tackle the prawns themselves?

In France a couple of years ago, we had a mixed seafood platter that included tiny tiny shrimp, fried in their shells. I finally figured out the only way to eat them efficiently was to eat them whole, including the shells and heads, with knife and fork. And just recently I ran across an Italian recipe for tiny shrimp prepared the same way, and the instructions said they were to be eaten whole, so I felt vindicated.

As a student in Poland many years ago, I splurged on a restaurant meal, and ordered fish. (A real treat; I was pretty much living on bread, cheese, and tea at the time.) The presentation was lovely - one beautiful whole fish on the plate. The waiter bowed slightly, took all the cutlery off the table, replacing them with two forks. And walked away. Ummmm..... Luckily, fish was the featured offering that day, so I was able to watch folks at the other tables to figure out what to do. Use the forks to gently separate the filets from the backbone, set the bones aside, then eat the fish with a fork. I eventually got proficient at it, but that first time was laughable.

So, what are your stories, suggestions, and questions? What is considered finger food in different countries? What behavior that we consider normal is questionable or even appalling abroad?

Posted by
1936 posts

but how to tackle the prawns themselves?

The way you like, nobody is so interested in tourists' behavior in Italy and Judging guests is frowned upon. The all "how you eat pizza" dispute in NYC was told with a little amusement on Italian press. Same for mopping the sauce up with the bread; chefs are happy when dishes are back clean, but nobody actually "expects" it. It's nice when it happens, that's all. Or peeling fruit with knife and fork, if you can do it without using your hands... good for you!

Posted by
1716 posts

We had read that the Japanese consider it rude to eat while walking around. We bought our ice cream cones, and cognizant of the rule, headed to the nearby bench on the sidewalk. Midstep, I licked a drip and was astounded....every person walking nearby stopped, gaped and froze in their tracks. In a second or two I reached the bench, sat down, and life around me resumed as normal. Slurping noodles on the other hand is considered quite appropriate and even desirable I think to demonstrate your satisfaction with the food. I find it all fascinating. Bon appetit!

Posted by
18147 posts

I think knife-and-fork is pretty standard for open-faced sandwiches. Otherwise the toppings could fall all over the place. And a croque monsieur eaten by hand would require a lot of napkins.

As a solo traveler who likes good pizza, I adhere only reluctantly to the knife-and-fork policy. It's too slow; the pizza gets cold long before I'm finished.

Posted by
3677 posts

The question about the Fava beans was more about 'fresh or cooked'😁 So I did look up and that particular photo would have had fresh beans. If early enough in the Spring, they would be small so just open the pod and pop the baby beans into your mouth. Or add pecorino to a hunk of bread, add shelled beans, drizzle on a little oil and coarse salt...and eat by hand.
If not early Spring, cook or at least remove the outer bean skin as it becomes bitter. Best in May and June...and in Italy.

Posted by
3040 posts

I would just add that, in Japan, foreigners are automatically accorded a great deal of latitude when committing transgression against local ways. After all, they are “gaijin” and can’t be expected to know proper behavior. Beware, however, infringements against the toilet/slipper code. Much worse than food faux pas. You’ll get overt giggles on that.
I think Italians are the same (about food, not toilets), but a little less judgemental. People, for the most part, really don’t care that much what others are doing with their food.

Posted by
1861 posts

On the second date with my husband in 1973 we went to a diner. He ordered a hamburger, with the bun, and proceeded to eat it with a knife and fork. He also wouldn’t eat anything sweet with his dinner, like pineapple on a baked ham. Many cultures don’t mix salty and sweet food. Also, I know it is changing, but even as short as a few years ago, they did not have takeout food in Croatia. When I asked a cousin’s wife about takeout, cause she worked long hours, she said didn’t understand the question. When we explained she said never, besides, she wouldn’t want the neighbors think she couldn’t cook her own meals. Restaurants and eating out are for socializing.

Posted by
4439 posts

A sandwich would be eaten with fingers unless it’s an open sandwich, then it’s a knife and fork. If anything has a sauce, it’s expected that you would use cutlery, other than ribs at an American style diner. Burgers and pizza - cutlery in a restaurant. Fingers for a McDonalds, obviously.

Any decent restaurant would fillet the fish for you. Small fish such as whitebait are cooked and eaten whole, including the head. Ditto very small shrimps.

It’s polite to delicately dip bread in a sauce but not to mop the plate.

In France, snails come with special skewers - hold the shell in the other hand to avoid it flying across the room.

Several years ago in a pub, we were having a ploughman’s lunch and a friend stabbed the large pickled onion. The cutlery wasn’t up to the job and the onion flew onto a plate on the adjacent (occupied) table. I don’t eat pickled onions in public any longer!

If in doubt, use cutlery not fingers and more so for more upscale establishments.

Posted by
20972 posts

One thing -- I tend to be extreme aware of what is happening around me. Not in a staring way but automatic taking in what is happening. So entering a restaurant I will notice quickly what others are eating and how they are eating. Just an old habit from my earlier training with the government. So that generally solves my question of now to proceed with most food situations. Second, my observation is that Americas tend to use their fingers with more foods than other cultures. Maybe it is our exposure to more fast food situations. We tend to eat pizza with our hands when there is a greater use of forks in most European locations. French fries is another example. Just follow Jane's example.

Posted by
27 posts

“ Out of interest, in which countries. at least in Europe, have you found it normal to eat a sandwich with a knife & fork? ”

The Netherlands! When I was a child staying with family in Holland, I was astounded to be told to eat my sandwich at supper with my knife and fork (in those days, they ate their main meal at lunch, and supper was only sandwiches or salads). My aunt suggested that it might be a hangover from the war, when they often didn’t have enough food but still tried to have a formal meal. My mom (not Dutch) said it was just their rather rigid idea of proper behaviour. I do remember being told as a child that I could have a biscuit with my cup of tea or coffee, or my tea/coffee without a biscuit, but never a biscuit without tea/coffee!

Posted by
1749 posts

Out of interest, in which countries. at least in Europe, have you
found it normal to eat a sandwich with a knife & fork?

I'd say it depends on the sandwich. Try eating a Danish smørrebrød or a Swedish prawn sandwich by hand and you'll soon realise that fork and knife is useful.

Posted by
1098 posts

I grew up in a large working class family (yes, a Monty Python sketch). A pizza, burgers and fried chicken were a treat, as were ice cream, pineapple and watermelon, all eaten by hand apart from the ice cream. I lived in England for some time as a youth/young man, and it was there where I ate pizza with a knife and fork for the first time in a restaurant, and still do so when I visit any European country. Any meat, with the bone attached, can only be finished off properly by using your hands.

Minor things that I noticed in Italy. It's not all about the fabled olive oil, they use butter and sometimes lots of it. They eat potatoes, more than most presume. I ordered bruschetta three times in different places in Tuscany/Umbria, and each time I was presented with cheese on toast (melted cheese on bread, topped by a thin slice of a big tomato) - I don't know if this is the norm or not, or whether they were catering to the tourist crowd. Either way, I wasn't disappointed: cheese on toast is my favourite snack, though I prefer an aged cheddar. I ate them by hand.

Posted by
4453 posts

MariaF, your fava bean comment piqued my interest because lately I've been reading a book on Italian cooking, and they mentioned sometimes peeling the beans after they've been shelled. My only experience with fava beans is in falafel, so I don't know how the are dealt with fresh. I thought perhaps you were wondering about the "to peel or not to peel" question. (The older I get, the more areas of ignorance I find. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?)

Posted by
638 posts

In Padua, in an excellent hamburger restaurant, it was interesting to see Italians (some of them a good 45 years younger than we are) eating their hamburgers with a knife and fork, but we did not copy them. Surely, Americans abroad can eat hamburgers (or corn on the cob if it ever appeared in a restaurant!) in the usual American way.

In Rome, we always eat at least once at Bonci's pizza place, but we are so intent on savoring our own small rectangles that we haven't noticed how other people were eating theirs. It makes complete sense to eat Neapolitan pizza with a knife and fork, but I wonder about Bonci's pizza with its thicker, firmer crust, and already cut up into portions --- it seems more like street food, like the deep-fried street food pizza in Naples.

The food I never know how to eat, in Italy or anywhere else, is an individual cheese plate, especially if the pieces or slices are a very hard aged cheese or are small enough to be eaten in one bite. Well, or two bites. I feel awkward using a knife and fork, but unmannerly using my fingers.

Posted by
7668 posts

Funny (to me) fava bean story... My son’s 1st grade class planted and grew fava beans, when they were ready to pick each kid filled a paper bag with them and started eating them (they took them out of the pod but ate them raw). When i picked him up he said “I love fava beans!!” and kept eating them all afternoon... by 5:00 he came to me with a very bad stomach ache and said “I don’t think i love fava beans anymore” : (

Posted by
5649 posts

As I recall, according to Miss Manners, there no food that should be eaten without cutlery, except maybe grapes. That includes ribs, fried chicken, corn on the cob, and bananas. She blames Americans' lack of skill with using knives for our impatience. You have to admit, gnawing on corncob is kind of ugly to watch.

I'm not sure it still the case, but I remember my first visit to Germany in the '80s where I was told by a fellow lodger at a hotel, you must cut your breakfast roll "zo" before applying butter and jam, not tear it apart. Then there was the frowning mother and her kids at the next table at a McDonalds who watched me eat french fries with my fingers. She held up the little wooden fork that was in the packet and demonstrated how to use it. I think I looked really young at the time, and she saw it as her duty to educate me. They were definitely judging me.

Posted by
2046 posts

In Padua, in an excellent hamburger restaurant, it was interesting to see Italians (some of them a good 45 years younger than we are) eating their hamburgers with a knife and fork.

Ah but the original Hamburgs are meant to be eaten with a fork or knife, would you eat a steak with your hands lol?! When traveling in Japan, I noticed that Hamburg Steaks are a popular comfort food included in homemade Bento and usually eaten with chopsticks.

Posted by
671 posts

Very fun thread. Sometimes here in the US I find myself eating a hamburger with a knife and fork because the burger is large and the toppings make the bun soggy. While in a restaurant in France I watched a European eat BBQ ribs with a knife and fork. I almost applauded when he finished. If you did that here, especially in BBQ country, it might possibly be a crime on the books. LOL

Posted by
4405 posts

The Chinese applying chopsticks to hamburgers must’ve never heard the Burger King advertisement, “It takes two hands to handle a Whopper.”

Cultures teach their kids the standard way to eat when they’re little. Visitors who didn’t get that same training when they were young might benefit from some local instruction, no matter their age. As is said, you’re never too old to learn. Not that there’s only one “right” way to eat, but there could be some proved, more convenient ways to go about it.

A trek in Nepal over 20 years ago was organized and led by a Sherpa who’d moved from Nepal to Boulder, Colorado, where he’d picked up a lot of American practices. One night at dinner, though, our cooks fixed him comfort food from home, different than what the rest of us were served. While we scooped up our dinner with forks and spoons, he excitedly dug into his hot, steaming portion with his fingers, and it was clearly uncomfortable because of the temperature, but it was also clearly the “right” way to eat it. After all this time, I don’t recall what was on his plate, although dal had to be one of the dishes, which the rest of us also enjoyed regularly.

Posted by
3677 posts

Yes, to learning knife skills. It seems to be an optional tool for some. I took it upon myself several times to teach my kids' friends how to use one....at least at our dinner table. Then I introduced 'formal night' once a month to my kids. They got the message quickly that table manners were expected some of the time and if they could prove 'they weren't raised in a barn (as my dear departed mother used to say), we would drop formal night. No way does a teen boy like to hold a chair out for his little sister.
A little practice makes cutting meat off a bone an easy task. I am just not a fan of eating warm or gooey food with my fingers. Pizza and sandwiches, burger and fries - yes. Also, it isn't always possible to wash hands well before eating and traveling in some countries it is too unhygienic to eat with fingers.

Posted by
1161 posts

I ordered a chicken sandwich at the drive-thru at BK and they had wrapped it in paper, cut it in half , and then wrapped the whole thing...that made it so you didn't actually have to touch it , except with your mouth.

Posted by
4453 posts

Okay, what about the cheese course? I seem to remember in one of Rick's books he says if the cheese cart/board/tray/whatever is brought to you, make a couple of selections, or something like that.

Point? Cut? Ask? How much is considered to be a reasonable portion? Other than "never cut the nose off the brie" and keep the basic shape of the cheese (what if it's round?) what are the guidelines?

Since I don't eat sweets, whenever I've been on a RS tour the guide usually arranges for me to have either fresh fruit or cheese for dessert. So far the cheese has always been served to me on a plate at my seat, not on a cart or tray from which I have to select.

I will also say that it is very common, when I've been presented with a fruit plate or cheese board, for the other tour members to say "Wow! How did you get that?" Hint, hint, RSE.

Posted by
2773 posts

Jane- about the cheese tray-

I don't know if it's right if wrong, but after the server has pointed out and named the various choices, I just name (or point, if I forget the name) which ones I want. If I want more of one, I ask for a larger, or additional portion.

Posted by
1536 posts

This is another chance for me to recommend Joe Lurie's book on intercultural miscommunication:
https://www.perceptionanddeception.com

https://www.amazon.com/Perception-Deception-Mind-Opening-Journey-Cultures/dp/0970846363/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&qid=1610165215&refinements=p_27%3AJoe+Lurie&s=books&sr=1-1&text=Joe+Lurie

At breakfast in a B&B on the southern coast of England, I got the whole room to pause and look at me - I stage-whispered "hold on a tick" and peered all 'round my plate, then lifted it up and looked beneath, then checked the rest of the tabletop and glanced beneath the table for good measure, and was so confused: "A British meal without a potato component? I didn't think that was possible."
I guess laughing out loud is not allowed at breakfast in those situations, so people confined themselves to crooked smiles and crinkling their eyes.

It did include the best Cumberland sausage I've ever had, though. So there's that. Guess which hand I held the knife with.

Posted by
7668 posts

About the cheese cart, I was taught (Google would be good resource maybe) when i was growing up in France that a serving of 3 cheeses was the norm. If the cheese is round, you cut it like a pie.

Posted by
4453 posts

Thanks for the cheese tips. I think the last time we were in France I ordered the cheese for dessert; the server came and showed me the selection. I told him which one I wanted, and he offered me another choice. I chose another, and he gave me a small portion of each. I basically let him guide me; probably a good rule. It's better to be offered more than to take too much!

Avi, that's funny! And I'll look for the book.

We actually spent several years in Poland (some years after the fish incident), so I learned to hold my knife and fork "properly." It's second nature now.

Posted by
4405 posts

So avirosemail, no spuds at breakfast? There were baked beans, though, and cold toast, right?

Wheather you’re right or left handed, you must’ve used the “wrong” hand for the knife.

Posted by
4531 posts

Five of us went to a back street hot-pot restaurant in Chongqing, China and found ourselves around a table with a built-in recessed bowl full of thick, seemingly endless noodles, and chopsticks. Trying to cut noodles with chopsticks is the definition of futility, and we soon became the entertainment for all the Chinese diners around us. Taking pity, the owner brought his young English-speaking son to our table, where he explained that the cutting was done with the teeth (see slurping discussion above). We were almost as entertaining after our lesson, but at least we were getting fed.

This place had a bilingual menu, sort of, featuring Chinese characters describing various kinds of mushrooms, all translated as "A Kind of Fungus." We didn't know how to choose, so we didn't.

Posted by
17867 posts

I had a Mandarin Chinese friend who ate his eggroll with chopsticks. I think that in China, chopsticks are a socially acceptable substitute for eating with your fingers. My instructor for a Chinese cooking class said that everything is cut up before cooking so you can just eat it with chopsticks. You don't see a knife at the table; it's barbaric.

I once watched a German at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich eat a Weißwurst. It was like watching a surgeon operate as he delicately slit the sausage, then rolled back the casing with his fork, before cutting out the meat from the casing.

And the rules for using the knife and fork in Germany (all of Europe, I think) is so much different than here in the US. The Germans think our constant shuffling of the fork - left hand to cut the food, move it to the right hand to take a bite, back to the left hand to cut some more food, repeat - is distracting.

Posted by
9194 posts

Americans do know how to use a knife and fork. We just use it differently than most Europeans.

We might use our fork to cut someting soft but this is seen as barbaric in Europe.

And Americans tend to use the fork to scoop while Europeans, and especially British, seem to want to pile food on the back of a fork.

Surprisingly, the "American" way of eating was the way people ate in Europe at the time of the original settling of the Colonies. People used knives and spoons. The fork didn't gain popularity until the early 1600s.

Here's an article on eating utensil etiquette:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eating_utensil_etiquette

Posted by
9194 posts

Regarding the Japanese etiquette.....yes....it is taboo to eat or drink while walking. When dining with others you should never pour your own drink. Never pass food from chopstick to chopstick. And never stick your chopsticks vertical in a bowl of rice. It is a sign of death and is done at funerals.

As far as the noise when eating ramen, the slurping helps to cool down the noodles enough so they can be eaten. However, it can be annoying. In the middle of a Japan Air Lines flight back to the U.S. the guy next to me ordered a bowl of noodles and started slurping away. Noise cancelling headphones don't block out slurping sounds.

Posted by
4405 posts

Would an anti-splash shield between seats be useful if slurping’s going on next door? That would even be helpful when there’s not a pandemic, or other reasons to keep away projections.

Posted by
12135 posts

In Hungary people don't clink beer glasses. Legend has it, that when Hungary's 1848 revolution against the Habsburgs was defeated, the Austrians celebrated in Vienna by toasting and clinking their beer glasses. Hungarians vowed not to cheers with beer for 150 years. While that time frame is over - Hungarians still don't 'cheers' with beer.
Nevertheless with any other alcoholic beverage like wine or pálinka it's considered rude not to look the other person in the eye when saying cheers ('egészségedre'). People will literally have their eyes wide open and protruding as they clink glasses to make sure you know that they're looking at you, and that they know that you're looking at them.

https://welovebudapest.com/en/toplist/crucial-things-you-should-know-when-visiting-a-hungarian-home

Posted by
17867 posts

Interesting article, Frank. In general, when in Europe, I do try to eat as the Europeans do, so as not to be outed as a spy. However, I admit to occasionally resorting to the "hybrid" style, usually not because it is more convenient, but when the pure European style is really inconvenient, like when trying to balance peas on the back of a fork. In that case I will scoop, but only when no one is watching.

And I do eat pizza, at least the first part, with a knife and fork. I always worry that the pointed end of the slice is going to fold down, dumping the topping on my lap, so I eat that end first with a knife and fork. Usually, before I get to the crust I will pick it up and eat the rest while holding it.

I remember once having a great lunch, Boeuf au Poivre, at a Paris bistro. It was accompanied by a heaping plate of very hot, crispy Pomme Fritz. I don't remember if I ate the French Fries with my fingers, but if I did, was that a faux pas? (I definitely did not put catsup on them.)

I've also been known to eat a soggy hamburger, or a really thick one, with a knife and fork, out of expediency.

Years ago, a girlfriend and I arrived at a Chinese restaurant just before their closing time. They served us anyway, then proceeded to push tables together in the center of the dining room and have their own dinner. So I got to observe how they ate. What I noticed, it must be their etiquette, was that each diner had a bowl of rice in front of him (or her), and the serving bowls were spread out on the middle of the table. The diners would pick up a piece of meat or vegetable from the serving dish, let it fall onto their rice, let it sit there for a second, and then, with the same chopsticks, pick up the piece of food and put it in their mouths. Apparently it is impolite to eat directly out of the serving bowls, but taking the food out of the serving dish with the same chopsticks that were just in your mouth is OK. Anyone have knowledge of this?

Posted by
4531 posts

I'm with Lee on pizza technique -- use a fork at the pointy end and pick it up when it gets wider. Got me some scorn when I lived in NYC but out west here they are less judgmental.

And the idea of eating peas on the back of a fork reminds me of something I read long ago:

I eat my peas with honey.

I've done it all my life.

I don't know why, they taste quite bad,

But it keeps them on the knife.

Posted by
17867 posts

Almost Dick, but honey doesn't rhyme with bad. I think it's,

I eat my peas with honey.

I've done it all my life.

It makes the peas taste funny,

But it keeps them on the knife.

Posted by
7309 posts

The French don't use the back of the fork for piling on food. At least, I've never seen it. But maybe in the north closer to Belgium?
On the other hand, I have seen rural men eating complete meals with their all-purpose sharp Laguiole knives.
Bread accompanies the food but is also an instrument used to push food onto a fork. Knives serve the same purpose, and can also be used for folding large leaves of lettuce in the salad. You then stab the leaf of lettuce with your fork. No cutting.
When in a "fine" restaurant, the broken-off piece of bread can be stabbed and held with your fork to mop up the delicious sauce instead of holding the bread with your fingers.
In almost fifty years of experience in France, I've never had a friend or family member serve me a sandwich, but they will serve before dinner nibbles to eat with your fingers: peanuts, chips, "le cake," olives, sausage.
I have seen friends eat gyros wrapped in paper held in their hands. One of my kids loved merguez sandwiches with fries falling out of the baguette bun as his after-school go-to. Buying them at a stand, the kids have to eat them on the street.
Barbara, same thing back in the day, sweet and salty were never mixed, but now international cooking has influenced tastes and recipes. I used to get so much teasing about hamburgers, ketchup, sweet and sour; now it's all over the menus.
We eat pizza the way Lee does. And Lee, if the fries are served on a plate and you were given a fork.... But nobody saw you.

Posted by
1167 posts

I think I suffer from misophonia and I blame my mom. Thankfully she taught us to chew with our mouths closed and to chew quietly. Today I have a great deal of difficulty with slurping and chomping of any food.
Years ago hubby and I were the only two on the upper deck of a bus in Hong Kong. It was great until a guy sat next to us (all the seats were empty) and proceeded to slurp his cup of noodles. My husband knew I was miserable but he laughed anyway😄.

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/03/18/702784044/misophonia-when-lifes-noises-drive-you-mad

Posted by
9194 posts

I too have issues with misophonia. If I'm in a ramen restaurant, I expect slurping. But if expect quiet, I want to kill whoever is making the noise.

On the flight on Japan Air Lines, I wondered whose jurisdiction I would come under if I killed the guy next to me slurping noodles.

Back to eating.....while in Europe, I try to follow their utensil rules, but out of habit I find myself switching hands. And pizza.....fuhgettaboutit.....as a born and bred New Yorker, I pick up my pizza slices. Pick up, fold, enjoy. But I'm learning in certain places, to use a knife and fork. I usually look to see what others are doing.

I remember when Sarah Palin was running for vice president and she visited New York. Donald Trump took her to Sbarro for pizza. (Seriously, with all the great pizza restaurants he took her to Sbarro?). They were shown eating their pizza with a knife and fork. Jon Stewart was then hosting the Daily Show. He showed the video and went bonkers on how could a New Yorker use a knife and fork with pizza.

Posted by
4248 posts

but when the pure European style is really inconvenient, like when trying to balance peas on the back of a fork. In that case I will scoop, but only when no one is watching.

I've never witnessed anyone trying to eat peas on the back of a fork! Peas are scooped up with a fork or, if you're being really particular, pierced individually by the tines.

The only time I've eaten a burger with cutlery, restaurant or otherwise, was when there were so many toppings that it was impossible to take a bite.

Open sandwiches can be eaten by hand as long as the base is sufficiently strong to handle the topping. Surely crostini and bruschetta fall into this category?

I'll eat fries with my fingers in a fast food restaurant but if I were to eat steak and frites then I'll eat them with a knife and fork.

Eating and walking is a no no. How can that be enjoyable?

Pizza I tend to cut into pieces and then eat with my hands.

Potato should never form part of a Full English Breakfast. Hash browns are an American invasion and potato farls are Irish.

When I first encountered salad as a first course in America I left it sitting there expecting my main to arrive shortly after to accompany it. Salad was never something considered a course in its own right unless it's something substantial like a nicoise or ceasar but this was a bowl of dressed leaves and a packet of crackers on the side that I had no idea what I was supposed to do with them.

Posted by
1749 posts

I remember once having a great lunch, Boeuf au Poivre, at a Paris
bistro. It was accompanied by a heaping plate of very hot, crispy
Pomme Fritz. I don't remember if I ate the French Fries with my
fingers, but if I did, was that a faux pas?

Yes, you can eat them with your fingers at fast food places, but in a Bistro that would be a faux pas. Just like you would not eat mashed potatoes with your fingers.

Posted by
5649 posts

Peas are difficult? This is why the Brits invented mushy peas. Problem solved.☺️

Posted by
119 posts

OK JC.. I get the "Hash browns are an American invasion" but what the heck are Irish "potato fails" ???

Posted by
3450 posts

While living in Germany for 3 years, I developed the left hand fork, right hand knife habit. Some people see that as pretentious. However, I remain a barbarian, because if I don’t need to cut anything with a knife, that fork is in my right hand.

If cutting and scooping are both appropriate for the food, the fork in my left hand spears the cut bite and somehow magically flips over to scoop the food that doesn't need cutting.

As I've read through this fun discussion, I've reflected on the typical things I ate growing up in TX and how I ate them. This was at a time when chickens were sold whole and you had to cut them up yourself. No pre-cut chicken and certainly no skinless, boneless anything.

If it was baked whole or barbecued, often half, you might start out with utensils, but soon abandoned them as inefficient for the task. Fried chicken was always cut up before breading for frying. Maybe it was my working-class upbringing, but we thought anyone who tried to eat fried chicken with a knife and fork was snooty.

This hands-on meat on the bone approach also applied to beef and pork ribs, fried rabbit and all the crustaceans you can imagine including crabs, crayfish and shrimp, peel and eat, fried or cocktail. We often fried fish and especially with larger catfish, we'd cut it into small pieces for frying. Perfect finger food.

Hands-on also applied to french fries, fried onion rings and a whole host of other fried foods like fried okra and fried eggplant chunks that were often served at bars. Now it includes sweet potato fries and fried zucchini.

I started eating Mexican food in a high chair in San Antonio. Tacos, beans rolled in a tortilla, totally hands-on. And tamales, in the corn husk, squeezed up from the bottom, eaten from the top. Later, nachos, of course.

Needless to say, napkins were much needed. In fact, in my house, we used hand towels as napkins. That's something I do to this day. I tuck it into the collar of my shirt, just like I saw the beautifully dressed women do with large white cloth napkins at a nice restaurant in Annecy.

Based on my living and traveling experiences in Europe, there seem to be fewer foods easier eaten by hand than by using utensils. For those that are, my fingers are at the ready and I make sure napkins are easily available.

Posted by
3677 posts

Being Canadian, I eat the British way, but with the fork tines up for transport to mouth. I'll be honest, I don't give dining etiquette much thought when travelling, except I do stress when traveling to places where using the left hand for food is frowned upon. I am left handed. I practiced eating ugali (stiff white corn mush) with my right hand before I went to Tanzania. The hard part was working on the dexterity to roll the mush into a ball, flatten it a bit in order to scoop up whatever stew it was accompanying. I don't know what I am going to do in India :-( I guess I'll have to tie my left hand behind my back or eat in heathen hotel restaurants.

Posted by
260 posts

There is a movie "Tampopo: the first Japanese noodle western!" (1985) There is a story, but it is about different foods and eating etiquettes.
In one scene, a refined lady is giving an etiquette class to some women about how to eat spaghetti. She insists that they should not make a single sound when eating it. Meanwhile on the other side of the restaurant there is a foreign businessman slurping away at his spaghetti.

"Eat spaghetti noiselessly" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNAZmLmyCJk

A scene I enjoyed more was the business dinner. In it several businessmen go for dinner in a fancy french restaurant. One of the bosses orders Sole Meuniere, consomme and a beer. Each of the other dinners order the same except for junior who is going to take advantage of being able to dine in such a restaurant. Some etiquette rules were definitely broken.

"French Restaurant" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRVLqUpHDJE

Posted by
295 posts

Like Maria F, my parents were sticklers for table manners. We were as well with our own kids. My grandmother went to Finishing school, then moved to Paris to learn to cook for a few years. So when she married and started a family, manners were definitely followed. I was very thankful to my parents for teaching me these things before I arrived at college. I remember watching a few sorority sisters eat and was stunned. My husband was a career military officer, so table manners were much needed for that way of life as well. It was nice to have that be second nature and not worry if I was doing the right thing or not at an important dinner.

I still use a knife and fork with pizza as that was ingrained in me. The only things I can recall from growing up that we ate with our hands were sandwiches, fried chicken, and tacos. Everything else was fork and knife, and still is. Corn on the cob is the exception, if we are eating it outside, then hands are fine, but if inside then the corn is cut off the cob. No idea why, but that is what I am used to.

Posted by
1676 posts

I can't can't think of anytime I felt awkward or confused while eating, but I have felt awkward/confused when it comes to asking for a table or ordering or paying... Our first night in Paris we waited for a table and the waiter came up to us confused of why we were just standing there. he told us to find a table and sit down. Next day at a fancier restaurant we sat down and the host came running over to us to find out why we sat down-it turns out we had to go to go see him at the front to ask for a table. In Trastevere in Rome I felt awkward when they sat us down at a table already occupied by others. In Santorini we had no idea what we were supposed to do. After waiting and then searching with no luck we finally just sat down, but still couldn't get served. In London at a Pub, I felt a bit awkward walking to the bar and ordering drinks and paying upfront because I'm so used to having a server come to the table at home.

It's definitely a learning experience.

Posted by
4248 posts

However, I remain a barbarian, because if I don’t need to cut anything with a knife, that fork is in my right hand.

Same with most Brits. If I'm eating something that doesn't require cutting then the fork is in my right hand.

Posted by
17867 posts

Potato should never form part of a Full English Breakfast.

You eschew potatoes, but you eat beans for breakfast, and something made with pig's blood. (?) I'll stay with hash browns, thank you.

I like hash browns because I like my eggs over easy, with the yolk runny, and I put them on top of the hash browns to soak up the egg yolk before it gets all over the plate. I guess toast would work for that, too, but I make a sandwich around the bacon with the toast.

I've really gotten to like the soft-boiled eggs they serve with breakfast in Germany, although it seem these days they want to serve eggs with the yolks too cooked.

I felt awkward when they sat us down at a table already occupied by others.

I love how in Germany you often sit at a table with strangers. But you always ask permission first. Once, in the Allgäu, another couple, German, of course, asked if they could sit with us, and we said yes. We had a wonderful conversation, made new friends, and ended up meeting them for dinner another night.

Posted by
7309 posts

Ok this is really important. I don't think it's ever been shared here. Here goes: Americans are taught to keep their free hand in the lap at the table.
In France DON'T! Stop. 🛑
Rest the wrist at the edge of the table--in full SIGHT. Parents tell their children that if the hand is in the lap, they're doing hanky-panky and get it on the table. 😂 True
How many kids in Europe have you shocked 😲

Posted by
3450 posts

Lee, that German tradition of sharing a table is something I adapted to and enjoyed when I lived there. It can apply in the States, too.

We were at an old motel on Route 66 in Kingman, AZ. It's very popular with visitors to our country. Breakfast there is excellent and it was very crowded one morning when I heard a young couple speaking German. They were at a large table by themselves. Using my rusty and pathetic German, I asked if we could join them. Of course they said yes.

They'd been to the Grand Canyon and were were heading west to Las Vegas. We had a nice conversation, mostly in English, before we each headed off to our destinations. I can't remember if it was April or October, the usual months we stay there going back and forth between Tucson and Seattle, but their surprise at how cold it was in northern AZ was a major topic.

Posted by
4248 posts

You eschew potatoes, but you eat beans for breakfast, and something made with pig's blood.

Nothing wrong with beans for breakfast, beans in one form or another are eaten for breakfast worldwide.

As for black pudding, is there really much of a distinction between cooked blood and a rare steak?

Posted by
4453 posts

We also embraced sharing a table when we lived in Poland. And yes, you ask permission, which is always granted. Other than a polite nod, you don't have to interact with the others at the table unless you want to. Oh, and always nod and say "Thank you" in the appropriate language when you get up to leave.

Posted by
3511 posts

Dear Lee: The problem with mushy peas is not how to eat them, but why.

A post near one of yours introduced me to someone named Pomme Fritz on a menu. I wonder if that chef could be Belgian? They, rather than their neighbours to the south, developed the fried potato dish called, in French, "patates frites". We North Americans now mistakenly attribute that essential side dish to the French fryers.

Meanwhile the stubborn English insist deep-fried potato wedges are "chips". North Americans know that "chips" are a crispy snack. Yet the London pub offers the tourist a snack of "crisps" and accompanies its steak with "chips". I won't delve deeper into which fingers go where.

Posted by
1391 posts

Not a European food, but on one of my visits to Mexico before moving here, I ordered huazontle in a restaurant. I'd read a review that highly recommended this dish. It came drenched in a sauce.

According to Wikipedia, the leaves, branches, flowers, and seeds are all edible. But the branches were, well, like tree branches. Very chewy. The flavor was in the leaves and flowers, as well as the sauce. It was really delicious, but I am still unsure how I was supposed to eat it.

I have not seen it at any restaurants in the area of Mexico where I now live, and no one I've asked around here knows about it.

Oh, and I just remembered a Europe story. In Trogir, the waiter at this restaurant highly recommended the sardines. They came whole and pan fried. I ended up eating a lot of the bones because separating the meat from the bone was a ridiculous exercise. But eating the bones was not pleasant, so I left some on the plate.

When the waiter came to pick up the dish, I wondered if the kitchen would have a laugh because there were bones left on the plate, or because there were only a few bones left on the plate!

Posted by
356 posts

The diners would pick up a piece of meat or vegetable from the serving dish, let it fall onto their rice, let it sit there for a second, and then, with the same chopsticks, pick up the piece of food and put it in their mouths. Apparently it is impolite to eat directly out of the serving bowls, but taking the food out of the serving dish with the same chopsticks that were just in your mouth is OK. Anyone have knowledge of this?

For informal dining among family and friends, each diner would have a personal pair of chopsticks.

For more formal dining (banquet) with unfamiliar diners, there would be a communal pair of chopsticks next to each serving dish. A diner would pick up food from the serving dish with the dish's communal chopsticks, and place it on a personal small plate next to the rice bowl first. The communal chopsticks would be placed back next to the serving dish. Then the diner would pick up the food from the small plate with the personal chopsticks and eat it. The communal chopsticks can also be used to pick up food for other diners, such as seniors (out of respect) and young children.

Posted by
356 posts

I was startled (and impressed) when as a college student I saw some students from China who were eating their hamburgers with chopsticks. Messy, but they got the job done.

That must be some time ago, and the student was probably not well off. These days, the nouveau riche take lessons. Don't laugh.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UIThICPEY8

Posted by
7309 posts

Interesting video. A bit sad, though. Note the student put her hand in her lap, no-don’t—but had it placed on the table edge by the end of the video.
My French husband used to entertain our kids by showing them how he could eat a banana with a knife and fork. We were lucky if our boys ever used any implements.

Posted by
17867 posts

I realized that Europeans, especially the French, do not refer to fried potatoes as "French fries". I've eaten in seven continental European countries, and I have never noticed them called anything except "Pomme fritz". I looked up menus for some Parisian restaurants, and I see that there, potatoes are more normally called "Pommes de Terre" (Apples of earth), so, what we call French Fries are called "Pommes de Terre Fritz". Also, in France, Patate for potato is only a slang word, likely because it came from the Spanish word "Patata".

Although they do not taste like apples, they have a similar texture, so they were called "Earth apples". In German's Schwabisch dialect they are called "Erdapfel". I understand the Dutch word is something similar.

That makes sense that the don't have native words for potatoes sincethey are a relatively recent addition to European cuisine; being of New World origin (Cortez brought them back from Mexico). I don't know if this is typical of France, but McDonalds France lists just "Fritz" (Fries, like we say) on their menu.

Posted by
4405 posts

Lee, just as “pizza” has become the universal word for the flat dough with toppings dish, however it’s consumed, I wonder if a universal name for that utilitarian root vegetable might de develop? How about “tater?” Or is that too close to French tartare?

And Mr. Potato Head, from whom Hasbro reportedly is making gender-neutral, and just calling “Potato Head” from now on ... considering that potato in Spanish is “papa,” in addition to patata ... would Spanish and German children maybe collectively consider him to be Papa Fritz?

Posted by
7309 posts

frites or les frites... not fritz

Posted by
2773 posts

I've never seen "patate" used in a French restaurant. Nor have I seen the use of "pommes de terre". While that is the correct name of the vegetable, it is commonly called simply "pomme", followed by a descriptor, such as "frites" (NOT fritz), puree, au gratin, etc.

Posted by
14227 posts

I don't know how Miss Manners ate corn on the cob with a knife and fork, but in my midwestern family in the heart of corn country, corn on the cob was a common dish and always eaten with knife and fork . . . . stick the fork in one end of the cob, the knife in the other end, lift the ear by the handles and gnaw away, after a liberal slathering of butter and sprinkled with salt.

Posted by
2773 posts

Chani, you made me LOL. Our family has always eagerly awaited the arrival of fresh picked corn on the cob in our local market. But ever since childhood we have always had those little corn holders - shaped like little corn ears with the 2 tines that you stuck on either end of the corn cob.

But the really important issue: how do you get the butter on your corn? Do you use your knife to spread it? Or do you roll it directly on the slab of butter? We just do the latter at home.

Posted by
5649 posts

Well, you could use the knife to remove the corn from the cob and eat it like corn-from-the-can, with or without butter. As far as I know the cob is not necessary. I am picturing the Crawleys serving sweetcorn at Downtown Abbey and guessing its not on the cob.

Posted by
7821 posts

Pretty sure only in the UK do they use the back of a fork for their food. Other countries use a fork as it is meant to be used and use a knife to help scoop food onto it or guide the food onto the fork. Yes, you keep the knife in one hand and the fork in another. Switching hands with every bite seems really silly once you watch people doing it.

As Bets pointed out, French fries are called Frites, not Fritz. No such word as Fritz in Germany except as a name.

One of my favorite signs at a burger place in Frankfurt, was a big sign hung over a large, decorative sink in the dining room - "At least try to eat your burger with your hands".

Posted by
4248 posts

Pretty sure only in the UK do they use the back of a fork for their food. Other countries use a fork as it is meant to be used and use a knife to help scoop food onto it or guide the food onto the fork.

In the UK food isn't placed on to the back of the fork. It's typically placed on the tines and the fork placed into the mouth with the back pointing upwards. This alleviates the need to raise your elbow to place the fork in your mouth in a shovelling fashion, you can place food with your elbow still at your side. Of course, some food requires a shovelling fashion such as peas or beans which is when everyone will turn a blind eye at such savagery.

Posted by
4522 posts

Here is a simple rule that can be used world-wide:

If it is messy - use the utensils.

Unless you are at the fair or street festival, there is nothing less appealing that watching someone eat with their hands and having messy sauce/cheese/meat/goop all over their hands, shirt or wherever. And then the whole licking the fingers part...

Posted by
1536 posts

I'm moving past recommending Joe Lurie's book and am now begging you to have a look:

https://www.amazon.com/Perception-Deception-Mind-Opening-Journey-Cultures/dp/0970846363/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&qid=1610165215&refinements=p_27%3AJoe+Lurie&s=books&sr=1-1&text=Joe+Lurie

Don't stand back and claim that you're all merely kidding with your 'proper' and 'correct' and arbitrary judgmentalism - none of us is immune from leaping to conclusions.

Posted by
4405 posts

Messy/Unsophisticated/Undexterous eaters just need more napkins ... or “serviettes” for those who insist. Question is, does one place it neatly in one’s lap, or just over one thigh, or stuffed down the front of a blouse/shirt/dress, or b the hand that’s not holding a fork or spoon, so that it’s always at the ready.

If some influential person made adult bibs fashionable, maybe that would become an essential thing in some circles. Sports team logos on bibs would further increase their appeal!

Posted by
277 posts

In the mid 90’s we had a foreign exchange student from Brazil. It was a joke amount all the exchange students that Americans eat all their food with their hands. Our Brazilian “daughter” adapted fairly quickly to eating Mexican food, hamburgers and fries with her fingers so that she would fit in. We hosted her Mom for a short visit and will never forget that Mom used a knife and fork to eat grilled hamburgers. Since then, we have seen it on our travels to Europe. I hope we didn’t make her feel uncomfortable when she was visiting.

Posted by
162 posts

I've never seen "patate" used in a French restaurant. Nor have I seen the use of "pommes de terre". While that is the correct name of the vegetable, it is commonly called simply "pomme", followed by a descriptor, such as "frites" (NOT fritz), puree, au gratin, etc.

Patate is not uncommon to see on cartes as a descriptor in France. And of course, there's the kitschy restaurant chain called La Pataterie with a potato in their logo ( though I notice it's missing from their website, so maybe they're moving beyond that). You can see the logo here.

Not as creepy as La Boucherie restaurant chain, with the apparently cannibalistic steer licking his lips at the thought of all that beef.

Posted by
4664 posts

I don't think anybody answered the cheese question - if raw cheese is served on its own or with bread/biscuits, that is one of the few things you eat with your hands, after you've cut a piece off with the knife.

It annoys me in London that upmarket burger places often put so much toppings in the burgers that trying to eat with your hands makes an awful mess.

Posted by
280 posts

The only time that I ever worried about how I was eating and using the utensils was at a private dinner at the Merchants Club in Brugge....there was a line up of glasses, utensils that was (to my boorish North American upbringing) totally incomprehensible. I observed and followed my hosts lead.
I don't like to eat messy food with my hands so I use a fork and knife whenever I feel like I need it. Maybe the years I spent in Germany influenced that, I'm not sure. I hold the knife and fork like an American, and I don't eat from the back of it or try to pack it with food with my knife. No one has ever complained.
When I get a massive corned beef on rye at a NYC deli I ask for a fork and knife if it's not been provided. I don't give a hoot about how you eat your sandwich, that's how I eat mine. Ribs or chicken on the bone...fork and knife. My wife, with her hands.
In Asia I am very proficient with chopsticks. I can eat almost anything served with them. I can swing a dumpling or a spring roll around with the best of them. Corn on the cob (in Asia) is cut into short pieces so that you can pick it up with the sticks, no problem. Chili crabs....with the sticks until you need to break open the shells. Same as the locals.
In places where the hands are used I follow the right hand rule and I "get over" my aversion to messy hands. But if I cook that same food at my house, tools....
How do you eat shell on prawns in Asia? However you want. No one cares as long as you enjoy them. It is amazing to watch someone peel the shells in their mouth but it's fine to do it with your hands or your sticks.
What you do need to pay attention to is where you eat.... in many countries you must either eat at a table or in your own home. That big bag of sausage and baguette are not meant to be eaten while you are walking down the street....but a shaslik or wurst...no problem.
Just watch to see what the locals are doing and try to conform.

Posted by
4453 posts

Philip, thanks for the cheese tip.

Mack, yes, watching the locals is of course key. But twice we've been the only ones in sight with whatever it was (yes, prawns or other seafood, usually) that was causing us concern.

I, too, tend toward using utensils more than most Americans, but I do have my lapses. Stan laughed last night when he realized he was eating his (steamed but still a little crunchy) buttered green beans with his hands.

And that reminded me that years ago I read in several "etiquette" books that asparagus was considered a finger food. What? Raw asparagus, maybe. Although at that point in my life the only asparagus I had ever encountered came in a can.

Posted by
1716 posts

Jane, I also wondered the same as well and apparently, or at least according to my 60 second internet research, the Christian Science Monitor no less says it wasn’t Emily Post (as I had recalled hearing) but that in fact at one time yes, asparagus was digital long before computers.

We were amazed to watch Europeans eat raw apples with knives and forks on our first trip, something I’ve never seen anywhere ever in America.

Posted by
4405 posts

If asparagus spears have hollandaise sauce poured on them, are they still finger food, dripping sauce and all? And if the sauce is considered part of the asparagus serving, is it then acceptable to use the side of a finger to squeegee any remaining sauce off of the plate, and pop one’s finger into one’s mouth, to get every drop?

I remember chef Alex Guarnaschelli mentioning once on TV that she was once served a chocolate cake with gooey frosting that was so good, she sneaked off to the ladies’ room with the plate, so that she could lick it off without anyone seeing her. Some might suggest to never do something in private that you wouldn’t do in public, but when it involves chocolate ...

Posted by
280 posts

Asparagus raw might be considered to be a finger food...but not cooked. On an appetizer tray you would use a tool or a toothpick to place it on your plate or napkin, then you could eat it with your fingers.
If you have the great fortune to enjoy white asparagus in Europe, it is always eaten with knife and fork. If there is sauce on the plate use the fork and knife provided. Your fingers are never used as a scoop on the plate or used to push food onto your fork. It makes me cringe when I see someone do that. That's not far removed from licking the plate. Cultural differences aside, there are also basic table manners that apply. Default towards better manners, not boorish behavior if you don't want to offend.
If you are enjoying a meal from a banana leaf or using a piece of naan to scoop up the food you might consider using your had as an option.
Peeled and blanch chilled asparagus you might encounter in China is picked up with the chopsticks, not your fingers. If you need to ask for a fork no one will mind. That said, you'll get more acceptance fumbling and trying to learn than giving up and using western tools.

Posted by
98 posts

John II, I had to laugh at your reference to Jon Stewart and his reaction to eating pizza with a knife and a fork. Stewart is a Jersey Boy (609 area code as he likes to point out, as is ours). New Jersey is also the state in which you can almost always get pizza by the slice, no matter which kind, no matter which topping(s). Once in NYC (Manhattan) with my now adult sons, we ate at a restaurant that proudly stated they would never serve pizza by the slice. That was it for my teenage sons! They had had it with a "stupid" place with a "stupid" rule. Pizza, hoagies, brownies, bar cookies, etc. are always eaten by hand in New Jersey.
Back to the OP's original topic: memories of Vienna come to mind when I somehow picked up my husband's fish knife to cut my (whatever it was but it wasn't fish) and the look of horror on the server's face made me wonder if someone had just pulled out a gun! She came over, took the knife out of my hand, handed me the "proper" one, walked away and brought back a fish knife for my husband. A few days later in Salzburg, I ordered a glass of wine which the server brought to me on a small tray. As he lowered the tray, I reached up to take the glass. Oh no! I had broken yet another rule! He must be the one to lift it and place it in front of me on the table! I found that same tray in a Salzburg shop and bought it for the memory or revenge, I'm not sure which. . .

Posted by
3450 posts

For those Tucci obsessed like me, did you notice how people were eating the crustaceans and shellfish in the last Tuscany bit about Livorno? Utensils and hands. It's all good. 🦞🦐

In fact, there's a lot of eating with hands in the series, but sometimes it's upstaged by the context, or maybe by my watering mouth.

Posted by
4453 posts

Lo, thanks for that comment. I'll look for some of the Tucci episodes. They're available, no?

Posted by
571 posts

When in doubt, at least when anybody might see you eating, no matter what the food is, if utensils are available, you should use the utensils and avoid touching your food with your fingers or hands, if it would be physically possible to do so. If you have to touch your food or eat with your fingers, wash your hands good just before touching it, don't touch your clothes or face until you are done eating, and wash your hands good just after you finish eating. I'm sticking with that judgment unless or until persuaded differently.

Posted by
4405 posts

Lindy, your Salzburg anecdotes were entertaining. Hope your meals were all delicious at any rate. But that tray you bought - for the memory or maybe revenge - can you take items off of it now, or is there still someone else you need to do that - lol!

Posted by
14227 posts

CJean - our big city family graduated to those yellow corn holders early but the folks downstate took a lot longer. We used knives for the butter but your way would have been much better. Half the butter melted and slid onto the place before you could properly spread it.

Pizza - The only place in Chicago (which has the best pizza outside of Italy) you could get a slice was in Woolworth's and it was awful. Chicago pizza (thin crust) is sliced like a grid, into manageable squares and, yes, eaten by hand. It's great - not everyone likes crusts 😜. I do try to eat pizza with utensils in Italy but sometimes I just have to revert to my midwestern uncouthness.

Chopsticks - I'm pretty good with them, but I really try to order only food I know I can deal with. I've learned to eat spring rolls with them. One reason I love Thailand is the food and the way it's eaten - with a fork and a soup spoon. The fork is used mostly to shove food onto the spoon, sometimes with together with the spoon to cut food into smaller pieces.

Hummus should only be eaten by hand, using pieces of pita to wipe/mop it up. Here in Israel, you'll say "let's go eat falafel or whatever, but let's go wipe hummus."

Posted by
4453 posts

Chani, here in Oklahoma, hummus is usually served as a dip with raw vegetables. I find if you eat hummus with a spoon, you get more! (And then, use your finger to wipe the dish clean...)

Posted by
14227 posts

Oh, Jane, Jane, Jane. Hummus/pita is like horse/carriage (though not love/marriage :-), or technically carriage/horse . . . Hummus requires a pita, though you can eat a pita with many other foods, just as a horse has other uses, but a carriage . . . . . You can scoop up as much hummus as you can shove in your mouth with a torn off chunk of pita, and you always use pita to wipe the dish clean.

Posted by
4453 posts

Chani, thanks for letting me start my day with a laugh.

In northeastern Oklahoma, there is a phenomenon called the Lebanese steak house. Many of the early settlers to this part of the world were from Syria and Lebanon. (Think Ali Hakim in the musical "Oklahoma!") Most of them seemed to be entrepreneurial, and opened clothing stores, grocery stores, or restaurants.

A number of these family businesses still survive in our area, including several steak houses. (I'm getting to the point, but you need some background.)

When you order a steak or any other main course at one of these restaurants, you get a huge first course platter that includes raw veggies, smoked bologna, barbecued ribs, tabouli, and hummus. No pita. There's only so much hummus you can get on a carrot stick. Although I've found if you hold two carrot or celery sticks together tightly, you can manage a decent sized scoop of hummus. :-)

I'm expecting Kim from Paris as well as Kim from OK to jump in here, to bolster my story of the Lebanese steak houses.

Posted by
98 posts

Okay, now that we've moved into the hysterical subject of pita and Chicago pizza along with horses and carriages (so enjoyed that read), how about naan? I make onion naan along with whatever curry I'm in the mood for or tikka masala. While my family does not eat from a communal dish because we don't want to be that traditional, I've never gotten the hang of tearing off a piece of naan and scooping up the curry on my plate as I know many in certain countries do. I can never get the curry on the naan. Is there a trick? I think my naan may be too thick--I might need to roll each piece out more.

Posted by
1590 posts

I think the naan being too thick is correct. My husband used to trade English/Spanish lessons with a family from Mexico. When he stayed for dinner, all the food was eaten by being picked up with pieces torn from the homemade corn tortillas. Yum.

Posted by
14227 posts

Lindy, the problem probably isn't with the naan. I like Israeli pitas best because they are thicker than in other countries, which also makes them better for falafel because they don't leak. It is more likely the consistency of the curry - hummus works well because it's a paste. The best way to serve hummus is with a hot gravy of whole chickpeas on top and that does make it a tad messy to eat - trying to catch the pieces and not drip the gravy.

Jane, that platter sounds yummy. Still needs a pita, and as a purist, I don't think hummus should be combined with healthy veggies. It needs a little olive oil and maybe some tahini. Veggies stay in a salad where nature meant them to end up.