Eating With Hands

By Tris Marlis - Tuesday, Apr 02, 2013

Eating fried chicken with hand is an action that evokes the senses. From the moment your fingertips touch the surface of that fried chicken, your body sends a signal to your brain to anticipate the those crunchy bits of fried skin, juicy meat and when you end your meal with a finger lickin’ gesture, it’s satisfaction. Eating with hands is a common religious practice in many parts of the world, including Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Eating with hand is a common practice in countries like India, Indonesia and Africa. (image courtesy of ezola)

In a recent article by the New York Times, Vinita Chopra Jacinto, an instructor at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco stated that Indians eat with their hands because they believe that food nourishes the mind, intellect and spirit. She also says that this practice builds a sensuous connection to the food, encourages mindful eating and raises awareness. Cutlery is seen as a barrier, and emotionless, like a weapon.
We interviewed a young Sri Lankan, Joy Kumari, whose reason to eat with hand is simple: “Somehow, I feel that food taste better when you eat with hand.” For her, it’s also a practice that signifies togetherness, “It’s a tradition, especially during family gathering. My mother would teach the younger kids how to eat with their hands, I am a pro now.”
Scientifically, a recent research found that eating with hand sends signal to our brain that forces our body to release hormone and enzyme which help with the digestive system. Scientists also encourage children under 12 years old to use hand to eat as it helps with the fine motor development.
The secret to gracefully eat with fingers is to use your thumb. Form a little pile of rice on your plate, scoop it up with a twist of your wrist and use your thumb to push the food past a grove created by the fingers and into the mouth (without putting fingers in).
Meat with bones, such as pork ribs, fried chicken wings and fried fish are best eaten with hands, as it allows you to pick up even the smallest pieces of meat off the bone. Rice dishes like nasi padang and nasi briyani are also meant to be eaten with your fingers, as their strong aroma of spices will linger as a memento of a really good meal.
My 75-year-old grandmother who is an Indonesian Chinese will ditch utensils whenever she can, and she always tells us: “Fork and spoon are man-made. Eating with hand is the most natural way of eating.” And of course, it makes food even more finger licking good as it’s a multisensory engagement.


Eating out of a big pot of rice with hands signify togetherness (image courtesy of oar4me via Flickr)