Knife, Forks and Spoons…

Long back, I went to Sirifort Auditorium to watch the National Film Festival. It is a showcase of all the movies that got the national award that year, conducted every year by Government of India. As the story of the relationship between Ornub Mitra and Sidhartha unravelled before the eyes of Arti Mishra, there was this movement that got etched in my mind where Ornub talks about cutleries.

Cutlery means any hand implement used in preparing, serving, and especially eating food. Common cutleries include spoon, fork and knife. In China, people use chopsticks as cutlery.

Do you want Nehru’s line or my line?

What is Nehru’s line?

Eating with fork and spoon is like making love through an interpreter.

So what is your line?

My line is simple

I hate the cold pieces of steel coming between the food and my mouth

Many times while having the food from hotels in Delhi, I was stared upon by people for eating with hands instead of cutlery. People in Delhi prefer to eat with spoons, even there are those roadside eateries where food is served with hand, but eaten with spoons. Surprising thing is that they not only eat with a spoon but also thinks that people who eat with hands are inferior and is to be stared upon with disgust.

Surprising thing is that they not only eat with a spoon but also thinks that people who eat with hands are inferior and is to be stared upon with disgust. Once when I was eating from a Pind Balluchi outlet in Noida along with a friend, the youngsters in the adjacent table was staring at us too much that I had to narrate the scene from Memories in March and quote what Ornub said with added gestures to make sure that our neighbours will overhear.

Coming to use of cutleries, use of cutlery is primarily a Western practice which was alien to the Indian subcontinent. Indians traditionally used to eat with hands. The staple food of majority in the Indian subcontinent is flatbreads/pancakes.It is easy to tear off a piece from it and hold it between fingers to take meat or vegetables with it and eat both together. Even if rice is the food as in South India, the rice is sticky and can be made into a small ball by hands and can be eaten.

Eating with your hands calls for your attention whereas cutlery leads to absent-minded eating. This, often known as mindful eating, is said to be healthier as it is a conscious, careful, thought out act. Once we touch our food with our hands, the nervous system signals our stomach to get ready to prepare itself for the food, thus improving digestion. This is also more hygienic as we can wash the hands properly before every meal, while we may not be able to wash the cutlery in public place.

Apart from these, there are also cultural reasons. What we consider proper table manners looks rude in other lands and vice versa. In India, the right hand is used to eat food. Indian belief is that food is more than just protein, carbs and fat … it nourishes the mind, intellect and spirit. Eating with your hands gives you a connection with the food and makes it sensual and mindful.

Even the table manners or the rules used while eating, including the appropriate use of utensils, are different across the cultures. Each family or group may even set its own standards for how strictly these rules are to be enforced.

Use of cutlery is prevalent in Urban areas of North India, primarily due to western influence. These were areas where British people resided in India and their influence is the primary reason for this. Unfortunately, youngsters from urban middle-class families thought this as the progressive and scientific way of having food and started imitating blindly. This imitation got passed from generation to generation and from class to class, thus changing the idea of the etiquette of food in urban North India.

The real table manners should depend on the culture of the area where we are eating and culture of the area from where the dish originated. For an example, you should eat Chinese food with Chopsticks if possible and western food with Fork, Knife and Spoons. But eating Biriyani which has meat with bone or Bengali fish fry with Fishbone is not only impossible with spoon and fork but also a deviation from basic etiquette. Those who eat Masala Dosa with Spoon and Fork are either ill-mannered or ignorant and in the majority of the cases the latter.

Next time, you see someone eating with hands, try not to stare, understand that it is their habit and culture and they have reasons to do so. Next time when you visit a restaurant, think about the cuisine and how it is to be had before jumping on to the cutlery. Respect each other’s preferences and likes.

Cutlery & Taste

There’s the word from researchers who were studying how cutlery, dishes and other inedible accoutrements to a meal can change our sense of taste. Their latest work, published in the journal ‘Flavour’, looks at how spoons, knives and other utensils we put in our mouths can provide their own kind of “mental seasoning” for a meal.

The colour and shape of plates and other dishes can have an impact on the eating experience. Studies have found, for example, that people tend to eat less when their dishes are in sharp color-contrast to their food and drinks can seem more thirst-quenching when consumed from a glass with a “cold” colour like blue. The seafood tastes better with a background voice of waves and gentle one-sided breeze.

This is not only about the cutlery, but also about the surroundings, your mood, the people who are with you etc. So eat food with those whom you love, the way you love and in the surroundings you love.

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