The paws that refreshes – do you eat with your hands?
February 3rd, 2011
06:00 PM ET
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Yes, we're later than usual on the poll today. For one, I actually (gasp!) left my desk for lunch today in order to record a podcast for our new series (more on that soon). Actually, though, I'm attributing it more to having signed up for the 10:30 seating of chefs Eddie Huang and Tyler Kord's Chinese New Year dinner at No. 7 restaurant in Brooklyn last night.

Diners lucky enough to score a reservation (rumor had it that Jimmy Fallon's party couldn't nab an 8 p.m. table and had to abandon mission) clustered around a communal table, daintily spooning and spearing family-style cold sesame noodles, sausage dumplings and pickles onto their square white plates.

Chopsticks picked up pace, clattering as bowls of bitter butter greens, a soy-drizzled whole Dorade and obscenely silken tofu topped with century-old egg hit the table. By the time the fat-swaddled pork shoulder and eight-treasure (1. lotus seeds, 2. edamame, 3. smoked ham, 4. mushrooms and...did I mention there was also wine?...) glutinous rice-stuffed duck arrived, decorum had flapped out the window.

For the second night in a row, I was in the midst of a Dionysian frenzy of diners - mostly food writers - tearing at large hunks of meat with their bare hands. Other people's rapture is often unlovely to witness. But when you're all in the thick of it, abandon has become the norm and everything...EVERYTHING on your person is fat-smeared, oil-drenched and reeking of meat juice, the meal transcends from eating to experience.

Then again, I love to eat with my hands. Yes, I can and do sit like a proper lady in front of people, holding utensils and dabbing and daubing just so. I would never choose to do that if I didn't have to. I'm not a savage - not in public at least. I gauge the room, the comfort level of my companions, and might hazard a pinch of bread, then a round, roasted potato, perhaps a shard of ham ferried to my mouth between thumb and forefinger. If no one seems to mind, and I'm among friends, I may even abandon utensils entirely, save for that which needs spooning.

I swear I'm not unseemly about it. A friend who dreams of penning etiquette books, should she ever find the time, once announced to all and sundry that I could eat entire meal with my hands and make it seem like the most elegant thing in the world. I do take other people's comfort levels into account, and in that spirit, ensured it would never be held against me when it counted most - at home.

On the website through which I met my husband, one line item read, "Fill in the blank. ______ is sexy. ______ is sexier." It would seem he was undaunted by a woman who felt that eating with her hands was sexier than just plain old "eating."

Still, I'm glad he wasn't there last night to see me wrench the head off that Shanghai duck with my bare fingers and suck meat from its bulging cheeks into mine. That would just be unladylike.

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Filed under: Asian • Buzz • Chinese • Chinese New Year • Cuisines • Holidays • Lunchtime Poll

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soundoff (116 Responses)
  1. Kryss

    Is there a name for people who choose to eat with their hands and not utensils? I eat with my hands primarily and a friend said she thought there was a name for it. I can't find anything. Anyone else? If it's in the comments, I apologize, I haven't read them all.

    June 23, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  2. Finger Lickin good

    I eat with my hands all the time, and see nothing wrong with it so long as it is done in a polite and well mannered way. No one likes to see anyone inhaling food, chewing with their mouth open, and generally being disgusting with or without a fork.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  3. The Witty One

    For all of you who say eating with your hands is bad....screw you! I lost my hands in a tragic eating accident when I was a kid. I still yearn to pick up a sandwich or slice of pizza with my hands and gobble away. Luckily for me, the doctor who replaced my missing hands gave me a knife and fork (one on each nub) so that I could still eat. Makes typing hard. I started this comment yesterday!

    February 8, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  4. Truth

    I prefer a knife and fork for the most part, except obviously for something like a burget or a sandwich that is intended to be picked up. I have a hard time though with someone who has to ask why I use a fork on something like french fries or bacon or sausage. As far as I am concerned, I don't care if companions use their hands, their fork or their feet. Just do your thing and I'll do mine.

    February 7, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      I'll just sit there in my wool jockstrap and do my thing.

      February 8, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  5. Chae Hun Cho

    Who the hack cared whether I ate foods with my bare hands, globed on hands, forks, knifes, chopsticks, or..even with using my toes!! Are we still, if not egocentric, living in our self nobility, wrongfully thinking that we'd become an inch more dignified, or be portrayed better civilized than some other cutures that encourage them to eat with their hands?

    This is that difference of cultural mindset that makes people still thinking this article, to begin with, worthy to be a debatable issue.. Liveing modern world, people already know it's okay to eat with their bare hands depending upon the kinds of foods people wish to have thme with.. If you buy this notion that eating with bare hands can be anypeculiar look, or act to begin with, is Western civilization cultural mindset.. There's nothing barbaric about eating foods with bare hands, as my ancestors made Kim Chi with bare hands, and ther're many Kroean dishes you can eat with bare hands and nobody should stare at you oddly.. So what do you think of using chopsticks.. Does it look less normal than eating with forks and spoons??

    And I won't eat every foods with bare hands since – depending on varieties of foods- it would be less sanitary..But let alone sanitation and convenience aspects, about the way people think what's so peculiar and extraordinary, I'd finish by being reminded of this proverb of a saint: What's inside you (your mind) make things dirty. The outside isn't!! (Jesus..)

    February 7, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • AleeD

      Oh PLEASE don't paint that kind of sweeping brush stroke to paint a picture of Western culture. Of course there are some in ANY culture, even yours, who feel their way is the only way. That doesn't mean they are correct! It's just their opinion (which is what these blogs are all about: opinions).

      I can say with a straight face that there are MANY facets to American culture. This blog only touches one.

      All Americans, who have two hands to use, eat SOMETHING with their bare hands – whether they'll admit to it or not.

      February 8, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  6. MsAttitude

    I went on a date once with a man about 6 years older than me...we went to a sushi place...he ate with his hands, getting them all in the soy sauce. I was mortified. If we had been in a park or something, it'd been different, but really? In a decent restaurant!? Needless to say it was our only date...

    February 7, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • I'll Say!!

      Would you rather he had used chopsticks poorly and accidentally flicked a chunk of sushi roll in your lap? I hope there was more to your repulsion of him than what you wrote.

      I have to eat sushi with my pingies, too. Otherwise I could flick a spicy conch roll in your eye!!!!

      February 8, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  7. jorge

    Dear Author-It seems as though you have been hobnobbing with the limp-wristed, linen tablecloth set far too long and it has worn off on you.

    February 7, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Jerv @ jorge

      Did you not read this part by the author? "Then again, I love to eat with my hands." Jeeze.

      February 7, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  8. Ituri

    I love all the ridiculous comments from "guys" who "love to watch a woman get messy with a piece of meat" or "suck out the marrow." Self-impressing, much?

    Here in the real world it really doesn't matter, does it? I use a napkin in a restaurant, I eat pizza by hand with my family and friends, and I gut and fire my own fish when camping. What part of ANY of that tells you anything about me as a person? Squat, really.

    February 7, 2011 at 2:15 am |
  9. Sndp

    What's the big fuss? Using hands are natural. Wash your hands before and after a meal. Also, wash your mouth after a meal. That way, you don't even need a 'once in 6 months" dentist appointment either. For someone who said, it's easy to eat pasta with a fork and not with your hands, it's just a matter of practice. If one is used to eating with hands, you can eat anything, and I mean anything with your hands.

    February 7, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  10. HighLifeGirl

    I remember visiting my friend's grandma's house for dinner when we were in second grade. They were very Italian (so strange to an Irish girl like me) and many grabbed the delicious veal off the platter with their fingers. My friend did too, and her mother fussed at her, but her grandma defended her with "Rosa, she has fingers, so she eats!" Took me so long to appreciate her grandma's ways, but I wish I had it to do all over again – but she scared me as a child ( I ate as much as I could, and she said "Whats the matter, you no like the veal?" I had never tasted veal in my life! Since then, I have visited Italy and learned to celebrate the joys of life and eating. Grazie to the DiMattias!

    February 6, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  11. donny

    love my hog brains. makes a good sandwich. or rabbit brains . use be my number one dinner.

    February 6, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  12. donny

    i thought ever one eat with there fingers? im from ky we eat the fastest way of craming it in. spoon dont hold enuff so i cram it in with my dirty fingers.mmmmmmmmmmmm good that way

    February 6, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  13. Marl

    It all depends on what the food is ... I don't do spaghetti, for instance, with my fingers or hands.

    I do corn on the cob ... olives, pickles, hamburger in a bun, ribs always with finger lickin' yummy, pizza folded, fried egg with sliced onion on WonderBread is favorite finger food, as is lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, crab legs.

    Asparagus is/are a finger food, too, btw. Oh, and I love fresh raw peas right out of the shell ... popcorn, too, is delicious finger food, especially with lots of butter!!

    Remember, too, hand rolls are great for fingers ... feels like an ice cream cone. Hmmmm.

    Ice cream sandwiches are fun. Don't forget apples, pears, bananas, grapes - all of those - including watermelon!!! Oh yeah!

    February 6, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  14. JR

    Ummmm...EVERYONE eats with their eating with fingers...much of the world does eat with fingers, mostly restricted to the right hand. It is most definitely an art.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  15. Bob

    Any true foodie knows that a green salad tastes much better when eaten with fingers.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • AleeD

      Really!? I'll have to try that next time I'm at Outback.

      February 8, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  16. Tammy

    Eating with your hands should be more universally accepted. After all, it keeps those who text at the table down to a minimum.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  17. Edward

    When eating in the Philippines with my friends we always eat "kamayan" or with our hands as it the tradition in the country. There is actually a technique involved. I just love experiencing a different culture with different traditions. I could do with out the cold water showers however.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  18. Lothar

    This system needs an edit function for the poster. I like to correct mistakes I made

    February 6, 2011 at 6:39 am |
  19. Lothar

    Only eat with my left hand. I use my right hand to whip my behind with so beware of people who use both hands.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:37 am |
  20. Tibor

    After living for 18 years in the U.S.,my firm conviction is that the vast majority of the natives have not the slightest idea how to use a knife and a fork. And I mean vast majority.But you are unbeatable in eating a Big Mac...just look at president Obama and the Russian president Medvedev eating in a fast food restaurant.

    February 6, 2011 at 5:11 am |
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