Guest editor: Taylor Carter
Eating Around the World..
When we think of eating utensils, the most familiar ones come to mind; forks, knives, and spoons. Maybe chopsticks come to mind, but that’s about it as far as common eating utensils. But we can’t expect everyone in the world to eat with these four utensils, and they most definitely do not.
Many countries utilize chopsticks while eating their meals, but just because the utensil shares a name, doesn’t mean they are all the same. Chinese and Vietnamese chopsticks are similar in size and have the same blunt point. Japanese style chopsticks are generally shorter and taper to a fine point. The size of chopsticks for men and women often differ with women using shorter chopsticks. Nepali chopsticks are also shorter than the Chinese chopsticks while Korean chopsticks have are medium-length with a flat, rectangular shape. While most of these countries traditionally use bamboo or other wood to make the chopstick, the traditional Korean chopstick was made of brass or silver and were often ornately decorated. Lacquered bamboo chopsticks are common today and are found in more areas than just these Asian countries.
Another Asian country, India, doesn’t use a utensil like the chopstick or the common fork. Instead, most meals are consumed using the hands. While it might be considered impolite and dirty to use hands to eat a meal, it is very common in India. There are certain customs that must be adhered to while eating, such as using the right hand to scoop, mix and eat the food. The left hand is used for cleaning the mouth, wiping the right hand and even picking up scraps from the table. By using this simple method, keeping the food clean is easier and many follow this proper eating etiquette. If the food isn’t able to be consumed using hands, a form of flat bread can be used to scoop and to soak up the food being served.
This type of flat bread is similar to what is used in Ethiopia. Ethiopians use a large piece of injera to serve a traditional meal. The bread is made from the grain teff and it serves as a sort of plate and is also used as a scoop to bring food up to the mouth. While it may seem like an informal way of eating by American standards, it is very common in Ethiopia. There are several rituals that go along with traditional meals in this country, such as the thorough washing of hands before a formal meal. When the meal ends, coffee is a common drink that is served and allows for a social atmosphere.
In Thailand, spoons and forks are common and are used to eat most meals with the exception of noodle soup, where chopsticks and a flat-bottomed soup spoon is used. However similar these utensils might be to our own, they are not always used in the same manner. The spoon is used for bringing food to the mouth, while the fork is used for cutting and shoveling the food. Putting the fork into one’s mouth is not a common practice in Thailand. It’s as strange to us as our eating utensils are to them. This method is also seen in Cambodia and Laos, where the spoon is the primary eating instrument. To ensure sterility, cutlery is often served at the table in a glass of boiling water.
With as many cultures and countries there are in the world, it should be no surprise that there are so many various forms of utensils. Many countries share similar utensils while other countries couldn’t be more different. However, the reason for use behind the tool is the same; consuming food for survival. As humans adapt and evolve, so do our habits and eating utensils and manners are just two examples of the ways in which we have done so.
Did you know that Leonardo DaVinci is responsible for the invention of what we use to eat our foods-fork, knife and spoon? For more on the foodie in DaVinci and recipes from some of his favorite places get your copy of The Basic Art of Italian Cooking: DaVinci Style