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Forks vs. Fingers [moved from General Chowhounding Topics]

I love food that I can eat with my hands. I have always found it to be a fun and sensual experience.
Now, I would never do this in public, but I have found many of the chefs I work with feel the same way - when we're back in the kitchen, we will dig into our own food with our hands: steak, mashed potatoes, whatever.
However, both my boyfriend and my ex prefer forks. My boyfriend and I go to a restaurant - I order ribs, he gets pasta. Of course, the waiter puts the ribs down in front of my boyfriend. So, I guess it is not really a girl thing.
Maybe I'm just really in touch with my inner child. Maybe it is a chef thing. I don't know.
Which do you prefer? And why?

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  1. I enjoy foods that lend themselves to eating by hand, such as burritos, tacos, sandwiches, fruit, pizza, corn on the cob ... Perhaps it's a primal thing. As a gringo, when I first started eating sushi many years ago I was very serious about using the chopticks correctly, etc. ... After many meals and many years of observation I still use the sticks but also feel free to handle nigiri and maki now and then and enjoy it that way.

    4 Replies
    1. re: misohungrychewlow

      I'm always amazed when Americans try to be "authentic" and eat maki or nigiri with chopsticks. They were invented to be eaten with your hands. Imagine someone in Japan eating a ham sandwich with a knife and fork. Even more amusing is watching someone trying to jam a futomaki into their maw with chopsticks.

      1. re: FrancoAmerican

        It's a cultural bias as well as a false quest for authenticity. At the end of the spectrum, some Swedes and Norwegians have a real aversion to eating the the hands. It's not unusual to see them eat pizza, hamburgers, sandwiches, or apples with a knife and fork. I'd like to see Lars and Swen in an Ethiopian joint ...

        1. re: FrancoAmerican

          Similar to when my boyfriend (embarassingly) demands chopsticks in a Thai restaurant. The Thai don't use them. They are there because silly Americans want to be authentic and use them.

          1. re: FrancoAmerican

            I'd rather see sushi "afficionados" eat sushi w/forks or chopsticks rather than ineptly or clumsily w/fingers. I recently saw two folks who wanted to appear "authentic" by eating sans chopsticks. They lost their sushi in the soy sauce, so they plopped the neta in their mouth and then went digging for the loose rice in the soy sauce dish. Ugh.

            If it can't be done well, don't do it at all.

        2. I love eating with my hands. I lived in Africa for about a bit, where silverware was unheard of... It was awkward at first to learn how to eat rice and sauce with my hands, but once I got the hang of it I loved it. Now that I'm back in the states, husband and I still try to eat this way once in a while.

          I also know some people who are flat-out repulsed by the idea.


          1. This is one area where I like it all or nothing, either everything eaten w/ fingers or none. I have trouble w/ ribs and sides that are eaten w/ forks because you either have to clean your hands between bites, or eat all the ribs, clean and then eat the sides. Crab boils are another meal. Pizza isn't as bad because it's not so messy but switching back and forth is a pain!

            3 Replies
            1. re: chowser

              Ah, yes. It is very important to have one clean hand. I learned this in college (Syracuse University, Back when wings were popular only near Buffalo.) You had to have one hand for the messy saucy wings and one hand for your beer. Otherwise you might get sauce on your beer glass and drop it!
              I find the "one clean hand" technique comes in handy in lots of situations. ;)

              1. re: cheftori

                See, for me, buffalo wings require two hands, especially the two bone ones (not the little drumsticks--what are they called???). So, I have to pick up the beer with the heels of my hands so I won't get it dirty, and still risk dropping it. I wonder if I can fill my camelback hydration pack with beer...;-)

            2. I loooove eating with my fingers. Loooove it.

              esp if it's food that I need to 'process' and pick at like getting meat off wings or ribs. Or food that also gets all over my face like corn or watermelon If I am alone or at home, I sometime eat noodles, pasta etc with my fingers, stirfries, steak strips, oh yeah! If I could, I would eat most everything with my hands but it's sort of frowned upon at restaurants. I never eat mashed potatoes at home but if I did, I would totally eat them with my hands, that would be awesome

              WHY? feels good!

              my husband, however, refuses to eat almost anything with his hands, he hates it. Enither of us are chefs though he does the bulk of our cooking

              1. i like eating with my hands too. had to readjust to forks after returning from india and it still seems like indian food doesn't taste right when eaten off a fork, but i generally follow the table manners of those around me so i use the fork in restaurants. at home i am likely to use interchangably fork, spoon, hands, sticks, all used about equally (but i like a specific tool for some things-- i like to eat salad with sticks for example). i'm a chef.

                2 Replies
                1. re: soupkitten

                  well since i just wolfed a wild rice & walnut salad with my hands i'd like to edit-- i eat green salads with sticks and other salads with my hands whenever i can get away with it.

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    Oooh, I just love eating green salads with my fingers. There is something so sensual about just picking up leaves of lettuces a bit at a time. Sweet, tender lettuces don't deserve to be skewered ruthlessly by knives and forks.

                2. how funny, I was just having a conversation about this last night! I would eat everything with my hands or a spoon if I wasn't afraid of funny looks. In fact, I am eating quinoa and roasted veggies with a spoon right now, and it is only because I am at work (and therefore in public) that I'm not using my fingers. I did live in India for a short time, where I basically only ate with my fingers, but my preference goes back before that, so who knows where it comes from...

                  1. I went through a phase a long time ago where I decided I didn't like ribs and other things that required eating with fingers. I have a thing about being sticky, so that might have had something to do with it. But it didn't take me long before I discovered that (a) ribs are too good to pass up, and (b) most places where I eat have at least some access to water, napkins, and the like, so it's not like I'm permanently messy if I eat with my hands.

                    Then the first year I was out of college I fell into a crowd that was in the Society for Creative Anachronism and went with them to a number of events in which everyone was in medieval garb and trying to be as faithful to "period" as possible--which meant eating as folks might have in those days. I got real good at chowing down with nothing but a knife and my hands. That's when I lost my aversion to messy food--I discovered that eating with my hands, and no one caring how much of it I got on me, was actually sorta fun.

                    But it's not exactly appropriate everywhere. What I might have done at that medieval banquet is not going to be appreciated at one of our church dinners.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: revsharkie

                      I love Ethiopian food especially because I can use my hands. Ironically I hate getting messy or sticky but the Ethiopian spongy bread is magical- if used properly you can eat an entire meal without dribbling:}

                      1. re: NicoleFriedman

                        Yes, the injera is a perfect complement to the Ethiopian experience, enveloping the earthy, spicy stews, transporting them, and adding an aromatic, comforting and sour note. Has anyone ever seen injera anywhere other than on the table of an Ethiopian restaurant?

                        1. re: misohungrychewlow

                          My son eats it at home as an afternoon snack- but his dad is Ethiopian:)
                          Although I am left handed, I learned early on to eat injera with my right hand only (left hand is used for other things in the Horn of Africa).
                          Anyway I tend towards foods that are to be eaten with hands (ribs, cornbread, chicken, satay, sushi). A lot of Soul food is to be eaten with hands. I always get a chuckle when people eat watermelon with a fork.
                          Good to keep hand sanitizer around so I can clean my hands before and after if I am out and about.

                        2. re: NicoleFriedman

                          Ethiopian is my date food of choice. It's kind of a test, too - the red flags go up if the guy is too squeamish to share or eat with his hands (or to try a less common cuisine).

                          I'll take eating with my hands over silverware anyday. That's why I always carry moist towelettes.

                      2. All food, uncategorically tastes better when eaten with the hands. I can't explain it, but I work in the restaurant industry and have found that most people I met in the industry agreed (which surprised me, since I had thought this was just me being crazy.

                        And yes, I just polished off some crabcakes and poached eggs here at work sans fork...

                        1. The first time Mrs. O and I shared a meal of fried chicken (she was not quite yet Mrs. O), I was picking up my first piece to eat when she blurted out, "What the HELL are you doing?" A bit puzzled, I replied that I was eating chicken. "With your FINGERS?" she cried.

                          "Chicken," I said, "is finger food. Everyone knows that!" So she jumped up and grabbed her copy of Amy Vanderbilt's etiquette book, and showed me the passage wherein Ms. Vanderbilt explains that chicken must always be eaten with knife and fork, except perhaps on the most casual kind of picnic (say, in a park in the crummy part of town). I countered that Ms. Vanderbilt was preaching to a snobby New York choir; she accused me of being a closet hillbilly; I pointed out that the Colonel's chicken is NOT called "Fork-lickin' good", and besides that you just flat cannot get all the good stuff with knife and fork...at which point she sat down and proceeded to reduce a drumstick to a highly-polished bone in seconds. With knife and fork.

                          The controversy was still simmering a year or two later, when we attended a very ritzy outdoor party out in the country. When lunch was served under a big tent, I was very much amused to see that the entrée was barbecued chicken, drooling with a thick, sticky sauce, and that the only available utensils were plastic forks and spoons. No knives, but plenty of napkins. I had a nice meal; Mrs. O had salad.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Will Owen

                            Oh my, that is too funny! I hate to admit the number of times I have missed out on yummy food for fear of getting too messy. Ah, the burden of being prissy!

                            1. re: Will Owen

                              Atta boy Will. Stick to your guns.

                              So does Mrs. O. eat chocolate bars George Costanza style too??
                              Or does Mrs. Vanderbilt allow that.

                              BTW, I'm not sure Mrs. V. ever laid eyes on fried chicken.


                              1. re: Davwud

                                Oh, sure - I think she even had a rather pallid recipe for it in her cookbook.

                                I didn't mention this, but the above argument occurred shortly after Ms. V. stepped out of her umpteenth-story window and fell to the street below, luckily not landing on anyone but her own self. At some point in said argument, I made a snotty comment about how I wasn't about to take advice on manners from someone who would off herself in such a gruesome and public way. Our relationship barely survived the subsequent explosion...

                            2. I don't like to eat wtih my hands just for the sake of eating with my hands, I figure that I use what is best. My wife and son think I'm strange because I prefer to eat pizza with a knife and fork (at least until I get almost to the crust). Fried chicken is eaten with the hands, as are Buffalo wings, but unless I'm in a country where eating with your fingers is the norm, I try to use the proper utensil. Of course I love Ethiopian food, and I eat sushi with my fingers for the most part. But then again, if the Ruben is too thick and greasy to easily eat with my hands, I use a knife and fork, same thing with a pulled pork sandwich that is piled so high I will be dropping eveything if I tried to pick it up and take a bite.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: dinwiddie

                                I'm with you, dinwiddie! I'll eat salad with my hands (since I don't use salad dressing)--but I can't eat a burger with my hands (it's strictly a knife and fork job). Anyone who eats fried chicken with a knife and fork needs a new therapist, I think.

                                My former sister-in-law refuses to eat anything she herself has touched with her fingers. Even when she eats potato chips she will not eat the part of the chip she's touched. She lays the little bits down on the side of her plate. Sta-range!

                              2. I too would eat everything sans fork.

                                First of all, I had the sound of cutlery. Either scraping on a plate or on some one's teeth. It's like fingernails on a chalkboard.

                                Secondly, I love messy foods. I love chicken wings dripping with sauce. I love pizza with loads of cheese and toppings. I love burgers that have condiments oozing out all over the place.

                                So no forks is totally for me.


                                1. Fingers, definitely. Everything just tastes better when eaten with your hands. Well, usually. Having spent some time living in rice paddies with my hands covered in a combination of break-free (gun grease), mud, and camo paint, I can think of times when it was not so tasty.

                                  1. i come from india where people eat with their hands but its not just indian food, any food eaten with the fingers tastes better, is more satisfying. something elemental about it ! btw only the right hand is used to eat in india. the left is..... not dirtied with food. when i go to restaurants sometimes i like to eat salad with my fingers usually when i get the dressing on the side just dip some and eat. much nicer that way and yes i do get looks - what looks !! i havent noticed.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: foodwich

                                      My sister prefers to eat pizza (and certain other foods) with a knife and fork; it's simply the way she eats, a "head" thing, I think. She's picky with food in other ways, and if I suggest anything different, she thinks it's "gross". And she's my TWIN!!! Go figure!
                                      BTW, is it true, or an old wive's tale, that people in India will cut off another person's right hand for "punishment", since the left hand is used for wiping after going to the bathroom???
                                      (Sorry to be a little gross)

                                      1. re: aurora50

                                        not true, wrong country .... in saudi arabia, they will cut off the right hand of a robber. dont know if the reason is left hand used for other purposes !!

                                        1. re: foodwich

                                          In most societies, past and present the right hand is the "good" hand while the left hand (and by definition left handed people and so forth) is regarded as something that shouldn't deal with proper things (we still don't normally shake with our left hands), so I assume losing the right hand would be worse than losing the left.

                                          Oh, and I am generally a fan of using utensils for some sorta of finger foods (such as sushi, grilled cheese, sometimes pizza) if they are greasy or messy. Otherwise, I do generally use my fingers (although I do eat greasy and messy foods like fried chicken and nachos and ribs with my fingers).

                                          I think for me it depends on whether using a utensil will greatly slow things down or make it very awkward to eat.

                                        2. re: aurora50

                                          i can see why my fellow chowhounders are reluctant to respond to your question aurora, but in the interest of cross-cultural understanding i am going to go there. . .

                                          in the middle east, parts of western europe, much of asia including india, north africa-- all places influenced by muslim cultural norms and hygenic customs-- it is common practice for one to WASH one's private parts with water after using the restroom. toilet paper is not widely available. by centuries-old tradition, the left hand is exclusively used to WASH, not wipe, when using the restroom. the right hand is kept absolutely clean. imo this practice is extremely hygienic and is similar to the french and continental european practice of using a bidet. it makes a great deal of sense when we bear in mind that the vast majority of people in the world have to (or have had to up until very recently) practice water conservation. when you live in a desert area, or have to haul your drinking, cooking, and bathing water yourself, it makes sense to wash one part of the anatomy several times a day rather than to bathe the entire body once a day. of course, all people everywhere keep as clean as they can personally, and so folks in the mideast and elsewhere wash both of their hands after using the restroom-- but due to centuries-old tradition, it is considered extremely bad manners, and unsanitary, to handle food with the left hand, or to pass money or any other object to another person using the left hand in these parts of the world. it also pays to acknowledge that sanitary conditions are not the same everywhere, and that hand soap and running water are not universally available. the cultural taboo makes perfect sense from a sanitary point of view.

                                          i think it is a shame that this misconception persists and i hope my explanation of the real cultural origin makes sense.

                                          you might be interested to know that when i traveled in the mideast and muslim areas of india, my good hosts had similar misconceptions about european and american hygene-- that we used silverware, for example, because we didn't clean our hands properly-- not far from the truth, at least until very recent times! while folks were really way too polite to even mention something so personal, my hosts would go out of their way to purchase a roll of toilet paper for our use. it was not until the very end of my stay, when everyone was quite comfortable around each other, that the subject came up (women only-- hanging out and talking together, men elsewhere) and i realized that my host ladies had no idea that the toilet paper was not used as a kind of disposable drying towel after bathing the private parts! when i told them of its real use, sans running water, the older women fell into a shocked silence. "so, no-one WASHES, you just go about DIRTY?" blurted out one of the younger girls, to be shushed immediately by her mother. so i'd venture to say that "dirtiness" is a culturally relative term with regard to hygiene, and that it always pays to be as culturally sensitive as possible. i suppose this post will probably be deleted, but it's not my intent to offend anyone, just offer one explanation. thanks very much.

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            soupkitten, thank you SO MUCH for your fascinating post. As of today, your post has not been deleted, and I hope it won't, because I've just had a learning experience from your insight, and I hope others will, too. I now have a little better understanding of that particular part of the world, thanks to you. : )
                                            Again, thank you so much.

                                      2. I don't normally eat with my hands, other than normal things like pizza, wings, ribs, but lately I've started eating sushi (nigiri and rolls) with my fingers.
                                        I've been told that's acceptable in Japan, that it's considered finger food there, and I'm just so hopeless with chopsticks!
                                        The 5th time I dropped my piece of roll *plunk!* into the soy sauce, I said screw this!

                                        1. I eat with my hands whenever it makes sense. And I try to do it with one hand so the other is clean to grab my drink. For example:

                                          When eating chicken wings, I position my beer on the left. I use my right hand ONLY to eat the meat off the bone, sucking when necessary. Whenever I need/want a sip/glug of beer. I use my left hand to get it. I can actually get through an entire huge plate of wings without using a napkin! When the wings are gone, I lick my fingers and then wipe my hands with the napkin. It's double-fisting in the most sublime style, and I never have to pause mid slurp!