Digging In {Eating with Your Hands}

In Moroccan Food by Amanda Mouttaki9 Comments

As much as I love cooking, eating, and writing about Moroccan food I love reading about other peoples’ experience with Moroccan food too.  I’ve always been a fan of Global Table Adventure and have been waiting for Sasha to get to Morocco. Her series just finished and her final post gave me a good idea for a post.  Her last post was a summary of their Moroccan meal week. One of the issues that she raised was that of using hands to eat versus using silverware.  Sasha decided to serve their Moroccan meal on individual plates with silverware. I had never really thought it might be confusing our children by eating with their hands one night and with silverware another.  So this post was born!

When raising children in a bicultural home I have always felt it is imperative to respect and impart both cultures no matter where the family is living. To me this means every part of life; language, religion, eating habits, foods, holidays, and appropriate behaviors.  When your partner is from a different culture including this in the general upbringing of children is easy -if you let it be. It’s easy to allow our own cultural bias to creep in but it’s so important to give enough space to allow the other culture room to live as well.

But back to eating with our hands.  

When I was a teenager I remember a conversation at a family dinner. I had failed miserably at learning to operate a fork and knife in tandem to cut meat.  My family were quick to laugh at me and point out how awkward it would be to ask a date to cut my meat. Ironically, I just went ahead and married a man who ate 95% of his meals with his hands! When it came time that our boys were feeding themselves I don’t think we ever thought twice about using silverware or not using silverware.

Some meals simply require a fork.

K and Saffron Road

Other meals, like a tagine, call for a good piece of bread and agile fingers. 

Eating Tajine with Bread

We can’t very well eat hot dogs with a fork!

Camping and Eating

American Grandpa makes his debut!

We never made a fuss about which utensil; hands, silverware, or bread the boys chose.

Hands or Silverware for eating

In Morocco there’s a closeness to food that I’ve rarely found in the US.  People are very conscious of having clean hands but they’re not afraid of using them.  It might be the shelling of almonds, the fluffing of couscous or the practice of eating a tagine – hands are the tool of choice.

Boys helping grandma shell almonds

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve invited Americans (and even other people from the Middle East) for a Moroccan dinner and served it Moroccan style. They look puzzled, searching for the utensils and plates.  I don’t produce them. Instead I pass out bread and instruct them on how to eat Moroccan style.  Somehow we’ve (Americans) seen using our hands as low class.  When in fact there are many unwritten rules to eating in this manner. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Always wash your hands before eating.
  • Eat in the section of the communal dish that is directly in front of you.  Do not venture away from this space.  The hostess may push food into your section but don’t venture away on your own.
  • Break off a piece of bread that is bite sized and hold between your thumb and first two fingers of your right hand. Use the bread to break off the piece of meat or vegetable you would like and scoop it up with the bread.
  • Do not re-use the same piece of bread.  For each dip into the dish take a new piece of bread.
  • Avoid using your left hand during the meal.
  • Wash your hands again immediately after finishing the meal.

We have always switched between using a fork and spoon to eat and using our hands, and my boys understand the etiquette of eating both ways. It’s comforting to know that whether confronted with a formal dinner or sharing a communal dish they will be ready and prepared to adapt to that culture.

I hope you’ll visit Sasha’s post that inspired this topic and her others posts on Moroccan food.  I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic as well – leave me a comment and let’s keep the conversation going!

 

Amanda MouttakiDigging In {Eating with Your Hands}

Comments

  1. Angela England

    My husband’s Hispanic mother uses her hands a lot more often as well. I wonder if the similar rice/bread (tortillas) cuisine or family/food centered culture has something to do with it. Very interesting.

  2. Meriem

    I remember when I picked Hachemi up at the airport when he first came to the US. He was starving and I asked him what he wanted and he said “steak”. So we went to a nice restaurant and ordered a steak. He picked that steak up with his hand and started chomping on it. LOL. I just let him do it cause I was so happy he finally made it here.

  3. Sasha (Global Table Adventure)

    What a fabulous post! I love all the pictures, too. I think perhaps I let the pressure of feeding my guests (and their expectations) get to me, as well as my daughter’s increasing tendency to mix up what to use, hand or fork (ie with pasta). One question, when the kids do choose hands, do you enforce that they use a piece of bread to pick up the food? Is there a polite way that you remind them of, even at 2 years old?

    1. Author
      marocmama

      Yes, we did remind them but of course at that age with some room for error. I think we also made it a point to correct if they were using their hands for a food that should be eaten with silverware, like pasta. I hope you make the tagine again for guests and serve it Moroccan style. I’m sure they’ll be shocked at first but I’ve found they are always excited when the meal is over!

  4. Alejandra

    We eat with our hands for mezza type meals, I never found that awkward. What I thought was weird was my husband using a spoon to eat everything! He hardly ever uses a fork, except for messy things like spaghetti. It took me a while to get used to, but the other day I realized we have a bunch of spoons and only a few forks. LOL.

    1. Author
      marocmama

      Really? It’s so interesting the different habits people have. We have the opposite problem of never having enough spoons.

  5. anonamous

    is Global Table Adventure a tv show? maybe i will have to get tv to watch when she is in morocco;) my husband is moroccan and also eats most meals w/ his hands. i haven’t mastered using bread yet, tho’ so i almost always use a fork; he says when we visit morocco that it won’t be weird for me to use a fork for family meals (I have C.P.)

    1. Author
      marocmama

      Hi! Global Table Adventure is a website/blog – Sasha (the author) cooks a meal from a different country every week – she’s going to cook a meal from every country in the world! It’s a beautiful site with a great message. I agree with your husband it won’t be odd if you use a fork, esp. if it’s easier for you.

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