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Digging In {Eating with Your Hands}

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.

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.

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!



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Monday 2nd of October 2023

How do you navigate this style of eating with a gluten free family member? I know your husband is gluten intolerant, so how do you handle meals where everyone digs in with bread?

Amanda Mouttaki

Wednesday 18th of October 2023

Usually he has a separate plate just to keep things from cross contaminating.


Friday 18th of September 2020

I love eating with my hands, it gives a different taste to the food. And after more than 20 years of marriage to a Moroccan I master it well enough as long as there is bread involved. When it comes to couscous I need a spoon. 😁 And my children are used to both ways.

Angela England

Saturday 26th of May 2012

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.


Wednesday 23rd of May 2012

I love the Blue Nile in Minneapolis. Mmmm, injera bread, the perfect utensil!


Wednesday 23rd of May 2012

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.