As I was having dinner in a swanky and upscale BGC restaurant, I had to resist the urge to lick the creamy sauce from my plate of pasta. It was the kind of delicious that made you forget everything, but thankfully my good manners prevailed.
Dining trends and proper food manners come "optional" these days, changing more frequently now than ever before. We have the diaspora of various cultures to thank for these rapid changes. This has allowed for previously unthought of dining practices in say Mexico or Malta or China to make it into mainstream dining culture on tables and restaurants the world over.
With so many changes going on, what then is proper and what is not? What manners should be employed when it comes to eating with your hands, if at all?
Manners, like good friends, will carry you where money won't go as Margaret Walker said. And manners can't be bought, only taught, I say. But I believe Oliver Goldsmith said it best: I love everything that's old-old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine.
Here is our list of food items that by now, we should already be eating by hand. A simple fellow named Longfellow loved simplicity in character, manners, and style. So taking a page from his book, we are keeping this list simple.
PIZZA IN ALL ITS FORMS AND SHAPES
If you're still stuck in the medieval ages thinking you should be eating pizza with fork and knife, you have another think coming. Just pick up a slice, biting off small pieces at a time, happily munching on that thin-crust triangle. Also, because pizza now also comes in rolls that look like sushi or nugget-shaped poppers, best keep the silverware away and just pick them up by hand.
TACOS AND NACHOS AND ALL THOSE ENDING IN 'OS
Seriously, most Mexican dishes are best enjoyed sans utensils of any kind. Mexican food, a fusion of European-Spanish and South American flavors, is all about fun, explosive tastes, and color. The shape of the nacho chip, for example, is perfect for scooping up those cheese-covered ground beef bits, slathered in some guacamole. Tacos, whether hard or soft, should be enjoyed nibble by nibble, unencumbered by forks or knives. And if you're offered utensils of any kind when faced with a burrito or a quesadilla, gently refuse.
CHICKEN WINGS, LEGS, AND STUFF
Again, it's 2017. If you're a stickler for propriety, let it go with the food item that has built one chicken house and caused another to call it finger-licking good. You can go about this a variety of ways: be methodical and peel off the chicken skin before biting into the meat or go all-in and grab whatever parts go with your bite. Dipping and dunking them into the different sauces and gravy is more fun too if you're not spearing it on your fork. This rule applies to chicken in all its forms: poppers, nuggets, and when it's fried or served buffalo-style.
CRABS AND ALL RELATED FAMILY MEMBERS
Super high-end restaurants will present your seafood in their shell and proceed to scooping out the meat for you. If you're eating in a place where the seafood is served in a bag or bucket, there is no feasible excuse for you to even be touching your utensils. Crack them, pound them, peel them, those lobsters, crabs, and shrimps should be enjoyed with all 10 fingers.
BURGERS AND SANDWICHES
This seems to be elementary but people still don't get it. The knife is there to help you cut it in half, not to slice away at it like it's steak. Holding a big double-patty burger with all the fix-ins with your bare hands requires a certain finesse. The moment you take a bite and juices start to flow, gently place your burger down and dab away with a napkin. And pick up right where you left off. And don't get me started on those fries or rings that come with this. There is no reason at all why you should be sticking your fork into those freshly fried pieces of heaven.
This is tricky. If it's wet and moist and with toppings, that's when you use your dessert fork and knife—or even spoon. But for croissants, Danishes, macarons, puff pastries, strudel, baklava, cannolis, rolls, Cronuts (all spellings included), eclairs, kouign-amans, buns, mooncakes, any of the pain (au chocolat or aux raisins), filos, turnovers—pick them up by hand, savoring each delicious sweet or savory bite.
Not to be confused with the Chinese cold cuts that are served during lauriat feasts (which you eat with chopsticks, no excuses!), European-style cold cuts can be enjoyed with your favorite cocktail drink, wine, or beer as they belong to a group of food items called aperitivos. Coined in Italy in 1920, the aperitivo culture exists for the sole purpose of kickstarting your digestion. Consider them taste bud openers in preparation for a gastronomic feast. Served with sliced pickles and tomatoes, these cold cuts are either precooked or cured Deli meats, luncheon meats, sliced meats, thin slices of salami, sausages, and more.
BREAD AND CHEESE PLATTER
Enter the home of any Francophile and you will find an assortment of breads in all sizes and textures, from baguettes to pain au Levain, nut breads, loaf breads or pain batard, round loaf or pain boule. And the cheese? From hard, soft, and everything in between, there will always be a Roquefort, Brie, Combe, Camembert, among many other varieties. When the French go to a potluck here in the Philippines, expect that they will bring their favorite bottle of wine and this. It's simple: just pick up your bread of choice, cut it up into little pieces using your fingers, and use that piece to get a hold of the cheeses. In restaurants and buffets, these platters come with sides of nuts, dried fruits, and even pates. Go all in with your hands for these.
At the end of it all, whether you place your napkin loosely over your lap or know which glass goes with whatever drink, when it comes to proper manners for eating with your hands, follow this simple rule of thumb: if you look silly eating that item with any kind of utensil, go bare. A lot of it is going to be common sense anyway.