I had a novel dining experience today and it got me thinking about eating as well as reminding me of a complaint I once read. It seems this European gentleman was appalled by the way that Americans eat, hunching over their food and (often) planting their elbows on the table. He likened this posture, not surprisingly, to pigs eating at a trough. He couldn't imagine why the Americans sat that way.
Well, the explanation is simple. Americans eat messy food. If you try to eat, say, a cheeseburger with everything while sitting up straight you'll end up with ketchup, mustard, and who knows what else all down your front. Better to appear crude than to wear your lunch for the rest of the day.
I'm not much of a fan of what might be considered "delicate" food. Often it is dry, boring, unappetizing, or simply doesn't fill my stomach very well. However, today when I was trying to eat Thai Lettuce Wraps at Nothing but Noodles (and failing until I figured out the trick to it) I formulated several tips for making robust food easier to eat delicately. Robust things done delicately is, to me, the pure essence of class and culture.
So, the tips:
1. Drain everything completely. Drippy food must be eaten "holding over", and at best will coat your hands and require copious napkins. You can rinse cooked meat with hot water to assist in this, it gets rid of the excess fat as well.
2. Bite-size things when possible. Biting into food compresses it and can cause drips, squirts, etc. When you're eating something that is dipped into sauce this also forces the dreaded "double-dip" which is somewhat uncouth. Only with food that has good internal integrity (soft breads, thick spreads, soft cheese, thick vegetables) can you avoid this. And remember that the food is three-dimensional, so it should be bite-sized in length, width, and height.
3. Go light on the condiments. Most condiments stick better to your hands than to the food. A light drizzle is preferred to a thorough soaking.
4. For finger food, make sure a holdable part of it isn't sticky. Don't glaze the entire donut. For wings, it might be better to have a small cup of dippable sauce instead of pre-coating them. Serve the oysters in the half-shell. Provide toothpicks, little forks, etc.
Follow these simple guidelines and you can have more elegant table manners.
Last tip: how to eat thai lettuce wraps.
These were served to me as a bowl with three little piles of meat, red peppers, and carrots, a cup of peanut sauce, and a plate of large iceburg lettuce leaves. Now, fresh iceburg lettuce is very crisp, which means that it doesn't wrap especially well. After a few aborted attempts, I tore the lettuce up into little bite-sized squares and put a dab of meat, vegetables, and sauce in the middle of each one, then snapped it up quickly and neatly. Thereafter I was no longer forced to use one napkin per bite, and people stopped staring at me for I was no longer making loud crunching, slurping, and grunting noises like the aformentioned pig.
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