For North Americans, proper dining etiquette for a meal means using Eating Utensils like a fork, spoon, and knife. Whether it is the cheap plasticware you get with fast food, or the fine silver at your parents dining table, they are a necessity. Taking it a step further, many fine dining establishments will give you multiple sets for the different courses of your meal so as to avoid the faux pas of using the same fork to eat your steak that you used for your salad. Many other cultures manage to get the job done with much simpler means.
Chopsticks – Chopsticks have also been adopted into Western culture over the past century. Originating in Asia, chopsticks vary in size, shape, and material from country to country, and culture to culture. Chopsticks are used to eat any food, large or small. This includes food that you would normally just shovel into your mouth with a spoon, such as rice. It’s funny that we seem to think that the fork, spoon, and knife are a more civilized and technologically advanced means of eating. China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Nepal all use slightly different forms of them, but in their contexts they represent the epitome of dining etiquette — requiring more dexterity, finesse, and practice.
Spork – Using three different utensils to eat seemed too complicated for some. Over time, the fork and spoon were combined to form what we now call the Spork. This utensil gives you the stabbing ability of the fork and the scooping power of a spoon all in one device! Surely, MacGyver must have played a part in this great invention. Most common at fast food dining such as KFC, this utensil has made it easier for Americans to eat under a crunch.
Skewer – Often used for cookouts, this device is a simply long stick used to stack up meats and veggies for easy picking. These are most commonly made out of wood for easy disposal but can be metal as well. Food can be easily placed on them and laid over a grill or fire for cooking. Common foods used on skewers are steak, chicken, tomatoes, pineapple, peppers, or shrimp — either piecemeal or in the ever-popular kebab form.
Bread – Some countries such as India, take a more industrious approach and will use a layer of bread underneath the food. Ethiopia, for example, uses what they call injera, which is a thin layer of grain that serves both as a plate and scoop for all types of food. This works quite well for scooping up a pile of veggies or beans, and it all can be eaten simultaneously.
Trongs – Trongs are a simple plastic device used for grabbing hold of food that may be saucy or too messy to use with your bare hands. Most commonly used for chicken wings and ribs, this device is used with your thumb, forefinger, and middle finger to pinch your food as you rip it off with your mouth. It is used on both hands and can be handy for keeping your hands clean when you go to take a drink of water after eating those extra spicy wings.
In India, it is also a common custom to eat simply with your hands. A bowl of food will be placed at the center of the table for the whole party to eat together. The right hand is traditionally used for eating while the left hand is used to wipe off the extra crumbs. They will also use bread to gather the remaining food on a plate. In summary, different cultures have adopted different ways of eating their food. We see methods not used by ourselves as being taboo, but eating remains a favorite activity for family and friends wherever you live. Next time you’re looking for a place to dine, consider a restaurant like Bento, where you can experience authentic Asian cuisine and custom.
BIO: Nick Quinlan is a freelance writer and professional student who enjoys traveling and bringing the benefits and joys of his experiences to others through articles and advice columns. He’s also at-the-ready with great vacation and day-trip ideas!