Sunday, November 18, 2007

Finger-lickin’ extraordinary

It may sound funny, but sometimes it’s easy when you use a fork not to actually notice what you’re eating. Especially when you’re in a hurry—and when the food’s not all that outstanding—it’s easy to employ the shoveling action that ensures you’ll finish your meal quickly and get back to your desk on time. And you may not taste a thing!

But try eating with your fingers, and you experience food quite differently. I don’t mean food like pizza and fried chicken, but cooked food that you’d typically eat with a fork.

Case in point: When you visit an Ethiopian or Eritrean restaurant, you’ll find no utensils at your disposal. Rather, your food will be served atop a large, round piece of injera, a crepe-textured flatbread with a taste reminiscent of sourdough. Made of a grain called teff, injera is a sort of edible utensil. You tear off a piece, drop it onto your food, pick up a bite with the injera and eat the food wrapped in the bread, all in one bite.

A meal consumed in this way is a revelation. There’s something about the absence of familiar table tools that makes you slow down and get closer to your food. The experience is transformed, a much more textural and immediate sensation. You feel, smell and taste it more intimately, and I believe, come away from the meal with a heightened sense of what you've just had.

Looking at this from the reverse, would an Ethiopian who ate using a fork for the first time suddenly be awakened to attributes of the meal never before discerned? Possibly, since there would be only lentils or lamb stew on the fork, with no injera to flavor every bite.

However, for the person who eats injera daily, the fork would be a real setback, for injera is three things: plate, utensil and food. All the fork enables us to do is to be tidy eaters.

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