Although messy, eating with your hands is quite indulging.
As the semester comes to a close, I have been engulfed with my research on Indian culture and food. Part of my research deals with food and intentionality, the spiritual and moral motives behind eating food. Hindu culture is bountiful with all sorts of taboo and spiritual belief behind their food choices. Between the bindings karma, dharma, and reincarnation, one might suppose eating in India has lost its pleasure.
This could not be more distant from the truth. In India, and other southeast Asian cultures, eating with the fives senses has never been more pleasurable. As a cook, I understand the need for all five senses in the kitchen, but as a gastronome, it is a fairly new concept. It was explained to me like this: the experience of eating is captured by the essence of not just taste, but of smell, sight, sound, and touch.
The obvious three were easy. When I eat I always taste my food. I know that 80% of eating is done with the eyes—hence the emphasis put on presentation. And who can ignore the heavenly scent of an aromatic dish? However hearing and touching were a bit foreign. I asked for clarification.
“Well sound is the sense used when you hear yourself enjoying the food, from what goes on in the mouth to the ensuing satisfactory commentary. And touch is a sense Western civilization has completely sterilized with the use of metallic replicas of the much more organic and natural utensils called the hands.”
I was starting to understand this relationship in greater detail after last night’s dinner. I had started with something simple: a slice of vegan blueberry cheesecake. My first thought was where to begin. I wasn’t sure of the proper technique so I decided to just dig in. Shaped like the beak of an toucan, my four fingers opposed my thumb and scooped off a piece of cake. I ushered the divine sweetness into my mouth and savored the warm feeling of fingers against my lips.
Not only was there an absence of metal feeling against my teeth, I did not taste it either. This may seem minute, but try eating with your hands after you’ve used a metallic fork. The difference is phenomenal. Your taste buds have been denied their true extent of pleasure with the use of these four-inch eating tools. A connectedness in pleasure is certainly gained when eating without utensils.
With that said, I by no means plan to toss my spoons and forks in the trash. I am far too inexperienced in the art of eating with the hands to warrant such actions. Messy and awkward, my blueberry cheesecake experience wouldn’t mesh well with the food society in NYC. However, I have learned a valuable lesson: the essence of food is best experienced using all five senses. This includes getting messy with the hands.