I was sitting around the office the other day discussing the virtues of a particular kind of rice I had been introduced to, known as Kerala red rice. This is a variety of rice that is found in Kerala, a southern state of India. It sort of reminds me of brown rice but with a slight red tinge to it. It's a larger variety of rice and delicious. You could say it's my new favourite.
My coworker said something that made me pause for a second. She said that she did not like Kerala red rice because of how it feels when you are eating it. She finds it large and clumsy in her fingers versus the finer varieties of rice, like basmati, which feel better in your hands. She wasn't a fan of the texture.
For someone who hasn't eaten with my hands until quite recently this comment struck me. I hadn't really thought about how my food feels in my hands. Have I been missing out on a major part of a culinary experience all these years?
It turns out that I actually have.
I may not be an expert at eating with my hands yet but I'm getting there. I can proudly say I've eaten Biriyani with only my hands on a moving train. This is not an easy feat for a novice but I survived and even got some great tips to help me get better at this fine art.
The most important tip is to remember the scoop and shovel.
When eating foods like rice with your hands there is actually a technique to it that makes a lot of sense. Instead of shoving the food into your mouth with your hands, in a very uncivilised way ( which I was obviously doing) you:
1: Make the food into a small ball
2: Use your right hand to create a spoon with your fingers. Right hand only!
3: Scoop the food up in said hand spoon
3:Then use your thumb to push the food into your mouth.
You scoop. You push. Scoop and push.
I have to admit that even though I understand the technique I'm still not the best at it. If you know me you will know that I'm an extraordinarily messy eater. Somehow food ends up all over my face, in my hair, pretty much everywhere and I never have any idea how it happens. So you can imagine my worry when it comes to eating with my hands. There is no way I can make this look anywhere near as eloquent as my Indian friends do.
I've come to learn it takes practice. A lot of practice. Unlearning very stern lessons about not playing with your food is hard to do. Also, attempting to be graceful sans cutlery is pretty impossible when you are a newbie. Practice makes progress and I'm slowly but surely getting the hang of it.
I can say that it does add a whole new dimension to the eating experience. You involve every sense - sight, smell, taste, sound, touch! It also makes multitasking very difficult. No one is about to type on their computer with a hand full of rice and curry. It forces you to take a minute to savour your meal. I very much like this aspect of it.
What all of this has shown me is that even the most mundane, normal activity like eating can be experienced so differently. This is something I hadn't thought about with eating in particular. I do it every day and it's always the same. Not anymore! A new way of doing things adds so much depth to the experience and can give a completely new outlook. I now think about rice very differently and have the added dimension of how that food feels as part of my preference.
Even though I'm still awful at it, I enjoy every second of eating with my hands and look forward to the day when I can pull it off with grace instead of looking like a three year old with food all over my face.