etiquette rules for eating food with your hands or fingers

Eating With Fingers 6 Rules: How To Eat With Your Hands Best​

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Who is this micro-class for

* Waiters and hospitality staff

* Restaurant guests

* House-party hosts and guests

What you’ll learn

* Hygiene rules

* Which foods are appropriate as finger food

* The right occasions for eating with your hands

Resources

* Less than 10 minutes to complete

About this micro-class

Eating with fingers etiquette is the set of rules to appropriately eat food with your hands.

Introduction

Cultures: Eating with hands is common in many countries and cultures, such as in Asia and the Indian subcontinent, Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South America.

Western etiquette: The general rule is to keep your hands as far as possible from the food. Thus, eating with your hands is allowed, but only on the appropriate occasions and with the appropriate foods.

Benefits: In some cultures, eating with hands has a spiritual value. Some believe that touching food creates a connection between the food and the individual. Others think that eating with hands stimulates the digestion of food, as the fingers sense the texture and temperature of food and prepare our stomach for it.

1. Strictly follow the hygiene rules

Wash your hands and fingers

Thoroughly wash your hands and fingers before touching any food.

Use abundant soap, rinse under running water, and dry your hands.

Be well-groomed and use your hands only to touch the food

Keep your fingernails clean and trimmed to avoid transferring dirt or germs to your food.

Avoid touching your face, hair, or other objects while eating.

2. Eat with your fingers on the appropriate occasions

In Western countries, it is acceptable to eat with your fingers mostly on informal occasions. On formal occasions, you should eat with your fingers only when the host expressly recommends it.

When dining in a foreign country or in a cultural setting different from your own, be open to and respectful of the local customs and traditions related to eating.

If you are uncomfortable eating with your fingers or if the food is too messy, it is perfectly acceptable to request utensils.

3. Use your hands in the correct way

Follow the leader

follow the leader - observe what your hosts do and mirror their behavior

Observe others. When dining in a new cultural setting, it is always best to watch how locals eat with their fingers and follow their lead.

Eat only with your right hand

Do not use your left hand to eat.

In most Asian and African cultures, the left hand is dedicated to personal hygiene. Thus, it is forbidden to touch food with it as it is considered unclean.

Since our societies are increasingly connected and multicultural, it is best to stick to this rule in Western countries too. 

Eat with the tips of the fingers

The proper etiquette requires to eat food with the fingers, not with the hands. The palm and the back of the hand should not touch the food.

Use only your thumb, pointer, and middle finger to touch the food. Keep your fourth and fifth fingers attached to your palm. Do not lift your little finger.

The correct movement should be similar to grabbing french fries. The food should not touch your palms or the back of your hands.

Do not put your fingers into your mouth

Often, eating with the fingers happens with food from a shared dish or serving plate. Thus, your fingers must be as clean as possible. This also means avoiding any contact between the shared dish and your saliva.

Use your fingers to bring food to your mouth but do not let them in. Use your thumb to push the food into your mouth.

Do not lick your fingers. If you do, do not touch food before you wipe or clean your fingers. 

4. Eat food in bite-sized pieces

Use bread as cutlery and never double-dip

In many countries, it is common to use bread, flatbread, wraps, or similar food as a tool to scoop up the food and ferry it to the mouth. Examples are pita in the Middle East, roti and naan in India, injera in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and fufu and ugali in Western and Central Africa. 

When you use bread, wraps, or similar food for eating with your fingers, never double-dip. It is considered anti-hygienic and very rude. Dip the bread once, then bring it to your mouth. Thus, it is best to break the bread into small, bite-sized morsels that you can eat in one go.

How to eat with your fingers when bread is not available

When you eat with your fingers but without bread, pick the food from where it is dry. Do not touch the areas covered in oil and sauces.

Wait for your food to cool down. Do not blow on it and do not pick it up when it is too hot. Do not use your fingers to fidget with food.

Break the larger chunks of food into multiple, smaller, bite-sized pieces. This way it is easier to control sauces and fillings and avoid overspills. If you spill some sauce or filling onto the plate, pick it up with your fork or with bread and eat it. Do not use your fingers to eat sauces or fillings.

When you are eating a piece of food that requires more than one bite, such as pizza, always place the food down onto your dish between bites. Once you swallow one bite, you can pick up your food again.

If there are serving utensils available, use them to transfer food to your plate or bowl. Avoid touching food directly from communal dishes.

5) Apply the regular table etiquette rules

Keep the right posture when eating with your fingers

Eating with your fingers requires a slightly different posture and seating etiquette.

Sit straight and lower your head only when you take a bite. Do not lift the dish closer to your mouth. Instead, lean your head toward the dish and bring food to your mouth with your fingers. This way, if some sauce or filling drips, your plate is right below and thus you can avoid making a mess. 

Respect the personal space of the other guests. Do not rest your elbows on the table. 

Start eating when your host says so

Wait for the host to start eating with the fingers. Do not start eating on your own. The host will start eating or signal that it is time to start.

How to use napkins, glasses, and cutlery when eating with your fingers

Napkin: Use your napkin normally. Place it on your lap. Do not tuck it into your shirt. Wipe your hands or pat your lips when you need it. Be discreet with your napkin. Try to use it without other guests noticing. Never use your hands or fingers to wipe your mouth.

Glasses: After eating with your fingers, wipe them before touching any glasses or serving tableware. Never touch the tablecloth with soiled fingers.

Utensils: Even if all the other guests are eating with their fingers, it is still acceptable to use regular cutlery if you feel more comfortable with it.

6. Know which foods are appropriate for eating with fingers

General rules

In Western etiquette, eating with your fingers is appropriate only with some foods and on some occasions. At the same time, eating with fingers is the most appropriate way to eat some foods.

The general rule is to eat soft, saucy, oily, or smelly food with cutlery. While it is best to eat with fingers any food that is firm, crumbly, or inconvenient to eat with a fork and a knife.

Finger food

Eat with your fingers any food that is presented as finger food. Follow the recommendations of your host or the serving staff.

Ethnic food

Some ethnic foods should be eaten with your fingers. Examples include Indian, Eritrean, and Mexican food such as tacos, wraps, kebap, or pita.

Pizza

You can eat pizza with a fork and knife. However, on informal occasions, you can eat pizza with your fingers too.

Cut a slice of pizza, hold it by its crust, and fold it in half to prevent the topping from falling. Then bring it to your mouth and eat it in small bites.

Hamburgers and sandwiches

Eat hamburgers and sandwiches with your hands, unless they are too large in size, covered in sauce, or filled with a large amount of food.

It is appropriate to eat a large hamburger or a sandwich with a fork and knife. Even more when their size or plating makes it hard to eat them with your hands.

Croissants and pastries

It is unusual to eat croissants, pastries, and patisserie with a fork and knife. Eating them with fingers is most appropriate.

Sushi and sashimi

You should eat with your fingers every type of sushi that includes rice. Nigiri and maki are less likely to fall apart if you eat them with your fingers, instead of picking them up with chopsticks.

Chopsticks are most appropriate only with sashimi, which is pieces of raw fish without rice.

Artichokes

When an artichoke is served whole, you should eat it with your fingers.

Use your fingers to pick and eat the leaves. Eat them one by one, working your way toward the heart of the artichoke. Once you reach the heart, eat it with a fork and knife. 

Asparagus

You can pick asparagus with your fingers, as long as it is not served with a sauce. Otherwise, use regular cutlery.

Pick asparagus up from its larger end, not from the tip of the spear.

Olives

When olives are served as an appetizer, you can pick them with your fingers. However, since olives are oily, they are best served with toothpicks to spear them. 

Fruit

When fruit is presented whole, you can eat it with your fingers. Examples include berries, such as strawberries and raspberriesgrapesapricots, and apples.

When fruit is served peeled or sliced, it is best to use cutlery. Examples are fruit salads, fruit desserts, or fruit served with a cream such as strawberries with whipped cream.

Cheese

Eat soft, creamy, and fresh cheese with cutlery, unless the cheese is served on bite-sized pieces of bread or crackers.

Eat firm and aged cheese in small pieces with your fingers. It is best to avoid cutlery to eat cheese with a crumbly texture, such as Parmigiano ReggianoGrana Padano, or Pecorino.

Etiquette mistakes to avoid when eating with your fingers

When eating with your fingers, you should avoid any behavior that is anti-hygienic:

  • Not washing your hands.
  • Licking your fingers.
  • Putting your fingers into your mouth.
  • Eating with your left hand.
  • Double-dipping bread.
  • Using your fingers to eat inappropriate foods.

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