Eating with your fingers

“Natalie was nervous because I had explained that she would be treated differently because she was white, that she would have to work harder than other girls to gain my parents’ trust. And so they devised a plan: We agreed that on the first meeting my wife would not accept tea, she would instead make tea in the home of my parents. With that gesture, she showed that she did not have a superiority complex, that she was willing to make a gesture, however small, to gain acceptance.”

MMUSI MAIMANE Prophet or Puppet? by S’Thembiso Msomi

Ethiopian restaurantThere is a story that I’ve not been able to verify unequivocally, but which seems to be accepted as a fact:

On a visit to America some time in the 1800’s, Queen Victoria changed etiquette rules forevermore, by picking up a chicken wing with her fingers and eating it thus. Whether she saw this as a more efficient way to handle a chicken wing, or that it was preferable in the name of diplomacy to do as the Americans did, we will never know.

Today, all over the world, people are picking up drumsticks, wings and lamb chops, licking their fingers and smacking their lips.

Except my Hubby who thinks this is generally barbarian.

So it was a real treat when just over a week ago, we went out to dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant with our dear friends Sir E and Lady H. This couple and their family lived in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana for over 25 years and still gravitate towards anything African. We went to Hamer Restaurant in Goldhawk Rd for Friday night dinner.

EthiopianNot having ever been to Ethiopia nor eaten Ethiopian food before, Sir E ordered for us in Amharic. Dishes like yetsom beyaynetu and shiro wot were discussed – I have no idea what that all means.

Traditionally, Ethiopians eat with their hands and do not use plates. Our food (mainly in the form of stews) was served on a large communal piece of, explained Lady H, injera. Injera is a large sourdough flatbread, made out of fermented teff flour. You could actually smell the fermentation – like visiting a brewery. Additional rolled up pieces of injera we supplied in a separate basket.

Ethiopian restaurantYou begin by tearing off a piece of injera with your fingers and then you use it to pick up the food – all sharing from the same central injera. You begin by using up your own rolled injera and when that is finished you begin to eat away at the ‘plate’, thereby consuming everything.

With our meal, we sipped a tasty Ethiopian beer called MetaEthiopian beer Premium. Unsurprisingly, the beer went well with the injera. As far as we could tell, we were the only non-Ethiopians at the restaurant. This, I believe, is always the test that a restaurant is serving authentic cuisine.

Though we may well have been a topic of great interest and intrigue for the other restaurant patrons, we felt rather Ethiopian – if only for a couple of hours.

The food was delicious (literally finger-licking-good). And more than that, we enjoyed blending into another culture, getting a little messy and starting off the new year with old friends.

Ethiopian restaurantP.s. Why are American chicken wings are called Buffalo wings?
P.p.s. Apparently chicken wings as we know them now are not what they were in Victoria’s day. Then they were not broken at the first joint, but served as a whole wing – possibly a tad more rustic and pernickety to eat?
P.p.p.s. Our friend Sir E (we only found out his titles some years after knowing him as he prefers being known simply by his first name), was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1982 and Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to healthcare development in Africa.
prophet-or-puppetP.p.p.p.s. The book that I’m reading at the moment is about South African opposition party (Democratic Alliance) leader Mmusi Maimane – an interesting read. I’m trying not to be so ignorant about South African politics.
P.p.p.p.p.s. Hubby eats all meat on the bone with his knife and fork. The only out-clause is if eating with your fingers is a cultural expectation. My eating with my fingers causes him endless frustration, but he assures me that he nevertheless still loves me.
P.p.p.p.p.p.s. It was my father-in-law who first alerted me to Queen Victoria’s amended table etiquette rules.
P.p.p.p.p.p.p.p.s. One Ethiopian tradition that I’m sorry to say we did not partake in, which was demonstrated by the party of diners at the table next to us, was the eating of raw meat.

2 thoughts on “Eating with your fingers

  1. Just for the record I LOVE eating with my fingers. It should be against the law to eat bunny chow with a knife and fork!!! That said I don’t like my fingers to stay “dirty”. I need to wash them fairly soon after the meal has ended.

    Your Hubby is like my mum who eats everything with a knife and fork!


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