Manners & Misdemeanors

To Fork or Not to Fork: What Dishes Can You Eat With Bare Hands?

Take that silver spoon out of your mouth.
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How often are you faced with the dilemma of not knowing which fork to use? Sometimes the dish may be quite tricky and may even call for the use of your bare hands.

At the heart of etiquette is courtesy and respect. When you are unsure of how to handle the dish that has been put in front of you, steal a glance at what your host is doing. She is probably the best guide as to how to behave. Still, it is better to know the basics.

Sushi


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Yes, in fact it may even be more polite to eat sushi with your hands when it has been prepared by a legit sushi chef. The thought behind it is that the chef used his own hands to make the dish—there is a whole discussion about the temperature of the dish and tradition surrounding this—and from hand to hand it is passed. Sashimi, however, is chopsticks-only territory.

Chicken


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In casual situations such a fried chicken in a bucket, you may handle the chicken, especially legs and wings, with your hands. But do not go to town with it! Handle it delicately, use the utensils whenever you can and do not under any circumstances lick your fingers clean! In more formal situations, stick to the silverware.

Ribs


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If you are offered a bib, then by all means, use your hands. Otherwise, use the fork and knife. It’s really not that difficult.

Strawberries



Yes. Bite-size fruit, like berries, grapes, and cherries, may be eaten with your hands, unless a spoon has been provided, e.g. strawberries with creme fraiche. To remove the pit, simply take it out of your mouth the way it went in discreetly, as if you’re merely popping the next one in. Leave them on the edge of your plate.

Melon

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This should be easy. Fleshy fruit like peaches, melons, and mangoes are not to be eaten with bare hands. Imagine having to wipe your face after taking a bite! As the seeds of these fruits tend to be larger, remove them on your plate before putting the slice into your mouth.

Shrimp

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Fine dining establishments usually serve them peeled and deveined, and those who love shrimp and prawns enough should know how to peel them with only a fork and knife by now. But if you’re at a Chinese restaurant that offers wet tissues, you’re allowed to use your hands.

Oysters

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Use one hand to hold the shell, but use the shellfish fork for the meat. Do not slurp it! Reserve that for less formal circumstances.

Taco


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Depends—silverware for sauced soft tacos and hands for crunchy tacos. As for fillings that fall onto the plate, use your flatware. And if you’re considering crushing the taco to turn it into a salad: It may be easier to eat in the end, but the prep it involves is a chore.

Hamburger


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Of course, granted that it is a manageable portion that you can hold with your hands. There is no hard-and-fast rule for condiments like ketchup, but practicality dictates they go on the upper right hand corner of your plate. Use the knife to spread it on to the burger if you please. Handle the accompanying fries similarly.

Bread


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Yes, just think how silly one would look when spearing a dinner roll. Bread is to be eaten with one’s hands by pinching off little bits. Butter the bite-size piece on the plate before putting it into your mouth. Do not butter the entire roll at once and do not take bites out of the whole piece. 

Pizza


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Pizza should always be eaten by hand. As if to emphasize this, the new rules of etiquette list pizza as a type of finger food. 

Always mind your manners. Use your napkin to dab your lips. Wipe your fingers as often as you need to. Enjoy.

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Vincent Ong
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