Hand to Mouth 101…

Living in a village in remote Java, I have found that there are some skills that are necessary to learn… and some that I’d just really like to…

The first of these skills is to master the art of eating with my hand(s) in true traditional Indo style. In this part of the world chopsticks aren’t really used, spoons and forks are always available and are used especially for soups and curries – but besides that – traditionally it’s all in the hand.

Throughout many different parts of the world using your hands to eat is the norm. India, Africa, most of the Middle East and The Philipines are a few that come to mind straight away. When we were in India last year, I began to experiment with my right hand trying to make it shape food and scoop in such a way that I could use some pratha as a spoon and shovel (delicately of course) it into my gob. Delicious. As with most parts of the Asian and Middle East world, eating with your hand(s) only involves work by your right hand, as your left hand shouldn’t be used for eating or greeting or passing things from one person to another – it is you ‘cleaning’ hand… and therefore it is considered dirty.

Where we are living there is a glorious abundance of fresh seafood – it is one of the definite plusses of living in a fishing village. Crab, Squid, Lobster, Prawns, Mussels, Fish… the list goes on and on. Now, to master the art of scoop and shovel with only my right hand, when it comes to things like shelling prawns, pulling the sweet flesh from the inside of a crab shell, or peeling the chewy salty skin and flesh from the bones of a big fish… it isn’t easy – but it sure is enak sekali, and fun!  

hand to mouth 101

Most Warungs, restaurants and eating huts here have a little wash basin with hand soap to wash your hands before and then after eating, as it can get a little messy. If you have short clean fingernails, eating Hand to Mouth is actually said to be more hygienic than using cutlery that is washed in the sterile water – though I’ve never had a problem with either anyway. It’s a skill, and one that I’m going to accquire. Even if I look like I’m absolutely ravenous – Sara’s words, not mine – when I eat with my hand(s). Something to do with me calling it scoop and shovel in my head I would guess.

The basic skill involves firstly separating a spoonful size of rice with a selection of the other foods on your plate, some vegetable, some seafood, all in small torn amounts. And then you sort of squish it all together to compact it into a little mound, pick it with the tip of all five fingers (Scoop) and then bring your hand up to your mouth. Using your thumb you push the food into your mouth (Shovel). Your fingers should never actually go into your mouth. I find it incredible to watch people who eat like this every day, it is so tidy, no food ever falls, no mess is made. I’m still learning… but I’m getting there… hand to mouth.


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