Your Best Tools
What is it really that makes eating with your hands such an enjoyable way to convey food up and in to your mouth? After having taken my LCB Chicago Ethnic Lunch Club to an Ethiopian restaurant last week, I've had this question banging around in my skull. Ethiopia boasts one of the greatest "eat with your hands" cuisines in the world, with the various stews and sauteed items being served on top of a delicious, spongy, tangy, crepe-like flatbread called injera. It is a communal style of dining, with the injera lined platter of food in the center of the table, and the basic idea is that each diner tears off a piece of injera and uses it to scoop up a mouthful of whatever dish looks most inviting at the moment. While there are many Ethiopian restaurants in Chicago, the one I took my club to is called Ethiopian Diamond, and everything we ate there was absolutely delicious.
Back to the big picture; while I certainly don't have enough room here to create a complete catalogue of every one of the world's great finger foods, let's make a short list of a few of the more obvious ones that are widely known to bring pleasure to many food lovers.
Hand held contraptions that are wrapped in (or paired with) some sort of breading (or other starchy component) might be a good place to start...tacos & tortas; sandwiches of all sorts (hot dogs, burgers, and deli meats between bread); a good corn dog with mustard at the state fair; nigiri and maki sushi; souvlaki/gyros; the list could go on and on.
How about some crunchy fried chicken; no forks and knives, please! Also, think about the joys of attacking the leftover carcass of a roasted turkey, chicken, or duck. The juicy morsels you dig out with your fingertips are surely ten times as delicious as anything you may have just eaten off of your plate. Then there's the lamb chop "lollipop"! What more needs to be said?
In addition to Ethiopian, many others of the world's great cuisines have traditions that involve eating mainly with your hands. Many Muslim countries and many parts of southern India make great use of the best tools we have.
Forgive me for neglecting to mention the many other important areas of hands-on eating throughout the world...I fear that I've bitten off more than I can chew for a single blog entry, and this will have to be continued another time.