There is just something uniquely satisfying about grabbing that morsel of Ugali and rolling it in some thick, tasty beef stew before passing it over a topping of nutritious steamed indigenous greens and finally escorting it to the mouth.
It gets even better when you grab that sizzling piece of a nicely barbecued goat rib and you pass it across your mouth in 3 or 4 swoops – each intended to reduce the population of the juicy flesh on the bone.
This is very Kenyan and indeed very African and no matter what level of sophisticated silverware one has, using our fingers to eat remains the most cherished way – one we not only learn through our frequent social interactions across varying age sets but which also seems to develop almost instinctively.
It is difficult to explain it, but using fingers to eat adds a certain extra ‘flavour’ to food that one never seems to get from using a spoon or some other aids. It normally involves grabbing solid food with the first three fingers of your hand (mostly your right) and guiding it to your mouth.
To me, it has never seemed uncultured, uncivilised or unhygienic to use my fingers to eat. In fact, if you ask me, it is more hygienic to eat this way because the requirement to wash hands beforehand assures one of a level of cleanliness hard to guarantee with a spoon you have no idea how it was washed.
There are even arguments that eating with your fingers is actually faster. Most African and Asian foods are best eaten this way anyway. I cannot imagine eating those tasty layered brown Chapatis any other way!
Some sources say that the number of people in the world who use their fingers to eat could be somewhere between one and two billion. So you and I are surely not alone!
Majority of people living in India, for instance, eat mainly with their hands. Many countries in south-east Asia (Laos, Thailand) also have a sizeable portion of the population eating with their fingers. Throughout Africa many people rely on their fingers as their primary feeding appliance.
There are certain unspoken cardinal rules that are mandatory if one is to use their fingers to eat. Always use the right hand when eating or receiving food. The left hand is usually reserved for serving food from the serving dish onto your plate – at that point you can use serving spoons, tongs etc. This rule seems to apply even to left-handed people.
My numerous travels across Africa, interacting with different communities, some very learned and very civilised, has revealed how deep-rooted and continental this culture is. It is not dying any time soon – if anything, it is growing.
Do you use your fingers to eat? What type of foods have you eaten this way? Share your experiences by leaving your comments below.