by Anura Guruge
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‘Sri Lanka‘ for other possibly related posts >>>>
When I saw the ‘Forkgate‘ story on TV this morning my heart went out to poor De Blasio, because I too used to have this same dilemma, albeit not with pizza, but with rice and curry, especially when I was in my 30s and 40s.
Though I don’t eat it often, and haven’t eaten any rice in a year, I do like curry. I assume that that is kind of genetical. I grew up eating rice and curry and that kind of gets you in the groove. In Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), at least in my day, everybody ate their rice and curry by hand — a rice & curry meal consisting of rice (invariably white), dahl (lentils of varying consistency and spiciness) and one or more meat, fish, potato or vegetable curry. You combined a bit of rice, a bit of dahl and one of more of the curries in your hand and then put that in your mouth. You only used your fingers and those of just your right hand. In Ceylon that is how you would remind people as to which was their right hand — the one they ate with.
OK, for the purposes of full disclosure, I used to be fed, by hand, by my grandmother during most of the 13.9 years I lived in Ceylon — departing in August 1976, a week prior to my 14th birthday. No, I wasn’t anymore disabled or incapable as I am now. And it was not laziness by any means. It had to do with my Type AA++++ personality where I can’t even brush my teeth unless I am reading something. And reading, my lifelong vice, was the problem. We didn’t have TV in Ceylon when I was growing up. So, I used to read — non-stop, in both Sinhalese and English, from the time I was three. I read in the car, I read in the bathroom, I read in bed, I read everywhere. Just like now I was surrounded by books. And here was the problem with rice & curry. Given the need to combine the food it is not really possible to read and eat rice & curry, effectively, even if you use a spoon and fork. I basically, even at 13, would rather read than eat — though nobody would have ever accused me of being undernourished. That had to do with my grandmother. She took care of me ever since I was born. She had me on a super-rich diet, of eggs, butter, meat and fish. And because I had my face in a book or comic, she would sit and my side, for long periods of time, and put food in my mouth when I opened it. Now, this does not in any way mean that I was spoilt.
Well, after I left Ceylon there was nobody to feed me. So I had to fend for myself. Plus I didn’t eat rice & curry on a daily.
I enjoyed eating with my fingers. I could do it well. I used to make fun of Sri Lankans who didn’t eat with their fingers. When I was in my mid-20s and moved into marketing I started wearing my trademark french-cuffed white-shirts, cuff-links, colorful ties and ‘fancy’ suits on a daily basis. I still ate, at lunch, if I was at an Indian, with my fingers. In those days Indian restaurants served finger bowls, in varying degrees of fanciness, before and after your meal. I ate with my fingers in 5-star hotels in India and Sri Lanka. That what you did. Then I started, while visiting Paris, to sometimes use a spoon and fork. That used to bother me. I used to go back and forth. Used my fingers in the U.K., spoon and fork in Paris!
By the time I was in my mid-40s the matter was settled. I didn’t eat rice & curry that often, BUT when I did I didn’t use my fingers. A couple of years ago we were invited to a Sri Lankan house in Massachusetts for rice & curry and I did eat with my fingers just to prove that I could.
So, I feel for De Blasio.
Now some Indians, especially Southern Indians, eat with their hands. They move the rice & curry to their palm and even squeeze it. They will drink the liquid that comes out. That is messy. I have never done that.
Now just to make some of you cringe, I have also partaken in communal eating — with your fingers, from the same plate! As I have stressed in these posts, Ceylon, when I was growing up, was pleasantly multicultural. We would go to muslim weddings. Being asked to partake in communal eating is a sign of kinship. I was young. Never bothered me. I knew the folks and there were strict protocols. Not sure whether I could do it now. Deanna cringes even when I mention it …