This weekend I attend a rather magical event called ‘Cuisine and Colour’. I went with limited knowledge about what to expect, other than than it was run by an artist and the food would be colourful. I definitely didn’t realised it was essentially going to be gourmet food fight… but this was a more than welcome surprise.
We were sat at a table with 39 others, strapped into the pristine white table by what I can only describe as adult bibs. There we no plates and no cutlery – we were encouraged to eat with our hands and make as much mess as possible. The crowd started off a little tentatively, no one really sure how to eat the food while maintaining our polite British manners.
At the second course, a lovely retired teacher and I begun finger painting with the vibrant sauces. By the fourth, she was lobbing yellow rice at a group of Northern students. What started as a seemingly posh, fine-dining experience quickly escalated into a full-blown food fight.
There was something incredibly liberating about the whole evening. Without the small-talk and careful manners, the ice was broken and the group bonded quickly. We were all amazed by how happy and carefree we felt with each other as the social barriers were broken down. Eating with our hands and making a mess facilitated a return to childlike excitement acting against the cultural norms we adopt and adhere to throughout our lives. Plus it produced some pretty cool and kind of beautiful patterns for Sabrina, the artist, to analyse.
If you think about it, knives, folks, plates and even manners go against our animalistic nature – as children the innate thing to do is to use our hands to explore the texture of food before we eat it. Of course as adults we think this is gross and rude, so frantically stamp our this behaviour, teaching kids to not play with their food. But why is this so ingrained in us? Although the eating process may leave toddlers looking like they’ve been in a food fight after every meal, playing with you food is actually an evolutionary mechanism designed to help the child gather information about what they eat. It goes hand in hand with the ‘hunter-gatherer’ diet that so many advocate, that we should uphold the nutritional values of our primal ancestors.
Eating with your hands is fairly common in several parts of the world, such as places in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In Ghana they even eat soup with your hands (I have since tried this – the result was me being sticky, covered in lentils and consuming so little of the soup that I had to make a new meal…I guess it probably takes a bit of practice). Many of these cultures believe that using your hands heightens the emotional connection to food – engaging the touch enhances the multisensory experience of food. While the smell, appearance and sounds in the environment are processed unconsciously during a meal, by using a cutlery, we are limiting the tactile dimensions to the mouth and tongue. Eating with your hands engages the sense of touch, allowing us to gain more from the experience. and connect with the meal. Furthermore, handling food has been shown to improve digestion. The sensory nerve endings in our hands prepare the stomach for digestion and provide information about the meal including the temperature, size and heaviness. Using our hands actually starts up the digestive system by signalling that food is about to be consumed.
I’ve written a lot about mindful eating, and stressed the importance of being present during a meal. In a way, cutlery puts a physical barrier between us and our food that makes it easier to disconnect and wolf down food without paying attention. Using our hands connects us to the food, which helps to make our relationship with food a more positive one. And above all, it’s really really fun.
For an easy introduction into eating with your hands I’d recommend sushi. This works wonders as the processes requires you to use your hands to both construct and eat it. By making and eating sushi without using any utensils you’ll hopefully feel more aware and connected to the meal. Just don’t go too far and start chucking it all over your self/guests, food fights are only fun when there’s someone else to clean up for you.
Avocado + salmon and crab + cucumber nori rolls with tahini miso dressing:
1/4 bag sushi rice
2 salmon fillets
1 packet crab sticks
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon miso
2 tablespoons peeled ginger root
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon water
1. To make the sauce, simply blend all the ingredients together.
2. Boil the sushi rice in water for about 15-20mins until sticky. Add salt and pepper
3. Meanwhile, slice the vegetables and fish as thin as possible
4. Place the rice evenly over a sheet seaweed and drizzle some sauce on top
5. Now place the vegetables and fish and roll up tightly using the matt.
6. Using a sharp knife, cut the roll into slices.
7. Repeat until you use up all the ingredients.