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The art of cuisine: Hand or no-hands, that is the question

If you walk through an eatery in India, you will definitely feel a bit out of place if you despise a “hands-on” approach to cooking and eating. The tradition of eating with your bare hands is one that has been heralded in Indian cuisine for quite a while. Most of the dishes in Indian cuisine have to be carefully prepared with much attention being paid on ensuring that there is a “humanly” touch to the cooking and preparation processes as a whole. There is also an inherent traditional touch to the art of eating in India, as well as other countries especially in Asia, where the hands are extensively used during a meal.

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Tripped Out Fact: Prem Singh, a 65 year-old chef from New Delhi, India, cooks fried fish without the help of utensils. What I mean to say is, he puts his own bare hands in the frying pan to fry the fish. Imagine dipping your hands into a cauldron of blazing hot oil to fry fish pieces. His “bare-hands fried fish” are a hit among the people of the city. He says that he has been practicing his technique from the past 25 years but has not yet received a single lesion on his hands.

One of the important aspects which are associated with the use of hands during a meal is that this establishes a much deeper connection between the consumer and the food. In a way, if seen from a radical perspective, the use of forks, knives and spoons have essentially taken away the essence of touch and feeling associated with having food. In a way, this has added an almost “machinistic” dimension to the process of eating as a whole.

While using hands, the temperature, texture and the other physical aspects of food can be sensed before it actually touches the tongue. That has to be an added advantage when viewed from a sensory point of view. Essentially, this enhances the inherent feeling that one can attribute to the process of eating a meal.

Tripped Out Fact: Just like Prem Singh from India, a chef from Thailand known as Khan Trichan performs a similar feat. He uses his hands to fry chicken in smoldering hot oil and has been doing so for quite a while now. Here’s a video of him perfoming his daily cooking routine:

Moreover, the significance of cooking with bare hands has a much deeper impact on the meal itself. If viewed from a technical perspective, hands are a much more versatile tool for cooking than any other mechanical instrument. For example, the cooks at Bera Samosa in Ahmedabad use their hands to knead the dough and turn it into the thin crust that carries the stuffing of the samosas. This thin crust, when made by hand is approximately 0.3 mm thin while that made from machine is about 0.5 mm thin. That shows the subtle yet quite drastic differences between a hands-on approach to cooking contrasted with a hands-free approach.

Read the article on Bera Samosa here.

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However, as per the Health Standards in most Western countries, cooking with bare hands or touching food with bare hands in considered as unhygienic. There is a preconceived notion that the usage of bare hands during cooking or eating can result in the spread of various diseases due to a potential lack of hygiene. Most of the chefs in Western countries are usually seen using hands only while tasting the food during the preparation process. Even with regards to this particular aspect, they still prefer using spoons rather than actually touching the food with their hands.

There seems to be a consistent divide in the way people view the use of hands in cooking and eating. With chefs in the Western world also turning to the use of bare hands in cooking and meal preparations, there is also a vast majority of people who consider eating with hands to be unhygienic and unhealthy. The aspect of etiquettes and table manners are brought into the picture during this debate.

But, the real question here is when we move from hands to more ”sophisticated” habits of eating, are we losing out on feeling the essence of food itself? Think about it.

Further Tripping…

Read about chefs in the Western World are now understanding the significance of “hands-on” cooking

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About Minal Rawal

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