Eating Like a Local | Guest Post by Aki Merced
If there’s something I want to do for the rest of my life, it has to be traveling. The thrill of going to a place where you don’t know anyone, you don’t understand the language, and you’re basically on your own to fend for yourself excites me. Although, I have to be honest. These days, the world sometimes seems like a big tourist trap. It’s a challenge for travelers: how do you escape the marketing ploys and actually get to know the people and the places?
Here’s something you probably have heard before, and I’m going to repeat it for you: eat where the locals eat. And I don’t mean searching on Google to find out what’s the highest rated cafe on Yelp. No. Do some investigation. A good place to start is to ask your cab driver or the cleaner in your hostel. Where do they eat? Where do the ordinary people eat? What do they eat?
I’ve been doing this the past years and I’ve always had great discoveries. What surprised me is that in some cultures, people don’t use forks and knives in everyday meals, But just their hands. Some people may find this unsanitary– but when you think about it, these are our hands. They should be clean. We should be more comfortable eating with them than the utensils we are given in restaurants. It makes sense, right?
Save yourself from the funny looks and let me tell you about some of these places around the world where eating with your hands is normal:
I’ve always eaten sushi with chopsticks before I found out that sushi masters would really rather you eat them with your hands. They take pride in making sushi and don’t want the chopsticks to mess up the form. It’s very straightforward to do. Just pick it up and put it in your mouth. I did find out that if you want to eat like the locals do, you have to turn the sushi upside down and dip the fish-not the rice- into the soy sauce. If you dip the rice into the sauce, it’s going to disintegrate. Not good. Also, make sure the fish touches your tongue first. This is probably so you get the full flavor first before the rice neutralizes the taste. If you do get into a swanky sushi place in Japan, they’re gonna put the soy sauce for you so you don’t mess it up.
Indian food is one of the best cuisines in the world. They really take their food seriously– the sauces taste like there are a million different spices in it. And as big as India is, depending on where you go, you will get a different version of their traditional dishes. The variety is just mindblowing.
After spending so much time and effort in preparing the food, Indians use their hands to eat it. I finally understood when I ate with the locals. They told me an Indian saying which goes: “eating food with your hands feeds not only the body but also the mind and the spirit.” Whether it’s roti (flat bread) dipped in goat curry, samosas or rice–the Indian way of eating with your hands somehow just makes the food taste even better.
When I went to Ghana and Nigeria, I was served Fufu everywhere! Fufu is yam or cassava boiled in water, mashed and shaped into balls; served with soup and meat. I was told that it is one of the most popular dishes across Central and Western Africa. Eating it was very similar to how I was taught to eat roti with my hands in India. I pinch the bread or the fufu, scoop up or dip it in some soup or sauce, then put it straight in my mouth. I can use my thumb to push it in if needed. I found out that this is how they eat everyday and it’s customary to have two water bowls on the table– one to clean your hands before eating, and one after the meal. You could even keep a little bottle of Hand Sanitizer on your person just to help keep your hands germ-free for the meal.
Most Filipino dishes are partnered with rice or involve rice. Filipino food is tasty! Although it takes some level of technique to get used to eating with your hands, it’s not that hard to learn. The rule is to keep your left hand clean so you can pick up your drink or pass a dish when you need to. Mix the sauce, meat and rice, then press a small mixture together against the plate with your fingers, pick it up and push it into your mouth. Again, my thumb came in handy when I couldn’t shoot the food in. I also licked my fingers after the meal because I saw them do it. No shame here.
New York City, USA
Yes! Well aside from the fact that you can find Indian, Japanese, African and Filipino restaurants all over NYC, the most popular food in New York is eaten using hands. Pizza! We are all familiar with how New York’s pizza connoisseurs raise their eyebrows when someone eats pizza with a fork and knife. Apparently, as I’ve learned, the authentic and ONLY way to eat pizza in NYC is to pick it up with your hand, fold it in half, and chomp!
Thanks to our guest blogger Aki Merced from akimerced.com. Aki is a content creator and freelance writer. She travels the world and makes shrines for Jamaican patties and soul musicians.
You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.