According to the Etiquette Mavens, the only two foods it is acceptable for one to eat with one’s fingers are asparagus (without sauce) and bacon (crisp).
The only time I have ever seen asparagus eaten with fingers was at a rather proper dinner party in Andorra… By the same people that I had seen, on many occasions, eating an orange with a knife and fork.
Nothing trips us up so surely, when trying to fit into another culture, as the things we think we know;
The absolutes that we grew up with;
The habits that are so ingrained that it would not even occur to us that someone could do it differently.
Here are 2 areas I have found, er, interesting:
1. Having inedible bits in the food.
In the U.S. one thinks of broken teeth and lawsuits if encountering something unexpected in the food we eat.
Yet, in London I was served a Pheasant Terrine, at the Ritz no less, and told to ‘mind the buckshot’.
I did. I found at least a dozen of the tiny pellets. It was, after all, a wild pheasant terrine…. How did I think they got the bird… Put salt on its tail?
Pizzas served in Europe often come with a few whole black olives. Mind the pits.
Cherry Clafoutis is a classic spring dessert here in France. In a proper clafoutis the cherries still have the stones intact. It adds more flavor. Mind the stones.
You might find a jar of homemade plum preserves on your breakfast table at a B & B. Mind the stones.
2. Figuring out how to eat the food.
They’re everywhere in the summer. Here are 2 tips:
Do not order mussels unless they are written on the chalkboard as the special of the day. You only get decent mussels in restaurants with chalkboards, and, if they’re not the special, they’re not fresh.
You eat mussels by using the half shell of one as your eating implement, to loosen and scoop the othrer mussels into your mouth. Choose a nice large shell as your tool.
Very common in summer, especially in Spain, to have a piece of fruit for dessert. Whatever you order: apple, banana, peach, orange, it will be brought to you whole, on a plate with a knife and fork. If it needs to be peeled, you do so by holding with the fork, and removing the peel with the knife. Alternatively, you can cut the fruit in half, and then cut out wedges of the flesh with the knife and eat with the fork. You do not touch it with your fingers. This allows for very leisurely meals. It took me forever to eat my first orange….
At a gas station, eat with your hands. At a restaurant, unless they are tiny, ‘finger’ sandwiches, you eat them with a knife and fork. Again, leisurely meals.
Break off a bite-size piece with your fingers, and eat it. Butter is not normally provided unless you’re in a restaurant that caters to American or British tourists – and why would you be there?
This can vary. Be guided by the implements given you.
If you only have a knife: break off a small piece of bread. Slice a small piece of cheese and put it on the bread, using your knife. Eat in one bite. (It should be small enough to fit in your mouth).
If you have a knife and fork: Eat the cheese with knife and fork, the bread separately as above.
And you can eat your asparagus with your fingers…unless it has Hollandaise….
White asparagus is the preferred and prized variety here. The big, fat spears are sold individually and you have to be early to get the best.
We grew up with, and like the green, which is not often available.
Then we discovered the perfect compromise: violet. It has a purplish tint to the tip, is slimmer than the white, cooks as fast and is as tender as the green. It normally does not require peeling. And it’s more readily available than the green.
Asparagus is chock a-block with vitamins: K, C, A, the B’s, Folate; and minerals: potassium, iron, zinc, selenium, and more.
It’s good, it’s healthy, it’s spring…. And I pity all of you who don’t like it!
Asparagus with Quail Eggs, for two
6oz (200gr) asparagus, 12 thin or 8 large spears
6 quail eggs (or 2 chicken eggs)
2 tsp olive oil or butter
Snap off ends of asparagus. If your asparagus is very thick or it’s white, use vegetable peeler and peel the bottom half of stalk. Put into a skillet big enough to hold them without cutting, add water to cover bottom by 1/4 inch, cover and bring to boil. Lower heat and cook just until done, 8 – 12 minutes, longer for white, adding a bit of water as needed. Remove and keep warm. Heat oil or butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add eggs and fry until the whites are set. They are meant to be ‘sunny-side up’ – which is: whites set, yolks runny…..or cook them however you like them. Drizzle a bit of vinaigrette on half of a plate. Lay asparagus out nicely on top. Put three quail eggs (or 1 chicken egg) on the other half of the plate. Salt & pepper eggs if you like and serve, any remaining vinaigrette on the side.
1 tsp Dijon-style mustard
2 tsp tarragon wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
3 tbs olive oil, the good stuff
Whisk mustard and vinegar. Slowly drizzle in oil, whisking constantly. Add tarragon, whisk well.
You can eat this with your fingers to start… Dipping the tips in the eggs. You might want to finish with a fork…