How to eat with your hands like a pro

by Brad Miller

eatinghandsIn many Southeast Asian countries, the prevailing tradition is to eat with your hands. It takes a while to get it right, but with a bit of practice, anyone can eat like a local. Follow this simple guide and you’ll be on your way to cultural immersion in no time!

Use your right hand

The rule of thumb (no pun intended), is this: Right Hand = Good, Left Hand = Bad. Apologies to all the lefties out there, but the most important rule is to only ever touch food with your right hand. (Step 1) The left hand is considered unclean is most cultures. Some of this is superstition; some of this is extremely practical. You see, in places without toilet paper, well… one hand has to do the dirty work.

Mix Well

I have always been taught to never play with my food, and as a kid I hated it when any of my foods touched on my plate. But to get the right slightly sticky consistency perfect for hand-eating, you have to mix your rice with whatever liquid or soup or vegetable is on your plate. (Step 2)

Go big

In an attempt to be polite, I’ve often tried taking tiny scoops of food. After all, dainty little bites are the accepted norm of high society, right? Wrong. I’ve found myself getting food everywhere except in my mouth. Larger handfuls are actually easier to eat, and it’s okay if some remains on your hands. (Step 3)

Scoop and push

This is the golden secret to getting a perfect hand-scooped bite: keep your thumb away. Scoop with your four fingers and place your thumb behind the bite of food. When you eat, use your thumb to push the food off your fingers. (Step 4)

Make mistakes, get messy

I’ve made lots of mistakes (how did rice end up on my elbow?), and chances are you will too. Yes, I’ve gotten messy and I’ve looked like a little kid. But it gave my hosts and me a great chance to laugh together and made for a perfect icebreaker. Laughter, relationship, and food – sounds like a perfect combination to me.