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Finger Food

By Monica Bhide, "Finger Food," May/June 2011

Writer and cookbook author Monica Bhide's essay on eating with her hands.

Once the vegetables and lentils were cooked, my mother could get into kneading the dough for the bread. Her fingers deftly worked the flour to release its magic and bind it into a mystical pile that would later, when kissed by fire, produce bread worth killing for. My grandmother would take the bread off the fire, still scorching hot, and crush it between the palms of her hands before serving it to the kids. She said it softened the bread; I thought it added love.

The point of this is not whether the measures were right (they were), the point is that the food was constantly in human contact. Mint and cilantro leaves, when crushed on a granite sil batta (like a large mortar and pestle), have a different consistency and taste than when they are ground in a food processor. Even to this day many cooks will tell you that using electrical appliances changes the way food tastes. It is like some ancient cultures believe that if someone takes a photo of you, they take away a piece of your spirit.

Don't get me wrong, I use electrical appliances, but there is a widely held belief in India that good food is the result of "good hands." The energy of the hands is transferred to the foods that are being prepared. Two perfectly capable cooks can use the same ingredients to prepare the same dishes and yet, one may taste better than the other. You may think it is because of cooking technique. I beg to differ. Food prepared with the energy of love tastes better.

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