The Joy of Eating With Your Hands

In the Ethiopian food culture, injera is not just a pancake. It is the plate, the utensils and a powerful food item with ideological meaning. Injera is the basis for all meals and it is the recipe of injera that runs through generations.

Just like Indian people, Ethiopians too eat with their hands. I’ve come to appreciate this more and more. There’s a certain joy and beauty to it. It makes eating somehow more sacred.

You start every meal by washing your hands carefully, not just your fingers but the palms and the wrists. Then you sit around the table with your family, friends or colleagues and wish each other a good meal. The steaming hot sauces are delicately placed on the injera. You eat with your right hand only.

There seems to be so many benefits to this. I’ve never felt stuffed after eating Ethiopian food. There’s a certain natural moderation that comes with eating with your hands. You feel connected to each mouthful. You don’t dig into it like a crazy person (although good shiro will do that to you), because you are sharing this meal and you want to make sure your companion gets an equal amount. Because you don’t want to drop any food, you are often leaning towards the table and the injera, and in this leaning position your stomach seems to fill up more quickly. You don’t overeat. Well, maybe some Ethiopians will disagree with me, overeating certainly happens here as well, especially after long fasting periods.

Also, because no forks, knives or spoons are needed, there is no status or power aspect to the way food is served. Nobody will ever know which brand your fork is. You don’t need it in Ethiopia. And that makes eating with your hands to me even quite a democratic way of eating. There sure are different ways to attach status to food, even here. Meat products are more valuable and the injera made of white teff carries the purest, finest taste.

I guess this is what comes closest to what they call mindful eating. Food is sacred, it nurtures us, and every mouthful can be appreciated.

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