Last week in Germany, I was having dinner at Naumburger Wein & Sekt Manufaktur, a small winery outside Wurzburg. There were four Americans and two Germans at the table. This, of course, is far too small sample from which to draw any major conclusions, but I was struck by the different way the four of us ate and the two of them ate.
The meal was simple: a few wines pulled out of the 1,000 year old cellar beneath the farm kitchen where we ate, some spectacular German bread, and a platter of cold cuts that included some sausage, local cheese, and tomatoes. This kind of simple eating is a perfect way to set off the unique characteristics of the wines we enjoyed (I especially liked the Sekt, a sparkler, which like champagne seems to go with everything and with every sip revitalizes the palate...and encourages eating more good stuff).
About half way through the meal, I realized that all the Americans (including me) were eating with their hands, making sandwiches or eating whole slabs of bread draped with cold cuts. It felt comfortable eating that way and as I dug in, I didn't give it another thought…until I realized that our two German tablemates took a much different approach to eating exactly the same food. Instead of eating the meal like finger food, they were eating everything with a knife and fork, delicately placing meat over bread and then cutting everything into bite sized pieces before lifting to their mouths.
No doubt, some will feel this is to be unnecessarily fastidious, perhaps an even overly dainty and delicate way to eat. But I tried eating with a knife and fork, portioning each piece so that it fit neatly on the tines, and I have to say, eating this way makes it easier to control mouthfuls (so it's easier to talk while eating) and it does focus one on the meal at hand (thus it's more conducive to conscious eating, which has to be a good thing, right).
And now I have a confession to make: whether I'm eating a hamburger at heavy-metal Kuma's or some other sit-down place, I eat my burger with a knife and fork. I've eaten hamburger like that for a long time, and I have to admit, I feel a little, um, precious for doing so, but it just feels right.
Of course, if I'm eating, say, a White Castle hamburger, then I'd just as soon use my hands, slam it back, and get it over with as quickly as possible.
Thoughtful and graceful eating makes dining much more enjoyable for me, and it's good to slow down and eat with implements, one of the few features that seem to separate us from lower primates.