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Why Use Utensils when you can Eat with your Hand? An Arab Way of Eating

posted on: May 13, 2021

Eat with Your Hands for a Sensuous, Intimate, Mindful Meal | KQED
Photo: Kqed
A group of Arabs eating by hand

By: Meral Abu-Jaser/Arab America Contributing Writer

The use of utensils was not the usual way to eat in the Arab world. The Arab way of eating was by using your hands. A way that you may call a hand-to-mouth way of eating which is quite rare. Though many may view hands-to-mouth eating as wild, it was and is still is on some occasions a practiced culture for Arabs. However, it is not used for all types of cuisines. Now let us explore this cultural practice and learn more about the Arab way of eating.

Culture Practice

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For many Arabs using their hand to eat is considered a cultural aspect. It expresses the way of how people back in the day used to eat when utensils were not a thing. Nowadays, not all Arabs eat with their hands. It is mostly practiced on certain occasions to embrace the tradition. Occasions such as wedding ceremonies and graduation parties are some of the events that would let you forgo your utensils.

In gatherings that include an after meal for all the guests. Everyone would gather in a circle and food will be served in the center. Everybody would only eat what is put in front of them without invading the other person’s side of the dishes. Usually, everyone would eat from the same dish without having a separate bowl.

In most cases and in a uniform fashion, the guests would either sit on the floor with one leg folded or would stand. Using their right hand, a piece of meat is rolled in a rice ball and placed in their mouths.

Homemade Pita Bread {Just 5-Ingredients} - Sweet Simple Vegan
Photo: Pinterest
A group of people enjoying an Arab breakfast

Now, Arab breakfast cuisines are mostly eaten by hand. But we do not use our hands directly. Instead, we use a piece of bread and you would either dip it or scope food in it without touching anything with your fingers. This way is as simple as it sounds. If you have eating Hummus then you probably have an idea about what I am talking about.

Important Courtesies to Follow when Eating by Hand

In Islam, we are taught that the Prophet(peace be upon him) said to eat from your own side of the dish, slowly, with the right hand, just until you are not hungry. It makes you take your time and be mindful of what you’re eating.”

That being said, this is not just a cultural thing but also religious to some. By now many would have the first thought that eating by your hand is not a clean and respectful way of eating. Especially when other people such as guests are present. However, it may surprise you that it might be more heather than eating with utensils. Now let us go through the rules of eating by hand.

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after the meal. Hygiene is very important to Arabs, especially when it comes to food.
  2. Use your right hand to eat. The left hand is never used and should be kept at the side away from the food.
  3. Use the thumb, index, and middle fingers of your right hand to eat.
  4. Do not put your fingers into your mouth.
  5. Eat only on your side of the dish

Want to Give It a Try?

Now that you have an idea of how Arab’s used to eat back in the ages and how they do now on certain occasions, are you ready to try it out? If you have ever been invited to an Arab breakfast then you must have already tried the way of eating by hands using pita bread.

Hence, since you know what are the rules of eating by hand, try it out yourself. Next time you visit an Arab country do not hesitate and enjoy your meal in a cultural manner. Remember, when you travel to the Arab World you will eventually forgo your knife and fork and rediscover the joy of eating with your fingers!

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