By Jay Remer, the Etiquette Guy
In our first installment of finger foods and appropriate social graces, we discussed how to eat artichokes in an elegant fashion.
This time, let’s address eating asparagus in a polished manner.
Asparagus is a wonderful vegetable from the lily family, which comes to us from Eurasia and is grown in many parts of the world. This is another food, which, according to proper etiquette,is correctly eaten by hand, whether it is served hot or cold. The same accompaniments used for artichokes work nicely with asparagus too.
The spears are best when steamed or grilled. They can be boiled, but then so can anything. Much of the flavour and nutrients are lost in that process. Although not often served at formal dinners, eating this vegetable with your hands is proper at any occasion anywhere in the world.
French-fried potatoes are an all-time favourite finger food. These tuberous vegetables have their origins in Peru. What we eat today descends from a subspecies from Chile.
The sweet potato and yam are also immensely popular additions to this finger food family. While the sweet potato originated in equatorial South America, it is distantly related to the potato. However, the yam comes to us from Africa and is no relation to either plant, even though it’s similar in appearance and taste.
Cut into long rectangular spears, these nutritious vegetables are usually deep-fried in fat, rendering them less wholesome but addictively delicious. No matter how they are cooked or served, they are customarily eaten with a fork and knife; however, I think they somehow seem to taste better when eaten by hand (sinful, yes. Delightful, yes).
The rule of thumb for eating certain foods with one’s hands is usually dictated by a lack of cutlery with which to eat a particular item. No knife, fork or spoon is a good indication that using your fingers is positively appropriate. No one is expected to eat a sandwich or a burrito with utensils. Nor are olives, nuts and most picnic foods such as fried chicken and barbecued ribs.
I’m not sure how the various lists were assembled as to what is expected to be eaten by hand and what with a fork. When in doubt, however, begin with a fork and knife and then follow your host’s lead. At picnics, my vote is forks for salads only. (A note to hosts and hostesses: at formal dinners, don’t taunt your guests with questionable foods.)
This brings me back to the etiquette of eating artichokes. Of course, here’s a food one starts eating with their hands and finishes using a fork and knife. It may be unique in that regard. Don’t let them scare you off though.
Most cocktail party food is finger food, unless of course served with a small fork (highly unusual and – dare I say – a total pain in the derrière).
One could go on for donkey’s years about not holding a drink and an hors d’oeuvre at the same time. Those little cocktail napkins do come in handy for both glasses and fingers, but smudged cocktail glasses (especially wine) are unsavoury, so best to be brutally attentive and use one for drinks and more for food.
Jay Remer is the Etiquette Guy, and is certified by the Protocol School of Washington as a consultant for corporate etiquette and international protocol.