Fine Cuisine Experiences
(12 Dec 17) There are many places in Europe that are crowded and busy. That’s because Europeans seem to focus more on the refinement of what they have rather spreading out, or up. One of the areas they’ve taken refinement to the far edge of exquisiteness is in dining! The cuisine here is simply magnificent. In the states we do quantity and “rib-sticken’” cuisine very well. If one wants to stuff their ‘gut’ with processed goodness and return to the trough when you can breath freely and the pants loosen up again, there’s none better! But eating out in Europe is different.
Back home we do have ‘fine dining’, but I find that I usually leave those establishments hungry, not impressed and with a wallet too thin for the experience. But when it comes to the standardization of refined (not processed, but quality) food this is the place you want to enjoy ‘fine dining’ – it’s everywhere. Most restaurants have a Daily Menu for very reasonable prices that are well prepared by professional chefs, served by staff that know what they are doing. The food is absolutely delicious. But that’s not really the topic of this blog.
Americans and Europeans eat differently! Yes we both stuff our gobs with nutrients, but its in how we handle our eating implements that dining differs. My wife (the European) would tell me that we (Americans) have no class when it come to mastering our silverware! Most etiquette guides would differ; I looked it up! They say that eating either with the American or Euro style is acceptable.
But apparently, like my wife, most Europeans read those etiquette guides either. When dining out, adults sneak oblique looks at me (their children just stare). I can you can read in their faces their surprise that such a ‘distinguished gentleman’ such as myself, eats like a peasant! My wife often notes, not only do I eat like and American but I also look like an American.
I guess, actually, nobody really confuses me with being distinguished and the barbarian eating style seems to fit well in their minds. What really surprises them is that the elegant lady sitting across from me is freely there of her own volition and not on some court ordered penance.
The stylistic differences lie in which hand controls the implements as they delicately assault their the food. Over here (Europe), the knife stays in the right hand and the left hand manipulates the fork, tines down. One uses the left hand to corner and pin down the tasty cutlet as the right hand severs it into a properly bit-sized piece that will not overfill the mouth. Usually one at a time. The left hand then stabs the morsel and gently places it in the mouth. Some of the more adroit eaters turn the tines over and can even scoop up peas and delicately carry them to their mouth, without spilling them in their laps….left handed. Most Euros will just smash the peas, or other soft foods, and carry them to the mouth stuck to the end of the fork.
On the other side of the Atlantic, we pick up the knife in our right hand, fork in the left, and slice up several bite sized morsels. We then lay down the fork along the left side of the plate and place the knife on the leading edge of the plate, sharp edge towards the inside of the plate (at least those that had parents that taught them the ‘proper’ US style). Then, we, retrieve the fork with our right hand and stab, or scoop up (as our tangs are facing up) our morsels until we run out of the bit-sized ones. We then repeat the hand switching all over again (‘cut and switch’ method). It may be an inefficient way of eating, but dammit, it’s our way!
So, why do we do this and they do that? I looked up the history, and there is plenty of trivia on the net to absorb more time than prudence dictates is really appropriate. I spent that time researching it and came up with a few general themes.
People originally ate with just their hands. But as metallurgy and craftsmanship improved producing more refined, smaller blades, people carried their own knives to diner and carved their own meat and bread. Most right handed individuals would hold the bread or meat with the left hand and use their dominant hand to prevent accidentally slicing off one of their digits at the diner table. They would then place their knife closely by (presumably where no one would steal it or where they could defend themselves) and pick up their sliced pieces with their dominant hand.
In time forks (two pronged) became available and popular. The wealthy, who could afford such extravagance, began to eat with knife and fork. As prices dropped and the general populace wished to copy the styles and customs of their genteel society, everybody began eating with knife and fork.
But, that doesn’t explain why we do it our way and they do it theirs.
Why the Difference?
The best I can make out is that when Europeans discovered and colonized the ‘New World’ they were in the ‘knife and hand’ evolution of eating. One source claimed that forks were not really accepted in the Colonies until around the time of the Revolution and even then, some of the offspring of Puritan heritage probably found them to be an unnecessary extravagance.
But by the time forks became fashionable in the Americas (by then they had three or four tines) the colonialist followed the traditional orthodoxy of cutting with the right hand and then picking up the food (with a fork) also with the right hand. One presumes the knives were still large for multi-purpose use.
Meanwhile back in Europe in the 18th century, so the history reads, etiquette fashion manners evolved to eating with the left hand. ‘Society’ had abandoned the ‘cut and switch’ method for the more efficient style with more delicate and purposeful utensils.
My theory (and I always have one) is that Americans of their newly formed country found the switch to be pretentious, as we tend to do. They stuck with the original (tho less efficient) manner of eating to better show their independence from European fashion and frivolities….. or something like that.
I suspect my theory holds no semblance with reality, but I like it and I’m sticking with it.
So, what has that got to do with this American boy in a Euro restaurant. To not embarrass my wife, I often eat in the Euro (efficient) style. But sometimes the food requires scooping (or mashing…which I will not do) and I lack the left hand dexterity of getting it into my mouth and not on my lap. At those times, I switch.
Sometimes I forget, or get lazy, or have an atavistic desire to show off my independence and ‘Americanism’ and stick with my ‘Old School’ style of eating; and get the funny looks. When I really want to mix things up, avant-garde like, I eat with my knife in the left hand while I stab my fork with my right. I’ve come to prefer this style as it’s more efficient, less noticeable than ‘cut and switch’ but bows down to no orthodoxy of pretentious styles.
My wife’s not impressed.
In another blog I may write about how waitresses here can actually individualize a bill by just adding up your cost for your meal on a blank sheet of paper….and not need a calculator or cash register, or claim it’s not possible and ‘we wish you would have told us when you ordered!”
They also read the subtle signals of utensil placement on the plate to know that your not finished eating and wish not to be disturbed with the intrusive ‘haw ya’ll doen hon?’ Every five minutes. It is possible for the waitstaff to be observant, present yet never intrusive. It’s all about the meal, the experience and rarely ever about their need to be part of it. It’s a ‘refinement’ perhaps for another time.
- Interested in the ‘Concert Night in Feldkirch ‘ Blog?, Link here to our Year in Vorarlberg Series
- See our ‘Best of Photos’ from this a adventure and from the Rhein’s Lands
- Care to comment on the Blog or Adventure? Jot down your comments in the form below – thanks