Eating ‘swallow’ meals with bare hands is a practice deeply-rooted in various cultures around the world, especially in Nigeria, and in Africa at large. This unique dining experience goes beyond mere sustenance; it’s a celebration of tradition, taste, and connection. Have you ever heard someone say; “I don’t like eating my swallow with fork and knife; I did not feel the taste at all …”
Little wonder, you see some folks at dining scenes or even huge restaurants, utilising their proper thumb-and-finger pinch to pull off a bite from the morsel, and then the roll of the swallow from the palm to the tips of the fingers, as it is lowered into the soup to scoop a mouthful. The cultural roots of hand-eating practices, such as for many African dishes like amala, eba and pounded yam is not a strange phenomenon, but has it passed down through generations, symbolising a connection to heritage. In fact, some nutritionist have described the culture to be healthy, as long as one washes the hands properly.
Beyond that, the sensory aspect of eating with hands, emphasising the tactile experience of feeling the food makes it more tasty, according to some schools of thought. In a typical Nigerian home, the mother or cook often takes a soup by scooping some from the ladle on the palm, to get the taste. This tactile engagement enhances the connection between the individual and the meal, creating a more intimate dining experience. Furthermore, eating with hands also brings about social bonding; as often seen in family gatherings or communal meals. In the Igbo setting, during some festivals such as the new yam festival; eating together with hands from a pot or plate is considered a thing of joy. This depicts how even ancient tradition approves the communal aspect of eating with hands.
Indeed, sharing a meal in this way fosters a sense of togetherness and strengthens social bonds. There is a yet-to-be scientifically-proven idea that eating with hands can heighten the perception of flavours. However, a nutritionist has submitted that a direct contact with the food can intensify the sensory experience, making the meal more enjoyable. Nutritionist Yashna Garg, in an healthline article, observed that the practice of eating with one’s hands, specifically your fingers, has its origin in Ayurvedic, which propagates the teaching that our bodies are in sync with the five elements of nature, and each finger is an extension of one of these five elements the thumb as an extension of space, the forefinger as an extension of air, the middle finger as an extension of fire, the ring finger as an extension of water, and the little finger as an extension of the earth.
So, when using your hands next, you are supposed to utilise all fingers together. This brings together all of nature’s elements and brings awareness to the texture, taste, aromas, and temperature of the food. Finally, eating with hands encourages mindful eating practices. For instance, psychologically, eating with your hands makes you pay attention to what you’re eating. Eating with your hands may allow you to have your food slowly and deliberately, which can help you feel full even with less food. This also prevents binge eating that is a cause for weight gain. Individuals may pay closer attention to the textures and flavours of each bite, leading to a more conscious and satisfying dining experience. In conclusion, the act of eating swallow meals with your hands transcends mere gastronomy. It’s a cultural practice that connects individuals to their heritage, fosters social bonds, and enhances the overall dining experience.