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Eating with Elegance

Find tips on how to eat difficult foods.

Eating with Elegance

"How do I eat this at all—never mind gracefully?" you say to yourself as you stare at the intricately tangled spaghetti on your plate. Well, pasta isn't the only challenge when it comes to eating with elegance. The following is a list of difficult foods to eat, along with some tips on how to eat them correctly.

Mind Your P's and Q's

"Don't, when offered a dish at a friend's table, look at it critically, turn it about with the spoon and fork, and then refuse it."
—G.R.M. Devereaux, Etiquette for Women, 1901

Before we get started, here is an important codicil to keep in mind. Remember that you can eat certain foods with your fingers, but when in doubt, use a fork or spoon. If you already have your paws on the item, go ahead and eat it. Please, please, don't say, "Hey, they invented fingers before forks. Right?"

  • Artichokes. Eating an artichoke requires a bit of an attitude and a little digital dexterity. Pick it up with one hand, remove one leaf at a time, and dip the soft end into the accompanying sauce. Then place the whole soft end in your mouth and pull (do not yank) it through your teeth to remove the edible part. Discard the rest by placing it on the edge of the plate or on a side plate—not your bread plate!—if one is available. When you've removed most or all of the leaves, you'll reach the heart of the artichoke, which forms a firm center of meat. Use a knife to scrape the fuzzy part off and then cut the meat into bite-size pieces with the help of a knife and fork.
  • Avocados. See the following section on fruits.
  • Bacon. If the bacon is very crisp, you can eat with your fingers. Otherwise, use a knife and fork.
  • Cake. You can eat cake with your fingers if it's in bite-size pieces. If it comes as a whole slice, if it's sticky, or if it comes with sauce or ice cream, use both a fork and spoon. Hold the spoon in your right hand to scoop up the dessert. The fork goes in your left hand, and you use it as a pusher.
  • Caviar. To eat caviar, you first spread it on a bite-size piece of toast and then add any condiments, such as chopped onions or capers.
  • Celery, pickles, and radishes. To eat these fresh vegetables, remove them from the serving plate with your fingers and place them on the side of your dinner plate. Take small bites, using your fingers to bring the vegetables to your mouth.
  • Chicken and other fowl. Unless you're at a picnic, you should eat chicken and turkey with a knife and fork.
  • Corn on the cob. Use both hands to eat an ear of corn. Butter and eat only a few rows at a time. You won't encounter this food on formal occasions in America, and you won't encounter it at all in Europe, where most people consider corn—and especially corn on the cob—to be food for livestock.
  • Crabs. Eat crabs as you would lobster. See the following tips.
  • Lobsters. To eat a lobster requires a host of techniques. Start by cracking the shell with a nutcracker and then extract the meat with a seafood fork (that's the tiny little thing with the three tines). If you pull out a large piece, cut it with a fork. Pull off the small claws and suck out the meat (there's not much meat in them, but what's there is sweet!) as if you were drawing liquid through a straw. Use your knife and fork to eat stuffed lobster.
  • Olives. Use the same technique with olives as you did with bacon, pickles, and celery. If the olive is pitted, eat it whole. If the olive is large and unpitted, hold it in your fingers and eat it in small bites, instead of popping the whole thing in your mouth and munching. As for the pit, kiss it into the palm of your hand then deposit it on the edge of your plate.
  • Pasta. Pasta comes in many different sizes and shapes, but you can basically divide them into the long and stringy type and the short and squat type. To eat long and stringy pasta, like spaghetti or linguini, it's a good idea to avoid that business of twirling spaghetti with your fork into the bowl of a spoon. Instead, eat a few strands at a time, twirling them on your fork without the support of a spoon. Do not cut the strands with your knife. Small ziti, penne, and the like require only a fork.
  • Potatoes. The technique to use on a potato depends on how it is prepared. Eat the inside of a baked potato with a fork. If you want to eat the skin, cut it into manageable pieces with a knife and fork. Don't try to convert your baked potatoes into mashed food. Cut fries in half and eat them with your fork.
  • Shrimp. If the tails are still attached, use your fingers. Eat shrimp cocktail with a seafood fork, dipping a shrimp into the sauce and popping it into your mouth in two bites if large. Better still, put them on a serving plate, spoon a little sauce on them, and then cut the shrimp with a knife and fork.
  • Tortillas. If you eat tortillas with your hands, start eating them at one open end, holding the other end closed. If they're especially full and unwieldy, use a fork and knife and cut them crosswise, starting at an open end.

The following fruits are difficult to eat:

  • Avocados. If the avocado is still in its shell, use a spoon. If in pieces on a plate, use a knife and fork.
  • Berries. Eat berries with a spoon if they are served with no stems attached. If served with their stems, hold the berry by the stem and eat it in one or two bites after dipping the berry into sugar or sauce.
  • Grapefruit halves. Section grapefruit halves so that the meat is accessible without a lot of digging. Eat the sections with a spoon and never squeeze the juice.
  • Lemon wedges. Handle lemon wedges with care. You can secure them with a fork and squeeze with the other hand or, if you pick up a wedge to squeeze between the fingers, use the other hand as a "squirt shield" so that the diner beside you doesn't get an eyeful of lemon juice.
  • Oranges and tangerines. Either peel oranges and tangerines with a knife or with your fingers and then eat them section by section. If served on a plate, eat them with a fork.
  • Peaches. Halve and then quarter peaches with a knife; then eat the fruits of this labor with a fork. You can either eat the skin or peel it off with a knife or your fingers.
  • Pineapple. You eat pineapple with a spoon when served in small pieces and with a fork when sliced.
  • Watermelon. If watermelon is served in small pieces, eat it with a spoon. Otherwise, use your fork. Put the seeds into the palm of your hand and transfer them to the side of your plate.

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