Did you know that forks were not generally used as eating utensils by people in many countries until around the 16th century?
There are records of forks being used in Greece as early as the 4th century, and the wealthy populace of the Middle East used them in the 7th - 13th centuries, but that's about it.
In 1005 a byzantine aristocrat, Maria Argyropoulina married the future doge of Venice, Domenico Selvo. To keep her fingers clean (most people ate with their fingers at the time), she had her servants cut her food into tiny pieces which she proceeded to eat with a golden two-tined fork that she carried with her. Wedding guests were apalled! How decadent!
She died shortly after the wedding of some disease and most perceived this as a sign that divine punishement was being wrought upon her.
The cardinal bishop of Ostia went so far as to preach against the fork, calling it a "diabolic instrument" (probably because of the similarity of the shape to the Devil's trident). He declared it as "useless" because spaghetti and macroni were so hard to eat with it. Thus, forks disappeared from the Italian table until the 16th century when it was rediscovered due to a revival in the quest for cleanliness.
Now that you know about the fork, do you know the simplest and most popular eating tool ever invented?
It's chopsticks, which are used by over 1.5 billion people almost every day.
Chopsticks are thought to have been invented around 300 B.C. and some say the use of chopsticks may have been influenced by Confucious around 550 B.C.
Some facts from the UC Berkely Wellness Letter (with some additions from me):
- Studies have shown that the optimal length of chopsticks for adults is 9 inches; for kids, 7 inches. (For cooking you may want to use the longer ones that are 12" or 15" or more; keeps you from burning your hands.)
- Squarish chopsticks are easier to use than round ones (and those lacquered ones are especially slippery and tough to use).
- Disposable chopsticks (the kind you find in many Asian restaurants all over the world, known as "waribashi" in Japan), destroy millions of trees every year. The Chinese government taxes chopsticks now to help preserve forests. (More & more people, especially in Japan, are carrying nicely made chopsticks in fancy boxes, or special silks pouches, with them for every day use. When we buy prepared food in the supermarkets, or take away food shops here, we usually decline the free disposable chopsticks and use the ones we have at home.)
- Some diets recommend using chopsticks because they make you eat more slowly (guess they've never seen a Japanese "salaryman" at lunch devour a bowl of noodles or a big bowl of rice in 5 minutes using chopsticks). You generally pick up less sauce (more for Chinese food than Japanese food), which is often high in calories, fat, and sodium (MSG anyone?).
- Long term use may increase the risk of arthritis in the hand, especially the thumb joint. This is according to a study of older people in Beijing a few years ago. But, if you don't use them every day this is not something to be concerned about.
If you are using your chopsticks to take food from a "communal" plate turn them around & use the wide end (the non-eating end) to take the food. This keeps you from contaminating the food or passing any germs to others.
Never pass food from your chopsticks to anyone else's chopsticks - or vice versa. Why not? Well, this is how the bones are picked out of the ashes by family members after a cremation. The bones are picked up with chopsticks, passed around the table, and placed in the urn.
Never leave your chopsticks sticking up in your bowl of rice (other other food). This is how rice is left at the family altar for the departed members of the family.
Some people have a difficult time mastering the use of chopsticks. Usually, it's because they hold them too close to the tip (further back is better and easier) or they grip them wrongly, or they grip them too tightly. For a short lesson have a look at this video.
For a tongue in cheek look (not many subtitles, but the visuals are funny) watch this: