Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Polka on the Island - An Eating Tribute

One of my very favourite blogs on my reference list is Polka on the Island. I was very pleased to hear her say she had won a reward as a Top Blogger Award 2011. I have been waiting patiently to find out what they said about her, but the Expat Arrivals notice just has her on the list without comment. You don't need my comments anyway.

Congratulations, Anna. (Photos from her blog.).

Just one of the aspects I like is, when she gives her Polish view of the English, she often makes me want to give the other perspective, in this case through a post by her on eating habits. Too see how good she is, you can compare my ramblings with her short, pointed comment style.

I was once at a conference lunch, when a colleague apologised for the way he was eating - he was in a hurry. I think he thought I had been staring at this, but in fact I was just trying to figure out what that greyish chunk of meat like substance under some grey-brown sludge was. (After a round table discussion, we asked the waitress, who asked the cook, who told us it was chicken. The Ministry of Economy Conference Centre in Konstancin, if you want to know.) Anyway, I've seen the same thing quite a few times in Poland since, so there wasn't really anything for him to apologise about.

The eating method is rather like a vertical pendulum movement, with the fork moving from the plate to the mouth in a constant, regular tick-tock movement, only interrupted by a few swift movements of the fork on the plate to separate bits of 'meat'. The trick here is to have everything prepared so soft that no knife is needed, there is nothing to slow down your movement and there is minimal chewing to impede intake of the next fork full. Standard Polish cheap canteen (and often other place) fare, that is. Unfortunately, the movement has now the quality of a hypnotist swinging something in front of my eyes. I just find myself watching.

There is a variation to this. I think it provides adaptation to more robust foodstuff where chewing is needed. I last saw this undertaken by a Polish guy next to us on holiday in Italy and there was no rushing involved. It basically involves filling your mouth as full as possible - cheeks bulging, chewing strongly, ingesting the bits that have been chewed enough, and then shoving the next portion of food into whatever space has been cleared in the mouth. The mouth is only emptied after the last portion of food has been shoved in. For some reason, I tend to think of this as concrete mixer eating. This is not as common as the pendulum eating, but that may be because food here rarely needs that much chewing.

I don't want to suggest these are standard forms of eating and, since I did receive that apology that once, it may well be considered uncouth behaviour. However, I have never seen anything like this before, so I do perceive it as a peculiar Polish habit.

We all have our peculiarities, of course. I make a lot of noise when I eat, or so I'm told. I suspect this is because I tend to use both my knife and fork, rather than the fork on it's own. I do prefer to use the knife for both cutting and placing food on the fork, particularly disliking using my fingers as an alternative, but I do see that this might be more noisy. So I guess I'm a bit strange too. Funnily enough though, I have noticed that people in restaurants tend to use my method here as well.


Anonymous said...

have you really seen people put food on their fork with their fingers? Everyone I know uses knives and forks to eat with. Except the Americans, that is ;-p

Pan Steeva said...

In less formal surroundings than restaurants, eg in cafes, just using a fork is quite normal. With soft Polish food, it is quite unnecessary. The finger is only required at the end of the meal when you can't push one piece of food against another. There is a quaint ritual involved in public places. The food is pushed around the plate a few times by the fork, then the eater looks blankly around her/him as though they want to make sure no one is looking, finally pushing the food onto the fork with the finger.

I don't know how Americans eat, but I remember hearing some years ago how terrible it was that they didn't use a knife. However, using just a fork seemed to become much more common in London anyway. Does anyone use a knife when eating Chinese or Indian out of the takeaway container, for instance? I prefer to use plates, but I reckon I'm just a bit old fashioned. Not consistently, though. I ate grilled chicken wings by hand at home last night, for instance - there's no other way to eat them. (With a paper towel to hand and a few trips to wash my hands ...)