Writing Memoir

A lifetime of eating impatiently (how we eat)

I never do this, but I couldn’t resist typing on my phone, “Isn’t it strange that the Indian kid keeps yelling, “Burger, burger!”? and handed it to my b/f to read since I couldn’t very well say it in front of the family as they were sitting right next to us.

At Curry Walla, an Indian/Cambodian/Western restaurant in Siem Reap, I was doing my usual sweep of the customers, guessing who was from where, looking at what they were wearing, eating, and how they were communicating, if at all. I know I’m so judgmental, right? But before you start umpiring me (haha!) let me say in my small defense that I do this all the time and I’m not always having inner dialogue (knew it). Sometimes, I’m just looking. It’s what I do.

I was particularly fascinated by the Japanese (or Korean?) woman who was chewing her food while holding her iPhone between her hands. Her friend appeared to be looking at her own phone resting on the table. I couldn’t tell though.

My attention then returned to our table as my b/f’s food arrived. He started to immediately inhale his chicken lak lok, a traditional Cambodian dish.

“Why do you eat so fast?”

His food was still quite steamy, but he continued. You know, eating the way you do when your food is too hot, creating space in your mouth while chewing.

“A lifetime of eating impatiently.”

I smiled. Unlike him, I’m not a fast eater, never have been. Nor was I born into a big family where you had to eat quickly or lose out on eating altogether. I am an American though, so I was raised in a culture of fast dining experiences: drive-thru meals on the way to work or school, leaving a restaurant as soon as you were finished with your food, eating at your desk and microwave meals.

Yes, this is in BRITISH Headway. Thanks, blokes for your charming depiction of Americans.
Yes, this is in BRITISH Headway (the textbook we use). Thanks, matey, for your charming picture of American etiquette.

Living abroad though has opened my eyes (and stomach) to how the rest of the world, not only treats food, but how they eat their food. In the US, you are given a spoon, fork and knife. In Thailand (and Cambodia), you will receive a spoon and fork (let’s leave the chopsticks out of it for a minute). You’re supposed to push the food using your fork into your spoon and then raising a spoonful of food to your mouth.

But if you eat with someone from the UK you’ll watch them (fascinating for me) press their food onto the back of their fork using their knife. And then they will eat their food off of their upside down fork. Wh-at?! The fork and spoon method works pretty damn well, but the fork and knife just looks ridiculous.

Pizza places are fun because the American’s the only ones that pick up their slices or fold them like a taco and shove it into their gullets. I’ve learn to use a fork and knife because it seemed more civilized when the pizza is hot – and when no one else is doing it, I’m too self-conscious to do it alone. Of course, I refuse to be “very Thai” and slather my pie with ketchup. It’s horrifying to witness.

Happy Halloween. [Chiang Rai, Thailand, 2015]
Happy Halloween. It’s ketchup on pizza! [Chiang Rai, Thailand, 2015]
I was at a vegetarian place when my Japanese friend raised her plate of morning glory to her lips and started pushing the veggies and sauce into her mouth. I almost laughed out loud. Instead, I looked around to see if anyone else was watching her and muttered, holy shit in my head.

In Thailand, you never see a Thai person scoop food using chopsticks and holding bowls or plates to their mouths. Now, I know the Japanese do this (I’m looking at you, Yukz) and the Chinese, too. But Thais also don’t slurp their food or drink soup broth from their bowls like cups. Oh, no, no, no, no, no.

I remember eating street-side in Bangkok and watching a pretty Thai woman eating a bowl of noodle soup. She’d use her chopsticks to pick up the noodles and then place them in her “Chinese soup spoon”. Daintily, she’d gently blow on her noodles or arrange them just-so no stray noodles were hanging off her spoon before eating her food. It seemed like a nauseatingly slow way to chow down one of Thailand’s most favorite dishes, but it’s very civilized and illustrates how much Thais eat slowly and enjoy their food.

Noodle soup at Fila's joint [Siem Reap]
Noodle soup at Fila’s joint [Siem Reap, Cambodia]
Even drinks. I’ve watched my fair share of students, for instance, continuously stab their straw in their plastic cups in an effort to “make more drink”. They also use their straw to scoop up an ice cube and eat it. In other words, they get as much drink as they can out of it. Unlike Americans who drain their drinks quickly, then open the lid and pour the ice down into their yawning mouths and chomp on it like an ice machine.

I’ve also observed how long Thais can take to eat a small dish while an expat or tourist is ordering their second plate. Although, I think Europeans are famous for sitting hours at a table enjoying their wine, food and company. Ok, it’s not like we Americans don’t do that too, but we’re less likely to make or have the time. Often, crowded places will make you feel guilty for lingering. I think with the advent of the Food Network and “chefs as celebrities” this has changed a bit, but in general, Americans are fast eaters.

Growing up, I was usually the last to leave our modest table. I really like to eat so I stayed around and lingered for seconds and thirds. My mom always worried that I’d get fat. “Don’t eat too much, Lani.” It was a warning that I ignored with eye-rolls. Plus, once I discovered reading and eating, I was in take-your-time heaven.

Tacos at Viva [Siem Reap, 2015]
Take your time heaven. Tacos at Viva [Siem Reap]
I once dated a guy who was so poor and cheap that he would finish whatever leftovers me and our friends had on our plates in restaurants. The other extreme was when my roommate “accidently” left a whole pizza between the TV and DVD player. That was a fun discovery. We take food for granted. Americans are living in a land of excess which allows horrible stereotypes like “eating hamburgers with both meat hooks and not making eye contact with the world until the napkin has been thrown” possible.

Back at Curry Walla, I side-glanced at the Indian family and tried to copy how they ate their curry and naan, but I knew it was hopeless, I’m left-handed.

How do you eat? Fast or slow? Mouth open or closed? Or do you store food in your cheeks like me?

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37 thoughts on “A lifetime of eating impatiently (how we eat)

  1. I am a slow eater, no doubt about that. I take my time to cut up my food, be with with spoon and fork, or fork and knife or whatever is available, and then eat it. So if you ever eat a meal with me, you will always be the first to finish. And I always eat with my mouth closed. I can’t stand air going into my mouth as I chew – I’ve done that before and usually walk away from the dining table feeling bloated.

    I have never understood the blowing on food thing. Yes, I understand it’s to cool down the hot food so it doesn’t burn your mouth but that suggests to me a sign of impatience. Probably another reason why I am a slow eater.

    Love tacos and I just had them last night for dinner. I have an unusual way of eating them: take out the fillings lik chicken, lettuce and cheese and eat them with a fork, and then proceed to cut up the hard shell tortillas and eat them. The other day a friend saw me eat tacos this way and said, “She wanted nachos all along…”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahhaha. Nice. So civilized – next time go for the nachos 😛

      Actually, I’m the LAST person to finish eating so we will have to have an “eating” challenge – hahhaha. But even though I eat slow, I get the feeling you would eat even slower. I don’t know. When is this meeting going to happen?

      My friend Yui waits for her food to cool down. She never eats her food hot. Funny, huh?

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      1. I can never finish a bowl of nachos by myself. And I feel that tacos are more nutritious. So no nachos for me 🙂

        Hahahaha. I look forward to our “eating” challenge, but I’m pretty sure I’ll come out tops – I take my time to make sure my food is not touching one another, then cut it all up, then pick which bit to eat first…. 😀

        I’m sure we’ll meet up in the next five years!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This post cracked me up. You have made my day, Lani and Mabel.

    Lani, I’m in the process of sending you a long overdue reply. Apology. I had been snowed under with work. I like to send you photos, there are so many. What’s the best way of doing it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Snowed under? Oh, at work….got it. Hmmm. Pics. Do you have Picasa? I think that’s how Google stores them.

      Thanks, traveller 😀

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      1. You’ve tickled my funny bone again, Lani. The Brits do have some funny expressions.

        I hope the global warming has not reached this rather quaint city where I currently live. There is a ski resort some 15 minutes or so. It’s in operation from December till March. Let it snow, let it snow! Ho, ho, ho!

        Thanks for the tip. I will try it out. My letter is now in cyber space. I could see the cyber dust trailing behind.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Just read it. Soo many questions! Glad you liked the post. Yeah, feeling global warming here in Cambo 😛

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  3. I am also a quick eater. It was always a competition between me and my dad who would get more food…
    About the British way of using fork and knife, well it is also pretty common in Germany. THese days I turn the fork around though, a bit easier most of the times 🙂
    In China and Japan they slurp loudly when drinking, make loud chewing sounds and too often they have their mouths open while eating! I think I will never get used to that

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahah. I know. Culture, right? Slurping seems incredibly rude. One of my colleagues slurps and smacks when he eats. I try not to make any kind of sarcastic remark, so I just try to ignore it. Maybe I’ll get used to it.

      Ah, so it is a German thing, too. Good to know!

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  4. Interesting..I had no idea about the Thai style of slow eating. Ketchup all over pizza? Oh dear.

    I don’t mind the loud slurping of soup, tea,whatever. I just don’t like when people talk often with their mouth full. My mother does that..

    Yesterday at a Chinese restaurant, here in the prairies, some Chinese-speaking people were talking, nearly yelling in the restaurant with their mouths full of food. I’m trying to find a redeeming trait of Chines cultural habits….and the only thing I can think of is drinking fine / gourmet tea, the traditional way. 😉 (Like drinking wine…slow, meditative…)

    I do tend to eat fast. My partner comments on it while he still finishing his plate of food.
    I still have to think how to lay fork, knife and spoon cutlery properly. He’s very good. His mother made sure of that. He has refined way of using knife and fork when eating and somehow his entire plate looks like it’s been licked off. Whereas mine, using knife and fork, the plate is still a messy film of sauce, etc. I actually use my knife and fork in opposite hands…I cannot do it his style.

    We use chopsticks whenever it suits. I do a lot of my cooking with just chopsticks for stirring, mixing, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! Yes, I’m horrible with a knife and fork. I usually saw through my food with the grace of a lumberjack. I don’t know why. I can’t seem to master cutting my food without making the whole table shake.

      Ah, the Chinese. They have created SUCH a stir with their eating ways in Thailand. Newspaper articles about them spitting out bones on the floor, people complaining about them “using the loo” outside and everywhere else. It’s amazing what is considered acceptable and not between cultures…

      Yes, I don’t know why, but eating with friends from other countries can be an eye-opener (and they probably feel the same way about me!) – although I think the open mouth while eating is in every one? My 2nd graders made fun of a kid who used to eat with his mouth open.

      Chopsticks are damn handy in the kitchen. My mom would use the wooden ones for kindling 😛

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      1. “I usually saw through my food with the grace of a lumberjack. I don’t know why. I can’t seem to master cutting my food without making the whole table shake.”

        Or you have lousy knives.
        I’m glad my partner has such elegant smooth manners with his knife and fork. Some other people hold the cutlery like oafs. And it looks really bad when the guy is wearing a business suit.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hahahaha. Yes, Table manners are important and it’s what everyone notices. Especially for the women/woman sitting across from a new man – and vice versa.

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  5. In China people would hawk goobers on the floor in a restaurant, and I once got one of my most tenacious lung infections after eating in a small restaurant near the bus station, as loogies were alighting on the floor while I ate. Obviously this isn’t the norm, but it’s common in the smaller, more rural towns. Fancier restaurants had spittoons one could walk over to, and add a snot island to the already established archipelagos.

    I had lunch with a Chinese friend, and she spat out fish bones directly on the table creating a little pile. But, what are ya gonna’ do when there’s no napkins, and the fish is more bone than meat?

    That said, I wasn’t much of anything one would want to watch eating my Chinese food. Gotta’ do a lot of slurping with some of the noodles, and, yup, there are so many bones and other non-digestibles in the meat, that you just have to spit stuff out, napkin or not.

    Never hawked one on the floor though, but considering just how many colds and lung infections I had, I must have done it in a napkin!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha. Thanks! Yeah, I’ve have to get one of my British friends to not present the American stereotype so strongly. We’re not that uncouth, are we?

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  6. Great observations you did there! I think I am a medium speed eater, haha. Not too fast, not too slow. It also depends on where I am eating. If I am in a fancy restaurant I will eat slower to savour everything! (and also because in fancy restaurants portions tend to be small… if you eat slow you will still feel full at the end xD).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point, bringing up fancier restaurants. It seems uncivilized to eat fast! It’s kind of hard not to do when the serving is all “plating”. And I’m always surprised by portion size – something looks small but ends up filling.

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  7. So this is a really interesting topic. I’ve read some articles and started some books on food cultures around the world, and it’s really quite fascinating what the differences are. I blame the speediness of American style on the lack of a rich and long food history. We’re a mish-mash of borrowed cultures, and that has hampered us somewhat in developing a unique custom. Other than speed, of course.

    Even here in Korea, where it’s all quick quick and rush rush and push the people out of your way, they take time to eat. You may have seen this on dramas or in movies. The meals, the proper ones, are huge. The side dishes are many and small, so you eat a little of everything. Everything is shared, so you don’t have any one dish to snarf down. You need to take time, as things are on the bone or otherwise encased, as opposed to the ready to eat boneless stuff of home.

    I hate the bone-in stuff, but the tradition is nice. Though convenience stores are creating a quicker eating style, it’s not really approved of. Mothers and strangers (the man who sold me my cheap fast breakfast this morning), will tell you to eat a real breakfast. Meaning soup, meat, and vegetables.

    But I grew up in America, so I eat fast. When I was in Taiwan people told me to slow down my chewing, as I tend to chew only a little and swallow things whole. I don’t eat a lot in each bite but each bite is eaten quickly.

    Fortunately, I’ve slowed down a bit as I get older and learn to appreciate food and spare time. Lunch is the one time I get a break from student-watching, so I linger over my food.

    Anyway, lovely food for thought! (lolololol)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You, too. I noticed your leaf motif. I’ve been going through themes like a fresh change of clothes. I know the green background is not for everyone but I like it 😛

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    1. Ah, great point about the US being a mish-mash of cultures. Agree! and yes, it’s funny how you mentioned the TV shows, I have seen those elaborate meals and tiny bowls and everyone picking a little of this and that. Many dishes vs one dish does make a difference.

      We also don’t have those 6 course meals like the French or the Chinese do – I can’t imagine that would lead to anything good with America’s obesity problem, but what do I know?

      I like to eat, so that is why I eat slow – I want to eat as much as possible. Heh, heh.

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  8. I always find it a little funny watching people who aren’t used to eating with their hands, eating with their hands. It’s something I grew up doing, so it’s second nature and so simple. But I swear some people just make a meal out of it! 😉

    My SO says I eat way too quickly, and have insane bite sizes. But … I think I just eat normally, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahaha. I try to be aware of smaller sized bites. I swear I do! But sometimes I feel like I’m just kidding myself. I like to eat!

      Yes, hands. In Thai culture we eat some things with our hands and I grew up with my mom digging in this way so it doesn’t seem foreign or strange to me.

      Although, I’d imagine it would be fun to watch people eat with their hands who aren’t used to it, do it. Gotta love cultural differences. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I laughed and cringed all the way through this post… Chad is also one of those guys that will burn his mouth to eat as soon as he can. The sound puts me on edge, I HATE it and often comment on his lack of patience in the eating department.
    Both of us eat fairly fast, being Americans and obviously in such a rush to do something or nothing that we have to hurry hurry. No, but really I have no idea why. Just culture and a product of our families I guess. In fact, I never remember sitting at a dinner table with my family for more than an hour, and usually we would be finished eating and just chatting way before that.
    I do have to say that I have slowed down quite a bit though since living in Asia. And usually I feel much better after eating, not so overstuffed like back home.
    I am a huge fan of eating with a spoon and totally eat my Pork Boat noodles with my Chinese soup spoon and chopsticks. I honestly feel strange when I actually have to use my fork for anything except scooping. I am sure it will just get more and more comfortable for me as I live here longer. 🙂
    Yep, that has to be my longest comment ever! I win.. haha.
    Great post! I loved it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jenny 🙂 I’m glad you can relate to it! Boat noodles!!! Yum. I do miss some Thai food. Man, oh, man. Thailand does some things exceptionally well.

      I feel funny with a fork, too. If I have a choice I prefer the spoon. It just makes more sense with rice dishes and as far as noodles are concerned I just go for whatever is easiest – like pad thai. Pad Thai seems easier with a fork + spoon, but the b/f uses chopsticks. But I would argue that using the spoon to scoop up the bits works better than picking at it with chopsticks 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Love this post. Wonky and funny! My favorite.

    Oh, the Thai way of eating sounds excellent. It’s like how the Japanese take the time to arrange their food in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Well, minus the Thai ketchup/ pizza thing, of course. Sacrilege!

    Yeah, when I’m at a table, I prefer eating pizza with a knife and fork. Clearly, I am not a native New Yorker. But it keeps my hands from getting greasy!

    We had to eat fast in my family to ensure our plates weren’t raided by vulture-like Big Brother. He would loom over us after he finished: “Are you going to eat that? Are you going to eat that?” But in a restaurant, with other diners at a safe distance, I tend to eat slower and observe people. (I make up stories about them in my head.)

    Chinese-American Andy inhales food at record speeds. It’s extraordinary. And it makes no sense. He got plenty of food growing up, and to this day, his parents still push him to eat more. A psychologist could probably have a field day with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would be the worst psychologist full of judgment and thoughtful nodding. Hahhahaha.

      Hey, glad you liked the post Ms. Funny-pants. I don’t mind getting my hand dirty, but I look at the social clues to decide whether or not I’m going to pick up a chicken thigh or wrestle with the damn thing with a fork and knife.

      Even foods that are traditionally eaten with hands in Thai culture, are being eaten with utensils in order to look more civilized. So, for example, sticky rice. I have to eat sticky rice with a fork! Ahhh, appearances.

      Like

  11. I’ve always been a slow eater. In elementary school I remember trying to move my jaw faster so I wouldn’t miss out on recess. I’m still always one of the last ones done.

    I like the eating style of a Chinese banquet–everyone sitting around the big lazy Susan, serving each other choice morsels, insisting that “No, no, that’s enough. Please serve yourself,” toasting across the table, and everyone knowing not to eat too much of each dish because another dish is coming, and then another.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It can be a really nice way to enjoy a meal. Agreed. As an expat, I sometimes have to ask, “Do you want to share or get your own thing?” since we are mixing cultures and ways of eating.

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  12. Awesome, my girlfriend and I had those tacos, and the nachos, at that same restaurant in Siem Reap! Did you happen to go to the Indian restaurant where you’re essentially sitting on a bed with a table over your legs? It was one of our favourite Indian spots in all of Southeast Asia.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Heh, heh. Small world. No, on the Indian joint, but we live here so we’re bound to find it sometime.

      SR seems to like those set ups as I’ve eaten at a couple of joints that have that “bedroom” feeling 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Lani, I really enjoyed this! It’s something that I thought about when I was abroad in France. I discovered the joys of slow eating—marinating each bite in between great conversations with friends. Meals would literally take hours! But even I can’t resist the scooping rice into my mouth, bowl-cup slurping thing that we do haha.

    Now that I’m back in the U.S., I’m afraid I’ve reverted back to my American ways. Mostly because I’m American-busy hahaha.

    Liked by 1 person

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