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  • I will always remember my first experience of eating with my hands - and I'm not talking pizza. The cuisine was Moroccan, at a restaurant called Marrakesh in Seattle.

    All traces of the city fell away the moment I walked through the door. The lush interior transported me with its mouth-watering smells, intricate tapestries lining the walls and traditional music. I confirmed my booking for a set meal with several courses and was led to a low-set wooden round table in a cosy corner. I settled into the pile of soft, colourful cushions, surveyed my surroundings and awaited my adventure with a mix of excitement and nervousness.

    My server arrived soon after and handed me a white hand towel. "I think you'll find this more helpful than a napkin," she said and beamed me a knowing smile. Then she placed an ornate silver bowl in the centre of my table and poured water liberally from an equally ornate silver jug so I could wash my hands.

    Cutlery was available but not encouraged, and I had permission to be messy. I was ready to begin!

    I was eased in with soup sipped from a small bowl, a finely chopped salad with a gooey aubergine and tomato puree in the middle, and bread.

    At first it was strange to scoop chunks of food between four fingers and thumb and drop it in my mouth. Not all the food made it, and I did a mental whoops! every time morsels landed on the table. Years of social conditioning admonished me: Eat properly! Be neat! Don't play with your food!

    But the critical inner voices soon faded with the next dish, B'stilla Royale, a chicken and egg filo pastry pie dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon. This required a definite hands-on approach, and I sent sugar flying as I ripped and pulled it apart. It was fun, and easily my favourite dish of the night.

    I was more relaxed after that and dug - literally - into the main dishes: lamb cooked with honey and raisins; apricot-topped chicken; and cous cous with raisins, onions, chickpeas and ginger. Delicious!

    After the main dishes came divine splashes of rosewater in my cupped hands - a final wash before dessert - followed by a bowl of something very much like custard. And a teaspoon. A teaspoon?! My disappointment surprised me. I wasn't ready to return to cutlery just yet. But it was the only way and I forgot my disappointment the moment I tasted the amazing spices in the custard.

    The adventure was complete.

    Eating with my hands was a little messy, but not as much as I expected. My self-consciousness eventually gave way to a relaxed playfulness and secret sense of rebellion. Look at me, breaking all the rules! No longer a neater eater!

    The slower pace, being able to feel the texture and temperature of each handful of food, and the amazing flavours combined to make it a surprisingly sensual experience. I left the restaurant smelling of spices and rosewater, and felt wonderfully connected to my body.

    There's definitely something to be said for eating this way.


    Photo credit: flickr user Julia Manzerova under a Creative Commons licence.
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