This is an observation about the very specific uses for a spoon and how adults in our culture never use one for rice. Not ground breaking or even new information, just something that came in front of me one day. Its important, for so many reasons, to pay attention to the small things.
Some fast (and very loose) history
A spoon, as every one knows, is a shallow bowl attached to a stick-like handle. Of the three – knife, fork, and spoon – the spoon is the oldest. The first ones may have been a shell. Makes sense as they’re scoopy. Then around about the same time (give or take several hundred years) the ancient Egyptians and Chinese put a handle on it and the spoon, as we know it, was created.
Eras and cultures give us spoon differences, like the handle’s length and style, the bowl’s shape and depth, and the maker’s material (wood, stainless, silver, plastic, glass, or?). But overall a spoon is a spoon. It scoops and we can hold what is scooped without touching the food or burning our fingers (our mouth is another thing).
Where western cultures use the spoon
In Canada, the spoon is part of the basic table setting because we might be having soup or a dessert (your pie might need ice cream). We also use a spoon at breakfast, say for a grapefruit or for some Trix or granola. But beyond this, spoons aren’t used for much else at the table.
Babies use them though; it’s the fist piece of cutlery they get. They’re round and safe. Babies can’t impale themselves or poke out an eye as they wave the food-filled thing around (as they seem to like to do).
I was casually sharing my table with some Persians. Amin, the 18 year-old son, set the table. But he only got forks and spoons from the drawer. No knife. There were no knives because the food didn’t require cutting. The Persian food we were having, while very different in flavour, was similar in texture to Indian food.
The spoons Amin chose were not the piddly dessert spoons but the size up from them. The size you use for soup.
But why spoons I asked myself? I didn’t make the food, but I knew we weren’t having soup or dessert, and this wasn’t breakfast. Nor were there any babies around. It turned out that they ate their rice with one. Persians eat a lot of rice and spoons are the default table setting. Smart. No grain left behind.
But the spoon gives you bigger mouthfuls. I had to think about that. Maybe chasing the rice around the plate with a fork is better for my body. The spoon can be a shovel in the wrong hands. That would not be Persians though. They’re way too polite for shovelling.
We Canadians use a fork for the job of eating rice. We might also use a knife (or thumb if no one is looking) to help push the rice onto the fork. We are very deft at it even though rice is a late comer to our diet. The Brits and other northern Europeans didn’t eat it so we didn’t (like it or not, they were our heavy influencers). When rice did arrive, we put it on our plate and carried on with our forks, never viewing it as inefficient. That’s how I see it, anyway.
Rice is the best
Rice is a very big part of the Persian diet. A revered food, it’s central to a meal the way it is for Asians and south-Asians. Though it’s a completely different rice and preparation. Better – so I’m told by Persians. But then what culture doesn’t feel proprietary about some food? Ask an Irish person about potatoes and all of a sudden they are melting at floury potato thoughts. They figure the rest of us don’t really know about potatoes; we can never love them like they do. I certainly don’t. I am a potato heathen. I could live my whole life without potatoes. But rice? I love it.
I know I have offended my Persian friends by saying I don’t understand the fuss that goes into cooking their rice. There is a lot of preparation for what seems like an ordinary final product. It’s good, but ordinary. Clearly, I need to have some Persian grandma make some for me. I am sure she would be able to show me the intricacies.
I can handle rice with anything – a fork, chopsticks, a piece of roti, my hands. It’s rice, after all. But other cultures show us things. And my Persian friends showed me that a spoon for rice makes sense. Thank you. Mamnoon.