I like to think that I am cultured and refined, but I must admit, when it comes to cutlery a spoon alone will usually suffice when my hands don’t. My husband who is half Egyptian, cannot manage without two utensils; a fork and knife for meat dishes, a fork and spoon for spaghetti. He’s even able to eat rice with a fork (which I find quiet an odd thing to do) whereas I’ll dig everything up in a spoon, using the rim as a makeshift knife.
We always took this for granted as my Libyan genetics playing up on me. After all this is how the people around me have eaten for the past 19 years of my life. Spoons scattered on a large tray around a single communal bowl of food shared by at least four people, never a fork or knife in sight (though we mostly sit at the table and eat out of our own plates in my bicultural family).
On a recent trip to Istanbul, my husband was struggling to communicate to a waiter that my daughter needed a spoon to eat her lunch with. As my frustrated husband started to point and gesticulate to try to explain himself, an old Turkish lady sitting at the table beside us started to yell “kashik, kashik!” I turned to her in awe, not because she had one this little game of charades, but because kashik (kaşık) is also used in the Libyan dialect, rather than the formal Arabic milaaqah. If only we had known this term was borrowed from our Ottoman heritage, we would have blurted out kashik ourselves and avoided this whole episode.
As a souvenir of our trip to Turkey, and a much needed reference for research on the cookbook I am working on, I brought back a book titled 500 Years of Ottoman Cuisine written by Marianna Yerasimos. As I was reading about the lavish banquets held at the Sultan’s court, I came across an interesting passage:
There was no cloth, no plates and neither knives nor forks on the tray. The Ottomans ate with their fingers, never with knives or forks. They tore bread with their hands, and as meat arrived already cut into small pieces, and chicken was well cooked and thus tender, these were easily eaten with the fingers while rice would be taken to the mouth with three fingers. The only implement used for eating was the spoon. For this reason the spoon is significant in Ottoman culinary culture.*
The term kashik was not randomly adopted by the Libyans, it is more than just another name for a spoon, it symbolizes a way of life. Libya had been under Ottoman control for four centuries up to 1911, so it’s only natural that many of our habits and traditions stem from those they brought with them. So I guess my dining etiquette may be Turkish and not Libyan after all!
*Yerasimos, Marianna (2007), 500 Years of Ottoman Cuisine. Boyut Publishing Group. Istanbul.