Eat your heart out -- no utensils needed

February 5, 2010 9:51:51 AM PST
There are several types of restaurants in Chicago where knives, forks and spoons aren't necessary.Whether you're scooping up spreads with pita, or just dunking your naan into chutney, there are more than a few cultures where the thought of using a knife and fork is totally foreign. We found a few delicious examples of this hands-on dining approach.

Who needs forks and spoons when you can use your hands? Or, as is the case in many cultures, just the food? In Middle Eastern kitchens, freshly-baked pita is the star, and at places like Naf Naf Grill in Naperville, there is no shame if you happen to tear off pieces of the pita to use as a scooping vessel for earthy baba gannoush and hummus.

In Edgewater on the city's far North Side, Ethiopian tradition dictates using spongy injera bread as the primary tool for picking up stews and vegetables, and then popping them into your mouth. At the consistently delicious Ras Dashen, on Broadway, the injera is made with teff flour, and is used as the base of every platter. The assorted savory cooked items are then placed in dollops across the top; you get to tear off pieces of the injera, then wrap them around the food to eat.

India is another culture that promotes using your hands. At Gaylord - with locations in Schaumburg and the Gold Coast - the food is primarily from the northern regions, but utensils aren't always necessary.

"You don't need a fork, you don't need a spoon, you don't need anything. As Indian food originated in olden days, we didn't have anything. But later it got into a cuisine," said Sandeep Manuel, of Gaylord Indian Restaurant.

And as it became a "cuisine," utensils were added. But the puffy bread, called naan, is still a great multi-purpose tool. Cooked just a minute or two in the tall, vertical ovens - called tandoors - the bread is the ultimate neutral device for dunking into flavorful chutneys or gravys.

"In India now, people mostly use their hands to eat the bread. The taste is not there when you use a fork or spoon. That is the belief behind that," Manuel said.

That same naan dough is also cooked on a kadai-kind of like an upside-down wok - resulting in rumali roti, a much thinner bread, almost akin to a tortilla, which can be used to pick up all sorts of tasty proteins, like kebabs.

"When you eat with your hands, using your hands as a fork, it taste better," said Manuel.

Gaylord is primarily northern-style Indian but you can also find a lack of silverware in southern Indian restaurants, mainly by tearing off pieces of dosa and then scooping up seasoned potatoes and chutneys.

Naf Naf Grill
1095 E. Ogden Ave., Naperville

Ras Dashen Ethiopian
5844 N. Broadway St.

Gaylord Fine Indian Cuisine
100 E. Walton St.

555 Mall Drive