This is the beginning of my new series of things that I have learnt from the amazing book that is Larousse Gastronomique.
Every week I will be posting either a fact, a definition (probably a French one!) or even trying out a difficult French recipe- I’ve seen some of them in the book and I swear they take five hours to make (sort of looking forward to that in a weird way!)
Today I will be talking about table ablutions; the act of washing oneself at the table.
The word originally comes from the Church Latin ablutio. This reminds that the term comes from being a ritual practise, often from sacrifice. The hands would have needed to have been purified before doing the act of sacrificing.
It first came about in Ancient Greece and Rome, where it was popular to eat with the hands. This is still popular in the East, especially in the Islam faith, where muslims will perform an ablution before eating: washing hands and blessing the food in the name of Allah before eating.
However in the West, we have no need to perform these rituals anymore due to the use of cutlery. Although, we know that is important to wash our hands before touching food with our hands, but this comes down to hygiene, rather than a religious ritual. Before this, in Europe, a basin called an ‘ewer’ was used to wash ones hands. On the other hand, you can still find finger bowls on tables in restaurants, especially when eating Indian cuisine. But this is now becoming rarer.
In the Far East, it is common to be handed a perfumed towel between meals. In Japanese, this is called oshibori. An oshibori is used to clean your hands between meals.
I hope you have found this new type of post interesting. Please let me know if you enjoy these kinds of posts – there will be more next week!
Do you know of any other places where there are rituals to be performed before eating? If so, let me know!