1. Availability or non-availability of cutlery
I recall going out with a spoon in my bag during my first few weeks in China because I couldn’t use chopsticks. And spoons were usually not available in most restaurants, so you either sank or swam.
The idea of cutlery is one of the reasons Nigerians use their hands. Most Nigerian homes honestly don’t bother to buy cutlery other than spoons. Those eating utensils are usually found in upper middle-class homes and above, and they are mostly for decoration because most cultured Nigerians will never eat the vast majority of their food with a medium. It doesn’t matter if that fellow is worth a billion dollars.
In poorer homes, cutlery is often seen as something of little necessity. Our local artisans also manufacture some local cutlery for cheap; they might not be as fancy as the imported ones, but they get the job done.
In general, poor families use only spoons, and there are only a couple of them to go around to everyone in the family. The rich have fancy cutlery, but this is just for situations where they have foreign guests or wish to appear fancy. Most rich people will still eat their food with their hands anyway.
So, the availability or scarcity of cutlery plays no role in Nigerians’ insistence on using their hands.
Cutlery just completely ruins the experience except for certain foods.
2. The type of food
The type of food a person is eating will determine whether they use their hands or not. In fact, for some combinations of foods, Nigerians usually use both their hands and cutlery.
Rice grains are not easy to pick with the hands, and so most Nigerians eat rice with a spoon at least. You would be considered weird if you ate rice with your hands.
I know some cultures, like the Chinese, eat rice with their hands, and it is very easy for them to pick up the rice with their chopsticks, but the type of rice differs. Chinese rice is usually sticky, which makes it easy to pick up with sticks.
Nigerians, however, prefer long-grain rice that does not stick, hence the use of spoons.
Okro soup is a common delicacy all over the country as it is cheap and easy to make. However, okra is very slimy. So, if you use your spoon or fork to eat okra, it will just keep falling off. This is why Nigerians could only use their hands to eat okro soup, and even with the hands, you still need to be skilled to be able to use your hands.
Efo is a vegetable soup that is very common in the country. While vegetable soup can be eaten with a spoon or fork quite easily, the only issue is that the soup is hardly ever eaten in isolation as Nigerians often eat it with “solid” food like pounded yam. And this is where it gets tricky. Pinning up some efo soup and some pounded yam at the same time is best done with your hands.
This also applies to most other foods, such as egusi, ofe owerri, ogbono, and so on.
Akara and Pap
Akara and pap are special foods in the way Nigerians eat them. We often use our hands as well as cutlery to eat this food.
Akara is made out of beans and fried in hot oil, which enables it to be more easily picked with the hands. However, it is virtually impossible to use the hands to eat pap.
Culture is the way of life of a group of people, and the idea of using our hands to eat was certainly passed down to us via our ancestors.
It is just the Nigerian thing to eat the majority of our foods with our hands, and this is totally normal behavior. It would be seen as weird if you ate certain foods, like a bowl of amala, with your hands.
So, you cannot say that a certain culture is inferior to yours just because they refuse to do things the same way as you do. It is also part of a white man’s culture to use a spoon, fork, or knife, just as it was passed down to them from generations.
So for purely cultural reasons, we eat with our hands, just like the Chinese eat with their chopsticks.
4. The food just tastes sweeter in your hands.
This could all boil down to the fact that we were all raised to eat with our hands, we got used to it, and therefore we believe it is the best way to do it.
It could also be because when you eat a food like efo and pounded yam, you can more easily spread the soup all around the food, and this is harder to achieve with a spoon.
It could also be because you can eat much faster with your hands than by trying to commandeer the food with a utensil.
It could be that we like the heat of the food on our hands.
It could be…
We are Nigerians, and the best way to eat food is with your hands.