Avoiding a skewering when you eat food on a stick

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Yakitori photo
Eating food in the proper way is a big part of being accepted into a society. Do things the wrong way and you’ll be snickered at, shunned, lectured, bullied and maybe even beaten up.

You’d think it would be straightforward. Make food small enough to put in mouth, chew, swallow. But it’s not. We humans like to make rules for pretty much everything.

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With that reflecting out of the way, it’s on to food on skewers.

Food on skewers is called many things, depending on the culture. Among the names:
kebabs (also spelled kebobs, kabobs, kababs and many other ways)
yakitori
brochette
satay
souvlaki

An excellent skewer-heavy meal at So Ya, the Japanese restaurant on Trounce Alley in Victoria, prompted my puzzlement about how you’re supposed to eat food that comes on a stick. I asked our server. Pick up the yakitori and eat it off the skewer, we were told.

So we did. We mostly nibbled the food as you would a cob of corn. There’s also the sword-swallower method, but it’s only practical for the first few bits at the tip.

The eat-it-directly-from-the-skewer technique is widely accepted.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government website has this advice for eating yakitori:
“Eating yakitori directly from skewers is still considered a common manner today, although some people, especially women, eat them after taking meat pieces off from the skewers while dining at pubs and restaurants.”

The website is silent about how you’re supposed to get the meat off the skewer if you don’t do it with your teeth.

A video shows Mark Wiens of migrationology.com tucking into stacks of yakitori at a Tokyo food stall. He chomps, pulls with his teeth, and plucks with his fingers. No forks are involved.

The good manners experts might not approve, but they assume that you’ve got a fork to work with.

At etiquettescholar.com, a distinction is made between appetizer and main course.

“Table manners for eating shish kabab as an appetizer. Shish kebab are eaten directly from the skewer only if served as an appetizer.

“Table manners for eating shish kabab as a main course. If eating shish kebab as a main course, steady the skewer in the tines of your fork and pull the meat and vegetables of the skewer with your free hand. Place the emptied skewer on the edge of your plate. Use your knife and fork to cut the meat and vegetables.”

emilypost.com echoes that guidance:
“Shish kebab are eaten directly from the skewer only when they're served as an hors d'oeuvre. When eating shish kebab as a main course, lift the skewer and use your fork to push and slide the chucks off the skewer and onto your plate. Place the emptied skewer on the edge of your plate and use your knife and fork to cut the meat and vegetables into manageable pieces, one bite at a time.”

I’ve had limited success with that slide the food off the skewer with a fork advice. The food won’t slide off easily, it splatters, it tumbles off the plate. I’ve found more control with fingers and with my teeth.

Then, there’s what to do with the skewers. Set them on the edge of your plate, the manners people say. In my case, that’s asking for trouble.

I like the solution at So Ya, where they provide a little cup to hold used skewers. 

Skewers cup photo

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