Often when we go to restaurants, we are presented with some water and lemon at the end of a meal... Yes, the Finger Bowl. You may wish to clean up the old-fashioned way. I mean, running water, soap, gargling – nothing can beat that, right?. But still you sit there and reluctantly dip your hands in the lukewarm/hot/cold water (with a wedge of lemon) in the bowl kept right in front of you. You do not want the waiters (or worse, those you accompany) to think of you as dumb and ignorant - that you didn’t realize what it was for. And I’m sure many of you have heard stories of people drinking from it because they didn’t realize its purpose (after all, some water and lemon)!
Anyway, I've always been curious. How did finger bowls come into existence? If you ask me, someone who was plain lazy, or rather who “did not want to be inconvenienced” invented it! As always, I Googled.
A finger bowl is a bowl of water, usually with lemon or flower petals, which is used for rinsing one's fingers in between courses in a multiple course meal. It is typically served before the dessert course, on a doily on top of the dessert plate. (Wikipedia)
And check out this one, just for laughs (and it's kinda gross too)!
But nothing regarding it’s “origin” turned up. Damn! No “elegant” or “charming” story to this almost common-place thing? But what I did come across was this write-up: How to Properly Use the Dining Table Finger Bowl Without Making a Splash. (A ‘how to’ for using a finger bowl?! This one’s gotta be interesting!). Excerpts (with my expert comments!):
"Although the finger bowl has all but vanished in current dining rooms, it may infrequently be found in the finest eating establishments. Certain enthusiasts of high cuisine have called for the resurrection of the finger bowl."
You gotta be kidding me. I know several places that cannot exactly be described as “finest eating establishments”, yet they give you the finger bowl. She must visit India! We Indians are pretty smart at adopting such things. “Resurrection”?? Don’t even get me started!
"Antique hunters may uncover finger bowls, as they search through collections of old china."
"Hunters"? “Uncover”? I didn’t realize we were discussing archaeology!
"The diner dips his fingers gently into the warm water to rinse them lightly. Splashing, swirling and swishing in the finger bowl are considered improper."
Ohhhhhh… I see. So you can do nothing that will actually help you clean your fingers? Hmmmmm… Waiter, where did you say the washroom was?! (Now that I look again, she did say 'dip and 'gently'.)
"The finger bowl is not intended as a bath or cleansing, but merely as a means of preparing the hands for the final courses of the meal."
“Preparing” the hands?
"What is the purpose of the finger bowl?
The idea is for the diner to clean his fingers, particularly after a sticky or messy meal, such as ribs, corn-on-the-cob, fried chicken or shellfish."After a messy/sticky meal, eh? Ummmmm… does it not contradict with the previous sentence then? The “not intended as a bath or cleansing” bit?
"Today's diners understand the importance of hand washing before meals and even throughout the day. In particular, families stress this, to keep germs and sickness at bay. This practice of personal hygiene aims more at the prevention of infection and illness than at etiquette.
However, those with the most discerning palates may appreciate the mid-meal practice of the finger bowl. Because the fresh lemon and warm water may remove food residue, flavor and aromas from the fingers, diners may go on to enjoy the late courses of a meal without distraction."
Ah!…NOW she clarifies. Finger bowl – for etiquette only. Those who prefer hygiene may use the tap! :-D
P.S. The views expressed are those of the author (who prefers the tap any day). You may disagree!