Q: I went to dinner with my boyfriend to an Italian restaurant last week. The waiter brought warm French bread, then prepared a mixture of oil and grated cheese on a small plate next to the plate with the bread. Neither my boyfriend nor I really knew what to do with it. We each had a little bread and butter plate of our own, so I used my teaspoon to get a little of the oil mixture on it and put it on my plate. I did the same for my boyfriend. We each took a piece of the bread and dipped into it to eat it. I was telling my Mom about it the next day and she said we each should have taken a piece of the bread and dipped it into the mixture instead. She has told me before that it is not proper to share food so I am a little confused. What’s the proper way to eat this mixture?
A: As a general rule, what your Mother told you regarding not sharing food is correct. However, when it comes to the Italian mixture you described, it is proper to share. Each of you (lady first) is to take a piece of the bread from the larger bread plate or basket or container in which it is served. Place this piece of bread on your individual bread and butter plate. Then, while holding the piece of bread above the bread and butter plate, tear off a bite-sized piece. Dip this piece of bread in the mixture of oil and cheese, then bring it to your mouth and eat it. If the piece of bread you have torn is a little too big for one bite, and you have some left, do not dip it into the mixture again. Eat it instead. Another piece of bread can then be torn into a smaller bite-sized piece, dipped into the mixture and eaten.
This procedure can be continued when the salad course and the entree courses are served. Refills of the mixture and the bread can be requested from the waiter during the two courses. When your entree course plate has been removed, this mixture plate and the bread plate are normally removed next. If not, do not eat any more of the bread and the mixture.
Q: I notice a lot of restaurants are serving fried onion strings on top of various food items, such as mashed potatoes or steak. Sometimes a larger onion ring or two are served on top of a steak or on the side of it as a garnish as well. Please solve a discussion we have been having at work: What is the proper way to eat the onion strings and the rings — fork or fingers?
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A: The strings should always be eaten with a fork. If the strings are on top of the mashed potatoes or the steak, simply use your fork to slide the strings onto an empty spot on the plate. When you would like to eat some of them, using the side of the tines of the fork, cut through a couple of the strings to make bite-sized pieces. Slide the tines of your fork underneath a couple of these bite-sized pieces and bring them to your mouth. Continue this same process whenever you would like more. Do not cut all the strings at one time.
Onion rings can be eaten with the fingers in a very informal meal setting, such as a very casual chain restaurant where food is often served in a paper basket with no eating utensils. Even then this process can appear to be very unappetizing. For example, picture this: An individual picks up an onion ring and takes a bite. The teeth do not completely cut the inside ring of onion on one or both sides, then suddenly a string of onion can be seen sliding down the face of the eater. In order to compensate for this problem, the eater attempts to slurp the onion string or holds the onion ring higher up in the air, the chin goes up into the air attempting to catch the sliding piece of onion.Meanwhile, the batter around the onion starts crumbling and falling into the plate or onto the eater’s lap. How embarrassing and inappropriate is that picture?
In any more formal dining setting, a fork should be used to cut the onion ring into bite-sized pieces. Cut only one onion ring at a time. If it is a very large onion ring, cut only half at a time.
Onion rings served as an appetizer in a stack also should be eaten with a fork. A fork is used to remove an onion ring or two from the top of the stack and then place them on the appetizer plate. If more than one person is sharing this appetizer, the next person removes several rings in the same manner. If another person, the same procedure. Each person then uses the tines of his fork to cut bite-sized pieces. A clean fork should be requested for removal of more onion rings after each person has used his fork to eat the onion rings. Or, a separate fork may be requested when the onion rings are served. This fork can then be used by each, or the host of the group, to remove onion rings from the stack to the individual appetizer plates.
Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.