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Table Manners

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How to Handle Tricky Foods

Not all types of food can be easily handled by the basic rules, so society has come up with dignified ways of dealing with potentially messy culinary delights. If you don't know the rule for a specific dish, simply try not to splatter, smear, leave food hanging from your mouth or drip sauce on your trousers. In case you know in advance what is on the menu, here are some specific rules:

Vegetables
Artichokes: Pull off leaves and dip in sauce until you reach the heart. This should be cut into pieces and dipped with a fork.
Asparagus: crisp spears may be eaten with fingers or sliced with a sharp knife. Soft spears should be cut and eaten with a fork.
Baked Potato: Slice across the top, slab on butter or other toppings and eat flesh from inside the skin. Unless feeding children, you should not move the flesh to the plate before preparing it - if the host had wanted to serve mashed potatoes he would not have baked them. You may also slice the potato into many pieces if you intend to eat the skin.
Corn on the Cob: May be served with corn-holders. If not grasp the ends and eat in even rows as if on an old manual type-writer. Be sure not to say "Ding!" at the end of each row.
Garnish: Garnish, especially in restaurants is common. You will often see such foods as parsley, orange slices or candied apples. It is okay to eat the garnish. Garnishes should always be edible, but if you are unsure, you may wish to politely ask your host before indulging.

Meats
Bacon: May be eaten with fingers especially if crisp. If bacon is soft it is generally better to use a fork.
Cornish Game Hens and other Fowl: It is okay to use fingers on small birds, some may be stuffed. If so, use a spoon to scoop stuffing out onto your plate.
Chicken and Turkey: At informal occasions such as picnics, if the bone is in, eat chicken with your hands, no bone chicken should normally eaten with a fork (if provided). For formal occasions, forks and knives are generally required. However, small pieces such as wings can safely be consumed with your hands.
Ribs: Usually not served on formal occasions, this entree is normally eaten with the hands. However, make sure there is a napkin handy before digging in.
Pate: You may not be sure that this is meat, but it is. Usually it is spread on bread or crackers with a knife and then eaten with the fingers.

Seafood
Whole Fish: If it doesn't wink at you, begin by cutting off the head. Next, slice along the center of the back and lift one side of the fish from the bones. Then remove the spine and other bones and place aside or on another plate. Eat the flesh in small bites to be careful that you don't consume a bone. If you do get a bone in your mouth - do not try to swallow it! Remove it and replace it to the plate.
Oysters and Clams: In shell, hold in one hand and pry open with the other. Reach in and pull out the oyster, then place in mouth. Swallow. Served on the half-shell oysters and clams may be eaten with a seafood fork.
Crab: First remove legs and suck the meat out of them. Next break open the backs and remove the meat with a small fork. Soft-shell crabs are entirely edible and may be eaten with a knife and fork.
Lobster: When it is served whole, start by twisting off the claws. You will likely be given a nut cracker to get through the tough shell. A fork or a pick may be used to remove the meat from the shell. Next, start in on the tail, removing it from the body with your hands then removing the meat with a fork. The legs can be removed next, the meat can be pulled or sucked from the shell. Now, break the body in half lengthwise. Use a fork to obtain the remaining meat. The liver and any eggs may also be eaten.
Shrimp: Large shrimp are usually eaten with the fingers. Hold the shrimp by the tail. Smaller shrimp may be eaten with a fork.

Miscellany
Caviar: Usually spread on toast with a small knife, may be topped with lemon juice and garnish. Usually, you are presented a dish from which you remove the amount you wish to take. It is well to remember that this is an expensive and relatively rare item so it is considered bad form to take more than a fair share or to be seen returning too often to the platter.
Snails: Grasp the shell and remove snail using an oyster fork. If snails are served outside the shell, simply use fork.

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