Hey, Kids: Eat With Your Hands at Habesha, Roti, and Taki's

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Taki's mad, rad chicken souvlaki.
A New York Times article from a few months back profiled a new crop of restaurants with menus built around utensil-free dining. In the piece, Julie Sahni, who was raised in India, mentions how using her hand as a tool for eating can be an act of emotional expression. In her traditional Indian culture, the fork, in contrast, is like a tiny weapon--a tool for spearing food instead of engaging with it.

It begs the question, why not give kids permission to eat with their hands in certain settings? It's a chance to teach them to understand taste, texture, and color. Kids are naturally inclined to eat with their hands, and know how to do it better than we do as "well-mannered" adults. In the States, we train 'em young to eat with forks and spoons, starting with innocuous plastic varieties and transitioning into fat-stemmed toddler sets, until, somewhere between two and four, children usually graduate to "grown up" utensils. In contrast, instructing kids about the art of eating with their hands can be a visceral, interactive lesson about savoring bites that's not only memorable, but also culturally broadening.

Sure, starting fork-free lessons during home meals and not in public makes sense. And in order to avoid the risk of accidentally popping gnudi across the floor or coating tablecloths with quinoa cakes, when visiting some of Seattle's finest restaurants, silverware etiquette should be encouraged. But Seattle offers some good spots (on top of the obligatory burger and pizza joints) that are perfect for letting kids try mindful eating sans utensils.

The Denny Triangle's Habesha, with its mood lighting and laid back front of the house, is a good place to start any eating-with-hands excursion, with kids or without. The porous injera mops up the Ethiopian restaurant's savory veggie combo platter and lamb wot. A variety of notable flavors and spices will show up as you work your way through the meal.

What Crown Hill's Taki's Mad Greek lacks in atmosphere, it makes up for in personality. Wait staff will oblige to an all-ages, utensil-free meal, and aromatic souvlaki skewers and crispy falafel balls are easy to eat without forks or spoons. The vibrant Greek salad is trickier, but its pluckable olives and chunky tomatoes are easy to bite.

Lower Queen Anne's Roti is a kid-friendly Indian restaurant with tastier-than-average vindaloo, fresh paneer, and traditional copper plates and cups. Order a round of tearable samosas, then dip garlicy naan into saag and tikka masala. Tell your kids between bites that, in India, food is mixed with the palm and fingers and spooned just inside the mouth using all fingers except the thumb. Try it once or twice. It might be awkward at first, but sooner or later everyone will get the hang of it.

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