As a child, you were probably taught not to eat with your fingers about the same time you were warned about talking with a mouth full or wiping your face on your sleeve.
But you soon figured out that some foods are much easier to eat when they are hand-held and that, parental lectures aside, that’s the way to eat them. Sandwiches, pizza, hamburgers, and hotdogs fall in this category, also bagels and cream cheese, chicken wings and spare ribs.
You added lobster, crabs, and oysters as you grew older. Who ever tried to eat a cracked crab with knife and fork? And why miss the marvelous juices in the shell by tackling oysters with a cocktail fork?
Some vegetables and fruits also are ideal hand-held foods. What about corn on the cob, artichokes, apples and bananas? It even is considered proper to pick up and eat an asparagus stalk.
You can really expand this list when you consider the variety of ethnic foods that abound in Fairfax County. Tacos and burritos are tricky to eat with knife and fork, and it turns out it is quite acceptable to pick up a piece of sushi instead of wrestling it with chopsticks.
Generally, anything in a bun or wrap is fair game as finger food, and that goes whether the wrap is a tortilla, rice paper, pita bread, a crepe, an Indian bread, or lettuce.
At the risk of ignoring the obvious sandwiches, burgers, and pizzas, some less familiar--at least in this country-- hand held foods are described below. Some qualify as easy picnic or lunch box fare and some are so messy you may want to enjoy them at home, or else somewhere with a hefty supply of paper napkins!
Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant, 3900 Pickett Road, Fairfax, 703-425-1130. Ethiopian food tops the list because you are meant to eat with your hands. Foods are served on a round of injera, a spongy Ethiopian bread. Tear off a piece, grab some of your food and eat. As a start, try doro wat, (chicken cooked in a special berbere sauce), bog wat (lamb and onions in berbere sauce), or kitfo (minced beef, either raw or cooked).
The Pure Pasty Company, 128 Church Street NW, Vienna, 703-255-7147. Pasties are hand-held meal pies, a specialty of Great Britain. In additional to the traditional beef stew filling, pasties also come stuffed with chicken Provencal, Cornish masala, Moroccan lamb, veggies, and a weekly chef’s special. Sausage rolls are also popular finger foods.
La Caraquena, 300 West Broad Street, Falls Church, 703-533-0076. A traditional Venezuelan food, arepas are corncakes cooked on a griddle or fried, split and stuffed with your choice of filling. Among them carne asada and sofrino, a delicious mixture of chicken, avocado and shredded yellow cheese in homemade mayonnaise. Be sure to add some of the house made green sauce for an added kick.
Picante, 14511 Lee Jackson Memorial Highway, Chantilly, 703-222-2323. Tacos, burritos, and quesadillas are prime finger food, and Picante’s menu has an ample selection of each. You’ll also find a selection just across the county border at District Taco, 5273 Lee Highway, Arlington, 703-237-2304,s which offers made-to-order breakfast, lunch and dinner tacos, and at Taqueria el Poblano, 2503 North Harrison Street, 703-237-8250, which features Baja fish tacos and duck carnitas tacos.
Dulce’s Bakery and Empanadas, 3900 Pickett Road, Fairfax, 703-978-8021. Cheese empanadas with warm melted cheese in a flaky crust are a favorite, along with meat empanadas filled with a tasty mix that includes beef, potato, onions, and tomatoes. Saltenas, a Bolivian specialty, are slightly larger with a similar meat mix in different dough. Chris’s Marketplace at the Saturday Falls Church Farmers Market (8-noon) offers a variety of empanadas--but they can go fast.
Plaka Grill, 110 Lawyers Road NW, Vienna, 703-319-3131. The Plaka Gyro, pita bread stuffed with slices of marinated pork, tomato, onion and tzatziki is so huge you may be tempted to turn to knife and fork, but that would miss the great combination of textures and flavors. You can also get chicken, pork and beef souvlaki wrapped in pita.
Hot Breads, 12047 Lee Jackson Memorial Highway, Chantilly, 703-263-1466. Take a flaky croissant, a Danish, or a plait and fill it with an Indian savory, maybe chicken tikki, paneer or goat curry, and you get a sense of what Hot Breads is about. Another favorite is Vada Pav, a potato dumpling smeared with mint and spicy garlic chutney served on a bun of pav bread. Hot Breads in Herndon (390 Elden Street, 703-787-8665)doesn’t have the same bakery case display.
Peking Gourmet, 6024 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, 703-671-8088. In addition to crisp (not greasy) eggrolls, various Moo Shis, buns and lettuce wraps, this long-time Chinese favorite is known for its exceptional Peking duck. With pieces of crisp skin, meat and scallion covered with Hoisan sauce and wrapped in a handmade pancake, this is truly elegant hand held food.
Saigon Pho Style, 261 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, 703-435-9573. Most Vietnamese restaurants serve their own versions of crisp fried spring roll and fresh summer rolls wrapped in rice paper, but this version of spring roll with its net-like skin meant to be wrapped in lettuce and dipped in fish sauce is worth the trip.
Saigon Cafe, 6286 Arlington Boulevard, Falls Church, 703-237-1899. Featuring food from Hue in central Vietnam, this restaurant offers a variety of different rolls along with one of its specialties, Bahn Khoai, the Hue crunchy pancake. Pieces of this shrimp and bean sprout stuffed pancake are wrapped in lettuce, along with Vietnamese herbs, and then dipped in one of two sauces. Messy to eat, but so good.
Sushi Yoshi, 101 Church Street NW, Vienna, 703-242-1350. Almost every Japanese restaurant offers some version of rolls. The more than 20 versions created here are among the tastiest and include a simple bagel roll with cream cheese, avocado, and smoke salmon, and the special Sushi Yoshi roll with spicy tuna, crabmeat, avocado and lettuce wrapped in rice paper, sprinkled with roe and served with mango sauce.