Trevor Laffan: Manners maketh the diner, so I’d politely decline eating a rat

Trevor Laffan ponders Deipnophobia - a fear of dining and dinner conversations and other unusual phobias
Trevor Laffan: Manners maketh the diner, so I’d politely decline eating a rat

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD: But Trevor Laffan dislikes people who chew food with their mouth open, and double dip. Posed by models

PEOPLE get anxious for all sorts of reasons. The thought of standing up in front of a crowd to deliver a speech is enough to paralyse some. For others, the fear of getting on an aeroplane will do it. It’s crippling, but they can’t help themselves.

We’re familiar with these phobias and we empathise with sufferers, but those living with an affliction called deipnophobia get very little attention.

Deipnophobia is a fear of dining and dinner conversations. It’s a social phobia which causes the sufferer to feel awkward while eating or dining in public or in front of strangers. They worry about how they might look when eating and fear being criticised.

They’re basically horrified to be seen eating in case they look disgusting or might be judged by what they eat.

I’ve never come across it, but I have met some diners who should be afraid to be seen eating. I’m talking about people with no table manners.

A woman well versed on this subject is Vikki Fraser. She has a cookery blog where she lists the worst dining habits of all time, and I agree with most of them.

She says double-dipping is by far the most disgusting of communal eating wrongs, where someone puts a spoon into a bowl, takes a mouthful, and goes back to the bowl for a second one.

She’s spot on with that. You see it all the time on cookery programmes where the chef dips a spoon into a pot for a taste, then sticks the spoon back in to give it a stir. Not very hygienic.

If memory serves me right, the late Monica Sheridan, Ireland’s best-known cook back in the 1970s, got into a spot of bother on a cookery programme on RTÉ for doing just that.

I had an even worse experience in the ’80s while having a meal with some colleagues. 

We were seated around a small table in an apartment one evening, enjoying a few pre-dinner drinks. It was all going well until the food arrived. Things took a turn for the worse when guests on both sides of me started picking at my food with their fingers and eating it.

It wasn’t as if they were just taking a chip either. It was a goulash type meal, like an Irish stew, so it was a bit messy.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. They broke off bits of bread and dipped them in my food and carried on chatting as if nothing happened.

I didn’t know how to react because this was obviously normal for them in their culture, so I couldn’t tell them to cut it out. I couldn’t bring myself to eat another bite after that and feigned a bit of tummy trouble.

That’s not on Fraser’s pet hate list, and maybe she never experienced it, but something else is. She calls it presumptive addition. That’s when someone else seasons your food without asking. Like putting salt and vinegar on your chips without checking to see whether you like it or not, or squeezing lemon over the meat.

Lemon is used instead of salt in some Mediterranean countries, and you either like that or you don’t. I do, as it happens, but I prefer to do it myself thank you very much.

Anyway, I was always told it was an insult to the chef to season food before you’ve even tasted it.

Chewing food with your mouth open is another of Fraser’s pet hates. I agree with that too, and another one, which is a sign of the times we live in, is talking on the mobile phone at dinner.

If a call is important and needs to be answered, then the phone should be taken outside. Nobody wants to listen to your life story.

Dining out should be an enjoyable experience. I’m not a fussy eater so I’ll try anything once, and the fact that my taste buds aren’t the most sensitive part of my anatomy makes life easier, but I do have my limits.

I ate squid one time and that is a dish I will never revisit. It was like eating my wallet; tough and tasteless, but there are far worse foods out there.

Eating dog meat is considered normal in some countries, but it will never touch my lips, so I was happy to see that South Korea is considering removing it from the menu.

It’s part of the staple diet in some Asian countries, but the President of South Korea is a dog lover, and it seems he is anxious to buck that trend in his domain.

But if you think eating dog is bad, what about eating rat?

Whenever I see one of those rodents it sends a shiver up my spine, even when I’m sitting safely in my car. I despise them. I particularly hate the look of that disgusting tail and I’m gagging now even thinking about it.

For some, though, rats are considered a delicacy.

According to the BBC, on March 7 every year, in a remote village in the hills of north-east India, they celebrate Unying-Aran, a festival which has rat meat as the centrepiece.

One of their favourite dishes is a stew called bule-bulak oying, made with the rat’s stomach, intestines, liver, testes, foetuses, all boiled together with tails and legs plus some salt, chili and ginger.

They say rodent meat is the most delicious and best meat you can imagine. They don’t just eat them either, they also give them as wedding presents and in the Indian state of Bihar, there are people called ‘rat eaters’ by locals. They tend the crops of wealthy landowners in exchange for the right to eat the rats that plague the field.

Deipnophobia is not an issue in some parts of the world, then.

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