Day 575: The Cutlery At The Back Of The Drawer

originally published July 28, 2013

Every week, I receive hundreds of imaginary emails, asking why I haven’t yet written a piece on eating utensils. Not so much about the history of the fork, knife and spoon, the above-the-title stars of most of our meals, but about the other alternatives on the market.

Well fictional fans, you can stop sending in those make-believe topless photos of you and your favorite spork – I’m here to satisfy your need to slice into this topic, to stab into its flesh with my curious investigative tines, then scoop its knowledge into my hungry brain-gullet, only to regurgitate it back out to you, mama-bird-style.

I don’t know about you, but I’m already famished.

I’m starting with this one because it’s the one I’m putting on my birthday wish-list. These are trongs, invented by visionary New Yorkers Eric Zimmerman and Dan Ferrara Jr. in 2007. You simply slide your thumb and two most agile digits into your trongs and you’ll be able to manhandle any chicken wing or any baby back rib without globbing up your fingers with sauce.

Not that I mind the triumphant slurping of the fingers after an order of either of these foods, but when you need a mid-gobbling gulp of hydration, it’d be nice not to smear your drinking glass with hot sauce, barbecue sauce, or whatever else might be coating your yummables. The only real maybe here is whether or not I’d feel comfortable bringing my own utensils into a restaurant. For trongs, I’m thinking yes.

I’ll never forget my first encounter with a spork. I was twelve years old, at my friend Colin’s house. It was the same place where I first learned that lasagna normally contains meat – my mom cruelly raised me to believe that mushrooms and zucchini belonged in between those luscious flaps of pasta. I was both intrigued and repulsed by this hybrid utensil, this mystical spork.

The first ‘proto-sporks’ (which would be a killer name for a J-pop trio) date back to 1874. Back then there was no word for the product, it was just a spoon with a tined edge. ‘Spork’ became the accepted term early in the 20th century, and by 1975 it was a registered trademark. While I’d never adopt the spork as a replacement for either of its parent forms of flatware, I can accept that it would be handy for certain foods like chunky soup or an ice-cream-topped piece of cake. Also, as I learned on the show Alias, it’s the ideal tool for gouging out a person’s eyeball.

If you’re big into sporks, then you’ve got to get yourself a spife. This spoon-knife hybrid is ideal for slicing into, then scooping out the innards of a piece of fruit, from a kiwi up to a melon. If instead you find a hybrid spoon with a dull knife-like edge along one side of the spoon, that’s called a knoon. Knoons are somewhat less practical, but hey, inventors like to stick parts of one thing onto another thing and call it a new thing. Don’t knock the knoon.

Of course there’s a knife-fork combination, and of course it’s known as a knork. Rather than simply fusing two varieties of silverware together, the knork simply looks like a fork. The outer tines are heavier, and occasionally just a little bit sharpened so you can cut through meat with it. Slide these things into your mouth at your own peril.

The chork is the perfect solution for anyone right on the border between knowing how to use chopsticks and saying “fuck it” and asking the waiter for a fork to finish off those last few grains of shrimp fried rice. Brown Innovation Group, the inventor of the chork, believes that their product is a great way for chopstick novices to learn how to use the things. I’d have to disagree – it’s a cop-out. First of all, you pinch the chork sticks together, which are hinged at the top so that you won’t drop one or both of them. This does nothing to teach the actual method for using chopsticks. Secondly, the presence of a fork gives you an excuse not to use the stick at all.

The best way to learn chopsticks is to have no other choice but to use the chopsticks. Provided you aren’t the type who’d be willing to use their hands to scoop up a messy chow mein, you’d be forced to learn. It’s the dining equivalent of being tossed into the deep end.

If you don’t want to clutter your drawer with sporks, spifes, knoons, knorks and chorks, just grab yourself a sporf. It’s a spoon, a fork and a knife all in one. The perfect trinity of cutlery.

Over in Finland they make use of the lusikkahaarukka, which literally translates as ‘spoon-fork’. Developed for use in the Finnish army, these have become common among campers and hikers as well. I don’t see this one becoming a phenomenon unless they can come up with a better name than ‘lusikkahaarukka’.

While ‘Card Zarfs’ sounds like an eastern-European adaptation of an American game show, in fact it’s simply another way of describing the cardboard coffee cup sleeve that hugs a gazillion beverage vessels every day at coffee shops around the globe. The name is a reference to the ornamental zarfs of old, fancy metal things with handles into which non-behandled cups are plunked.

Zarfs originated in 13th-century Turkey, where the act of consuming coffee was a time-consuming and ritualistic act. The coffee would be poured into ‘fincan’ – simple, plain little cups. Those would get put into zarfs, which are decked out to look fancy and make the beverage a little easier to hold. Jay Sorenson is the guy who came up with the cardboard Java Jacket in 1993, which proceeded to ride the 90’s coffee wave and hopefully make Jay insanely wealthy.

That ugly little fellow is known among members of the Australian Defence Force as the Field Ration Eating Device, or FRED. It’s a can opener, it’s a bottle opener, it’s a spoon… and it’s less than four inches long! According to no less than three sources, FRED is also referred to as the Fucking Ridiculous Eating Device.

It’s no sporf, that’s for damn sure.

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