“He that Dips His Bread with Me…”
By David Wantz, University of Indianapolis
I taught one summer in residence in Athens, Greece. My wife and children were in the U.S. and I was there alone for most of the term. Being gracious hosts, many of my Greek colleagues invited me to dine with them in the tavernas that line the city streets.
The tables are small, and you pay “rent” to sit there. For the rent, you receive a basket of bread and a beaker of Kalamata oil. This custom started because people sit so long at the tables that the turnover rate would not be sufficient to generate revenue on meals alone. Needless to say, paying rent to sit at a table in a restaurant is not a custom I was familiar with.
Small tables necessitate close conversation. They also limit the number of plates on the table at any one time. On my first evening in Athens, my hostess warned me that we would be eating from one dish. She had some experience with Americans and their need for distance, I imagine.
Not being squeamish, I smiled and said it was okay. When in Athens, do as the Athenians, after all.
We had plates of squid and octopus and snails reeking of garlic. There was eggplant salad, cucumber salad and stewed dandelion greens. We ate salads consisting of nothing more than tomatoes, feta and olives. And then came the kebabs and pita filled with spinach or cheese. Each course, we ate from a common plate dipping our hands in the same bowl.
Have you seen the Seinfeld episode where George is accused of dunking his chip twice in the dip? From it came the term “double dipping,” a faux pas at parties. The humor would be lost in Athens. Dipping your hand in the bowl with someone is the way it is done. You must double dip—or starve.
I have never had so intimate a meal as the one where I sat face-to-face and ate hand-to-hand with my dining partner. We leaned into our conversation. As one exhaled, the other breathed in. Our fingers touched as we wiped the bowls clean. We actually shared a meal together.
On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus shared a meal with his disciples. I never gave much thought to the odd phrase I had heard since Sunday School days. “He that dips his hand in the bowl with me is the one who will betray me.” That night in Athens, I understood.
What I understand now is that Jesus was using the intimacy of a shared meal to contrast the betrayal he would soon suffer. As a plate-for-each-course American, I never understood the power in that nuanced phrase.
My wife and I still eat horiatiki—Greek salad—from a single bowl. It is a custom we brought back from Athens. We share a meal together, dipping our hands in the same bowl. To me, it is a reverential act where we share an intimate meal together, touching fingers, sharing olives and clinking our forks as they pass in the bowl.
Maybe you have some thoughts about food as well. Let me invite you to share them during the 15th annual Spirit and Place Civic Festival this year. The theme is Food for Thought and will run from November 5 through 14. I am David Wantz, and I am a member of the S&P board. I hope you will join us.