This just in: Rich people eat caviar. Moreover, the type of people who might be inclined to spend $22 on a single cocktail might also be easily coerced into dropping a similar sum on approximately 15 eggs worth of the stuff before licking it off the back of their hand, just because they saw someone else at the bar do it, too.
As the New York Times reported this week, these caviar “bumps” are the hot new trend. All across the country (read: only in New York or L.A.), they claim diners are consuming dollops of caviar right off the space between their thumb and forefinger (not snorting it, as the name suggests). It’s a perfectly safe, cheeky little transgression; the same sort of faux naughtiness elicited from crooning, “Ooh, should we be bad?” before ordering a side of french fries to split with the table.
It should go without saying, but: most people don’t actually live like this. Most people aren’t eating any caviar at all, maybe ever, and they’re certainly not doing “bumps” of it at cocktail bars. But is this method of consumption — eating something right off the back of your hand — worth anything to those of us outside of the caviar set?
I’m all for adding a little pomp and circumstance to the everyday. Go ahead, my little brain tells me, be gaudy, be extravagant, be extra. If I were offered a bump of caviar — paid for by a kind stranger — I’d certainly say yes. But until yesterday, I’d never even had caviar, at least not in a form I remember. So, 24 short hours ago, I walked a few miles to my nearest Whole Foods and picked up the cheapest caviar they offered — $55 for an ounce. That’s a week’s worth of dinners for me, all for what’s essentially a condiment. To round out the experience, and to test out what other foods I could do bumps of, I reached out to Jim Mumford, a recipe and cookbook author and certified World Food Championship judge.
He explains that there’s actually some logic to the food bump. “Eating food off of one’s hands is certainly not new, though I doubt our ancestors were doing bumps of caviar in Manhattan gastropubs,” he tells me. “Culinarily, the fad does make a little sense; diners want to enjoy the clean flavor of the caviar without a crostini or other device masking the taste. Since some metals can react with the caviar, most flatware is to be avoided as well. So, a pure serving application off of a clean hand holds a bit of water.”
Similarly, he says, other highbrow foods like nigiri and enoki mushrooms might also benefit from the blank slate a clean hand offers. The thing is, I was looking for something more accessible. I’d honestly never even heard of enoki mushrooms. Fortunately, Mumford had a few other options.
“The old-school bar staple of pickled herring would certainly play going from jar to hand,” he advises. “Likewise, blazingly sour gas station pickles in a bag probably shouldn’t touch anything altogether, so taking pickle bumps would be a highly viable option. Lastly, Flaming Hot Cheetos are highly bumpable, though simply to spread the cross-contamination of fire dust.”
Not wanting to go the pickled herring route (sorry), I took his pickle and Cheetos recommendation and went to my tiny backyard to set up my spread. As my first order of business, I gave the caviar a go. I placed a reasonable mound on my hand and slurped it up like I was practicing kissing for the first time.
It was fine! The caviar had a pleasant, mild taste. Enjoyable, but not to an extent that justified the cost. For comparison, I tried it atop a crostini. Because I couldn’t find an unseasoned version, these were baked with some combination of salt, garlic and rosemary. Delicious, but they entirely overwhelmed the caviar. I couldn’t taste it at all with the crostini. With that in mind, a bump does seem like an appropriate method of consumption, but the little shell serving spoon the caviar came with worked just as well, and didn’t leave my hand with a fishy, wet aftermath.
I followed the caviar with bumps of Hot Cheetos and pickle medallions. While I checked my neighboring gas station for the packaged, massive pickles Mumford recommended, I had no luck, so I picked up a jar of pre-cut bread-and-butter pickles instead.
My main thought while eating them and Cheetos this way was, “Why?” But also, “Why not?” It felt bizarre and fun, and required a balanced, steady hand and focus that we don’t often employ while eating. In the case of Hot Cheetos, my instinct is usually to keep eating and eating, but in bump format, that’s harder to do. You have to pay attention to every step, and therefore, you savor the bite much more.
Notably, I did try a Hot Cheeto topped with caviar, and I gotta say, it sort of worked (admittedly, I did taste Cheeto above all else).
So, I guess I won’t knock eating foods in “bumps,” though I wish we had a better term that didn’t make us sound like kids “smoking” candy cigarettes. I will, however, continue to knock whatever instinct motivates people to make a routine of eating caviar this way, as well as the ridiculous instinct that drives the New York Times to write up trend pieces about it. I get it — it’s a little improper and messy, and fun for that reason, but it still fits into packaged expectations of extravagance and good taste. It’s just not challenging much.
Give me a call when we start doing caviar body shots in these high-end cocktail bars, instead.