Russians Eat Burgers in Gloves. Should Everyone?

Russians Eat Burgers in Gloves. Should Everyone?

Russians Eat Burgers in Gloves. Should Everyone?

Russians Eat Burgers in Gloves. Should Everyone?

MOSCOW — When you enter a home in Moscow, you take off your shoes. When you go to a play, you have to check your coat. When you eat a burger, you often wear gloves.

Across hygiene-conscious Eastern Europe, many people consider it uncouth and unsanitary to eat a burger with their bare hands. The answer used to be a knife and fork. But the pandemic has accelerated a years-old trend: order a burger from Kyiv to Kamchatka — or in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn — and there is a fair chance it will come with a side of disposable gloves.

Most often, the gloves are made of a synthetic, latex-free rubber called nitrile. At Black Star Burger, which launched the phenomenon in Moscow in 2016, the gloves on offer are black, individually wrapped in plastic packets. At Star Burger in Kyiv, Ukraine, they are green (or pink on Valentine’s Day). At Butterbro, a gastro pub in Minsk, Belarus, they come wrapped discreetly inside a napkin next to a serving dish made of the trunk of an ash tree.

“Gloves, I think, are an unspoken, required attribute of any burger restaurant,” said Butterbro’s manager, Alina Volkolovskaya. “I’m surprised that establishments in every country don’t offer them.”

To visiting Americans, the practice always seemed odd, bordering on blasphemous. But when Moscow’s lockdown ended this month and I went out to celebrate, nervously, with a cheeseburger to go, it suddenly kind of made sense.

I found a bench in the sun along a just-reopened boulevard promenade, unwrapped and balanced the burger on my lap, disgorged some hand sanitizer and rubbed vigorously. Then, imagining bits of virus still clinging to my hands, I for the first time pulled on those black nitrile gloves.

“I don’t want to say I’m a genius,” Black Star Burger’s founder, Yuri Levitas, later told me, “but this really is a very convenient, practical thing.”

In truth, the longer you eat, the weirder it feels. Your hands sweat, the sauce stuck on the gloves cools unpleasantly, and licking your fingers becomes an increasingly unappetizing proposition. I called George Motz, a New York hamburger specialist, and he insisted that gloves negate the “very tactile experience” of eating a burger.

“Take the gloves off and get closer to your burger!” Mr. Motz said. “Part of the bite is the way you feel and touch it: You can feel the bun; you can feel the heat; you have a connection with what you’re about to taste.”

Several American restaurant safety experts, however, were intrigued, having never heard of establishments providing diners with disposable gloves. They doubted the practice would take off in the United States — the coronavirus, after all, is not even known to spread through food — but some said that gloves used properly could help protect people who don’t wash their hands from a variety of germs.

“They could be potentially beneficial,” said Robert C. Williams, an associate professor of food microbiology at Virginia Tech, “in cases where the customer would not have washed their hands anyway.”

In Moscow, where the mayor ordered residents to wear gloves this spring as a coronavirus-mitigation measure, the number of restaurants serving burgers the American way is dwindling. The BB&Burgers chain serves them wrapped in parchment and sliced in half, but is likely to start providing guests with gloves as well, a spokeswoman said.

“We continue to believe that when you eat a burger you should hold it with your hands and feel how the sauce sometimes flows down your hands,” Valentin Mitrofanov, marketing director at the Burger Heroes chain, said. “But given the pandemic, some changes may of course have to be made.”

Vanity, not health concerns, first propelled Eastern Europe’s gloves-and-burgers fad. Mr. Levitas of Black Star Burger recruited Timati, a Russian rap star close to the Kremlin, to lend a celebrity cachet to his new burger chain, which now has 67 locations across the former Soviet Union and one in Los Angeles.

Timati touted the black gloves as Black Star Burger’s “most important know-how” on his Instagram feed, amid the photos of surfboards and private jets.

“Your hands won’t smell of burger,” he told his millions of followers when the first location opened in 2016.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the brutal Chechen strongman, followed up with a black-gloved Instagram testimonial of his own about the burger’s juiciness. The gloves help Black Star’s customers feel special, Mr. Levitas said, like the sparklers that go off when waiters bring out the $11 “V.I.P.” burger.

The gloves proved impervious to politics. A Kyiv restaurateur, Gennady Medvedev, says he had the idea to serve gloves with burgers independently of Black Star Burger in the years after he opened his Star Burger chain in the Ukrainian capital in early 2014 — during his country’s anti-Putin revolution.

“I don’t like to eat with my hands, especially burgers,” Mr. Medvedev said. “It was a way to broaden our audience to people like me who eat with a knife and fork.”

The trend took off behind the former Iron Curtain as fancy burger places popped up in a region unfamiliar with the dish before McDonald’s arrived in the 1990s. Alexander Monaenkov, a Moscow-born burger-bar owner in Prague, says he handed out gloves to evoke the refinement of white-gloved waiters in Michelin-star restaurants. Corina Enciu, a Moldovan-born restaurateur in Krakow, Poland, said she introduced gloves because her burger joint lacked a place for people to wash their hands.

“Now, with the coronavirus, this will be even more in demand,” Ms. Enciu said. “People are afraid of this virus and they will always use either gloves or hand sanitizer.”

Gera Wise, a Kyiv-born cafe and nightclub owner in the Russian-speaking Brooklyn neighborhood of Brighton Beach, said his customers started asking for gloves after Timati started modeling them.

Soon he had his waiters offering black gloves to anyone who ordered a burger. On weekend nights before the pandemic, Mr. Wise recalled, they were the perfect companion to the Russian rap blaring from the speakers.

  • Updated June 16, 2020

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


“It’s awesome to sit here, in gloves, eat burgers, see all this and be seen,” Mr. Wise said. “You feel like you’re in Moscow.”

Mr. Motz, the burger expert, said he had only heard of burger places providing gloves in Poland and Russia. He doubts it will catch on in the United States even with heightened hygiene concerns because “Americans take their burger culture way too seriously.”

Indeed, Mr. Williams of Virginia Tech said the concept of providing gloves to diners has not come up in any of his countless conversations with restaurants about adjusting to the pandemic.

Gloves are not necessarily more hygienic than good hand-washing, the scholars noted, and they create waste. The process of restaurant staff repackaging the gloves and giving them to the customers represents another pathway by which germs can spread. People transmit the coronavirus mainly through the air, and the United States Food and Drug Administration says there is no evidence of the virus spreading through food or food packaging.

“What I don’t want people to do is to be so paranoid about eating with gloves,” Donald Schaffner, a professor of food science at Rutgers, said, “that they forget that the overwhelming majority of the risk comes from other people.”

But Isaac Correa, a Puerto Rico-born chef who lived in Moscow for two decades, thinks the gloves-and-burgers concept could have a global future. Mr. Correa worked with Mr. Medvedev in Kyiv to start the Star Burger chain. He first thought that eating burgers in gloves was “hilarious,” he said, but then he realized it made sense in a culture that values cleanliness and frowns on eating with one’s hands.

Now Mr. Correa runs a restaurant in Sarasota, Fla., and his diners hesitate to touch menus or to come inside to collect takeout orders.

“I could see some of my customers in a casual restaurant say, ‘Hey, look, I’m going to try this,’” Mr. Correa said of eating in gloves. “But if I speak for myself, I still want to put my hands on that burger.”

Oleg Matsnev contributed research.




Source link

Check Also

Ridiculed in China, Ou Hongyi Wages a Lonely Climate Crusade

Ridiculed in China, Ou Hongyi Wages a Lonely Climate Crusade

Ridiculed in China, Ou Hongyi Wages a Lonely Climate Crusade Ridiculed in China, Ou Hongyi …