I recently came across a discussion from a parent who was struggling with eating with her toddler because he preferred to eat with his hands and the other parent was having a very difficult time with this. It became a point of contention at the dinner table and there were battles drawn nightly over this.
Babies when they are learning to eat tend to use their hands. In this process, she is learning not only how to feed herself, but also about the food with her senses (seeing it, smelling it, possibly hearing the sound, if that is applicable, feeling the texture, and of course tasting it). Some babies like the feel of food more than others, and become toddlers that prefer to use their hands. The coordination it takes to use utensils takes some toddlers longer than others to master. Babies also pick up from those around them, how they eat. In some cultures, it is normal to not use utensils and to use their hands, and in others utensils are preferred. I would say for many, how the food is consumed can be determined by the food consumed. For example, in my household, when we eat prata, my husband uses a fork and spoon and I prefer my fingers. So far, my little one chooses to use his fingers to dip, but he is learning there are different ways to eat prata. Another example is pizza. My husband tends to eat his pizza New York style, by hand, with the pizza folded. I eat my pizza with a fork and knife until I only have the crust and sometimes I eat the crust with my hands. Again, same food, two different methods of eating it.
In Singapore, with such a variety of cultures, kids may be exposed to many different cultures with helpers and outside the home that they pick up on others habits. It becomes very important to determine what are your family goals and expectations are and then work together as parents and with all other potential caregivers of your child to ensure you emphasize those goals. For many families it may be that there are certain circumstances that children have to act a certain way, and at other times, you allow your child to do what is most comfortable. Mealtimes are great family bonding opportunites which should be fun which sometimes may include using your hands.