Do you love Asian food but want to get the full experience by eating it the way it’s meant to be eaten – with chopsticks? Some swear it tastes better, and you might want to try it for yourself… without looking silly and eventually puncturing the food. Others make it look so easy, but when you try it, you end up asking for a fork. Now it’s time to say goodbye to that fork and get to grips with those chopsticks.
- 1 Proper use of chopsticks
- 2 The chopstick etiquette
- 3 Tips
- 4 Warnings
Proper use of chopsticks
Take the first chopstick between your middle finger and the base of your thumb.
This chopstick is your fixed point – it shouldn’t move. Tighten your hand into a tight grip. Leave the thick end of the chopstick in the crook of your hand where your thumb and forefinger join. It should be literally immobile. The pose is similar to holding a pen, only slightly lower. Some people may prefer to hold the chopstick by the side of their ring finger so that the tip of the ring finger holds it in place. This frees the middle finger so it can hold the other chopstick more securely and give it more control. It’s a more formal approach.
Grab the second chopstick with your index finger and thumb.
This is the chopstick that moves. Place your thumb over the side of the second chopstick so it rests over the first. Adjust your grip until you find a position that is comfortable for you. Make sure the two thin ends are even, so the chopsticks don’t cross and you can’t pick up your food. To align them evenly, you can tap them on the table. Chopsticks of unequal length are very difficult to handle.
Practice opening and closing the chopsticks.
Make sure the wide ends of the chopsticks don’t form an “X” as this will make picking up food more difficult. Does only the top double crochet move? Great! If it helps, move your hands up and down the chopsticks and hold the position. Experiment with different heights for the handle. Some find it easier to hold the chopsticks very low, others higher up.
Start picking up food!
It should now be easiest to work at an angle of 45°. When you have a firm grip on it, pick it up. If it feels unstable, put the food back on the plate and try again. Once you’ve mastered handling a certain type of food, move on to other sizes and textures. When you feel really confident, practice with pasta!
The chopstick etiquette
Know the rules of sharing food.
Large platters of food are often shared at Asian dining tables (whether at home or in a restaurant). It’s not appropriate to dip chopsticks that you just had in your mouth into the shared meal! You have two options: Use a public pair of chopsticks that never touch your (or anyone else’s) bowl of rice/food. Pick up the food with the other end of the chopsticks (the ones you’re not eating with). That’s the wide end, which I hope you won’t chew on!
Know what to do with them when you’re not eating.
Unfortunately, the rules of chopstick eating don’t stop once you’ve got the food in your mouth. Each society has slightly different rules, but in general: don’t stick your chopsticks upright in your food. This is considered a bad omen and is reminiscent of incense sticks at funerals. Do not skewer your food with the end of the chopsticks. If all else fails, this may seem like a good alternative, but it’s considered impolite. Do not pass food from chopstick to chopstick. This is also a rite of conduct at funerals and is considered bad (or even sinister) behavior at the table. Don’t cross your chopsticks. When you’re done eating, put them to the left of your plate. Don’t point your chopsticks at other people. Finger-pointing is generally taboo in Asian cultures, as is pointing with chopsticks. This article would be way too long if all the rules were listed. These are the basics.
When you eat rice, be willing to shovel it.
When a bowl of rice is placed in front of you and you only have two bamboo sticks, you might feel like you’re paddling across a river without a paddle. But it’s perfectly acceptable (even rather normal) to hold the bowl of rice close to your mouth and work from there. You won’t look silly, you look experienced! You might feel like the beast with Belle during dinner, but rest assured it’s done that way. Don’t scoop the rice into your mouth like a caveman, but keep the bowl close to you to prevent falling rice from pooling around your dining area. Japan has slightly stricter rules when it comes to eating rice. For example, if you are in China or Vietnam, you can start shoveling.
While it may seem easier at first to hold the chopsticks at the thin end, grasping at the wider end allows you to keep them more parallel to each other. This makes it easier for you to pick up your food (e.g. rice) from below and lift larger pieces. The difference between looking like an ignorant, uncultured person or like an educated, cultured person is revealed when you hold the chopsticks. Don’t hold the chopsticks too close to their thin ends. The further your hands are away from the food, the better. Do not stick your chopsticks in your food as this is considered very rude and/or an insult to the chef or the person who prepared the food. Limp or sliced foods such as cold cuts or slices of cheese are particularly good for practice. They’re easier to use than diced food once you learn how to hold the chopsticks properly and how much pressure to apply. Start by holding the chopsticks in the middle or closer to the tips as you get used to the movement and position of the chopsticks. As you get used to this pose and become more confident in it, try shifting your grip further toward the wider end. Wooden or bamboo chopsticks are the easiest to use as they have a tacky texture at the tip. Handling plastic chopsticks is more difficult. Metal chopsticks, favored by Koreans, are the most difficult of all. Once you’ve mastered one type of chopstick, you can move on to the next. Next time you go out, your hosts will be impressed! The method described here is the correct way to hold chopsticks. Ultimately, however, the most important thing when using chopsticks is that you can comfortably pick up food and put it in your mouth. Take the chopsticks home to practice. Follow the steps above and pick up a peanut, pen, or piece of fish. Try eating your dinner with them. Be patient as it takes a while to learn how to use it properly. It’s perfectly okay to ask for a fork or spoon if you’re getting too frustrated. Apply firm but gentle pressure to the food, just enough so your food doesn’t fall off the chopsticks. Too much pressure increases the chance that the chopsticks will cross at the thinner end if they aren’t perfectly aligned, catapulting your food all over the table. Before you start eating rice, pasta, and other things that require chopsticks, practice with larger foods like popcorn and marshmallows.
Chinese etiquette allows you to bring your personal rice bowl close to your mouth with one hand, then use the chopsticks to push the rice into your mouth. However, Korean etiquette considers this to be very bad manners! So be careful who you eat with and what exactly your eating habits are. Avoid passing food with chopsticks. As in the previous warning, this is reminiscent of a part of a Japanese burial in which family members pass bones with chopsticks. Instead, transfer the food to another plate, preferably with serving utensils. If no such utensils are available, turn your chopsticks over so the ends you haven’t had in your mouth are touching the food, and then pass the plate along. Do not hit the bowl or platter with your chopsticks. This is what beggars did in ancient China. You should not misuse the chopsticks as toothpicks, even if no other toothpicks are available. Decide what food you want out of the bowl before inserting your chopsticks. Poking around in the bowl is considered very impolite. Using chopsticks properly isn’t easy, so don’t lose heart if you don’t get it right away.