Although most of us are used to the convenience of eating with knives and forks, in other continents, the humble chopsticks is the go-to utensil.
If you visit Asia and South East Asia, or even your local Chinese or Japanese restaurant, there’s a good chance you’ll order a dish that comes with these slender batons.
Let’s face it: if you’ve never used a chopstick before, being expected to eat a whole meal with them can be pretty daunting. Thankfully, chopsticks are relatively easy to use, but like anything, be prepared to practice before you master the art.
Want to learn more about chopsticks and how to use them? Keep reading to improve your chopstick skills, and eat your way through that plate of sushi with *minimal* embarrassment.
What are Chopsticks?
Chopsticks are two sticks of equal length that are used as eating and kitchen utensils throughout East and Southeast Asia.
Chopsticks are used in pairs, and it’s thought they’ve been used for over three millennia. Chopsticks are held in the dominant hand and used as extensions of the hand to pick up food.
Since their inception 5,000 years ago, chopsticks have developed significantly, and it’s thought that the earliest versions were twigs!
It’s thought that Chinese ancestors discovered that using two twigs is a much simpler (and safer) way to retrieve food from hot pots of water and oil instead of fingers and hands.
Once chopsticks became commonplace in China, they soon made their way over to Vietnam and Japan, and the rest is history!
What Food Do You Eat With Chopsticks?
In earlier times, chopsticks were used exclusively as cooking utensils. However, from around 400 A.D, people started to realize that they were also pretty convenient for eating food with, too.
As the Chinese population boomed and cooks were forced to save money and live modestly, food was cut into smaller pieces to save cooking fuel. It just so happened that these bite-sized pieces were the perfect size to grip with a pair of chopsticks.
In most places where chopsticks are the dominant utensil, it’s okay to eat almost anything with chopsticks (except soup, which would prove a pretty logistical challenge). Peking duck and some desserts also don’t require chopsticks.
Here are some of the most common foods and dishes that are eaten with chopsticks today:
- Stir Fry
- Vegetables and meat (pre-cut)
- Fried Chicken
- Dumplings and wontons
- Noodles and ramen
However, not all places share the same rules. For example, in Chinese culture, it’s considered a curse to stick your chopsticks into your food or your rice when you’re eating it. In other places, though, this would be an acceptable thing to do.
There are many different rules and expectations surrounding chopstick etiquette, which we’ll explore later. But first, let’s take a look at the most basic rules of how to use chopsticks.
How to Use Chopsticks
Are you struggling to finish your meal with chopsticks? Sit back, relax, and let us walk you through the basics. You’ll be a pro in no time!
Start off by relaxing your dominant hand and holding it loosely. You’re already off to a bad start if you’re clenching your chopsticks too tightly!
Once your hand is relaxed, position the first chopstick between your index finger and your thumb, then balance the chopstick on your ring finger.
Once your first chopstick is in position, place the second chopstick in the space between your index finger and thumb, next to the first chopstick. This time, you’ll need to rest the chopstick on your middle finger rather than your ring finger.
Now, you can use your thumb, index, and middle finger to hold the second chopstick slightly tighter than the first one.
When you’ve established this position, remember: the first chopstick (the one on the bottom) should remain almost entirely stationary. Your second chopstick will move more freely, and your index and middle fingers will produce most of the movement.
Use your index and middle finger to move the top chopstick around.
Once you’ve got the hang of this movement, you’re ready to start practicing on some real food! Move your chopsticks up and down and open them up, then close them firmly over your food.
When you do this, remember to keep your hand loose and retain control over your chopstick.
You’ll find this much easier to do on lighter, thicker foods if you’re a beginner. However, things get tougher when you’re picking up heavier pieces.
That’s it! You’re now ready to practice eating with chopsticks. We’d recommend practicing with smaller pieces of food before graduating to heavier chunks, like chicken.
Yes, this is a thing.
Although the above directions form the most basic rules for using chopsticks, some rules surrounding chopstick etiquette will apply depending on where you are in the world.
Failing to follow these will make you look (and feel) stupid, and more experienced chopstick users are likely to look down on you.
Japan has some of the most extensive rules around chopstick etiquette, so let’s explore them more below. Remember: good manners and proper etiquette are essential here, and it’s one of the main ways to demonstrate politeness.
- Don’t rub your chopsticks together. This is considered insulting, as it looks like you’re trying to get rid of splinters in your chopsticks because they’re too cheap.
- Don’t stick chopsticks in your food. This is usually done at funerals and is considered a sign of disrespect in other settings.
- Don’t use one chopstick. Instead, two should be used at all times.
- Don’t pass food to another set of chopsticks. This is seen as rude.
- Don’t cross your chopsticks in your bowl. If you need to give your hands a rest, place them side by side, but never crossed.
- Don’t point with your chopsticks. This is also considered rude, in the same way that pointing at someone with your finger is rude.
If you’ve never used chopsticks before, it can be a big change from your usual utensils. However, with a little practice, it can be a simple and rewarding experience.
Knowing the right etiquette to follow will also help you demonstrate politeness wherever you are, so ensure you’re sticking to the rules above when you next use your chopsticks!
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