Using Chopsticks

I see many Westerners struggling with chopsticks, all because of one fundamental misunderstanding: both sticks do not move. The bottom stick stays stationary, and only the top stick moves. If you are first learning, practice holding just the bottom chopstick stationary, braced between the crook of your thumb and the tip of your ring-finger, as shown in the photo above. This leaves your thumb, index finger, and middle finger free to hold and manipulate the top chopstick. It’s easy. Even young Asian children can do it, and so can you. Just remember, only the top chopstick moves.

The photo above shows classy plastic chopsticks.  I prefer simple wooden ones that are not as slippery when holding the food (and are discarded after each use).

Of course, the chopsticks must extend out the same distance for their tips to meet properly. A simple way to adjust them is to hold their points together and tap them vertically on your plate while loosening your grip.

There are many fine points of etiquette when using chopsticks, but they vary from country-to-country. In general, keep the chopsticks together, and do not leave them stuck upright in your rice.  But don’t worry about it—Asians are very understanding of Western ignorance, and pointedly correcting a guest would be a greater sin on their part.

Serving-chopsticks are usually larger, but in a pinch, you can turn your chopsticks around and use the fat parts that have only touched your grubby hands.  Better, in my opinion, you should ask the wait-staff for serving utensils.

“Chopsticks” is only their pidgin-English Western nickname.  Asians, in Asia, may not understand what you are talking about. Each country knows them in their own language.

(I am left-handed, and this is the natural way I use chopsticks. But this amazed the teenaged daughter of Chinese friends, and she proclaimed me the best left-handed chopstick user she ever saw—probably the only left-handed chopstick user she ever saw. Do whatever is comfortable for you. Right-handedness has no advantage.)

About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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