Chopsticks

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Eating utensils traditional to Asian countries.

Chopsticks are simple in design - merely two thin rods, held in the hand and used to grab food. In practice, they are an aquired skill that can take some mastery.

Japanese chopsticks differ from Chinese chopsticks in that they come to a point, while chinese chopsticks have rounded ends.

How to use the chopsticks:

  1. Put one chopstick between the palm and the base of the thumb,
  2. Use the ring finger (the one next to the pinkie) to support the lower part of the stick.
  3. With the thumb squeezes the stick down while the ring finger pushes it up, the stick should be stationary and very stable.
  4. Use the tips of the thumb, the index and middle finger to hold the other stick like an ink pen.
  5. Make sure the tips of the two sticks line up.
  6. Pivot the upper stick up and down towards the stationary lower stick.
  7. With enough practice, the two sticks function like a pair of forceps to pick up pieces of food.
  8. With Japanese pointy chopsticks, one can pick up food by stabbing too, but it is considered poor table manner for Chinese.
  9. For easier handling in the beginning, hold the sticks at the mid point like a child would do. With proficiency, hold the sticks at the upper ends for a farther reach and a more mature look.

Chinese meals are often shared with dishes put at the center of the table. Nowadays, most Chinese restaurants in the US will provide a serving spoon in each dish for hygenic reasons. However, traditionally chopsticks from around the table will just dig in. Hence there is some etiquette in sharing a traditional Chinese meal.

  • The chopsticks are used to deliver food to the mouth, the chopsticks should not touch the mouth. It is poor table manner to suck on the tip of the chopsticks.
  • If there are serving spoons or public chopsticks on the table, use those to get the food to your own plate/bowl before switching to your own set.
  • After you picked up an item, it is yours, you cannot put it back in the dish, i.e. you must set your aim before raising your chopsticks.
  • Traditionally, it is a polite gesture to pick the best piece of food and send to your guests' bowl. Nowadays many people observe some kind of diet, picking food for your guests may not be appropriate to each person's tastes. Furthermore, due to hygenic concern, use the serving utensil instead of your own chopsticks if you must perform this gesture.
  • Chinese dishes are usually prepared in such a way that each piece is bite size so if the item is too small or too big to be picked up by the chopsticks, then it is not designed to be eaten with the chopsticks.
  • Chinese don't traditionally eat rice from a plate. Traditionally, rice is served in a bowl, the bowl is raised to the mouth and the rice is shoved into the mouth using the chopsticks. So if rice is served on a plate like in many restaurants in the US, you should eat with a fork or spoon. You will drive yourself crazy trying to pick up the rice grain by grain. Besides, people around you will believe you are crazy too. Picking up rice from a plate with chopsticks is an easy giveaway that someone is a beginner in using chopsticks.
  • Never rest your chopsticks by sticking them point first into your bowl of rice. This is done at funerals.
  • Do not pass food directly from one pair of chopsticks to another, always put the food directly on the other persons plate. Bones and fragments from cremated remains are passed this way at funerals.

In California, the majority of patrons to Chinese restaurants know how to use chopsticks regardless of their nationality. Such phenomonon may not be true elsewhere.