Most people who have eaten out at Chinese or Japanese restaurants will probably have attempted to eat with chopsticks, with varying levels of success. Although at first the sight of chopsticks on the table is very intimidating, once the technique of using them is mastered they are actually very easy to use – so long as you are not trying to drink soup with them! There is no definite ‘right or wrong’ way to use the chopsticks, the main goal is to get the food from your plate into your mouth!
Just where do chopsticks actually come from?
They are thought to have originated over 3000 years ago (during the Shang Dynasty) in China; it is said that Confucius did not allow knives at the dining table as they were associated with aggression – today chopsticks are used all the time in most Oriental countries, primarily by people from China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
So just how do you use them?
Most restaurants today use disposable wooden chopsticks; if you are presented with this type of chopstick the first obstacle is breaking them apart. The trick of separating the two sticks without breaking them is not to twist them but to hold on to each stick and pull apart – now that’s the easy part dealt with – now you need to pick up the food off your plate with the chopsticks.
To do this you need to master just how to hold the chopsticks, again this is quickly learnt. Take hold of the first chopstick between the ring and middle finger of your right (or left if left handed) hand; this chopstick is kept in place by the thumb and does not (or should not) move. There should be about two to three inches of chopstick extended beyond the tip of your finger. The second chopstick is then held between the thumb and index finger (as if holding a pencil); then, holding the chopsticks at a slight angle, press the ends of the two chopsticks and slide them until they are level. Put a slight pressure on the upper chopstick and move it whilst moving your index finger up and down, opening up the chopsticks enabling you to pick up food from the plate.
Chopsticks are perfect for picking up small pieces of food from the plate; larger pieces of food should be chopped into smaller pieces with the chopsticks. If you are using the chopsticks to take food from a shared dish always use the wider end of the chopsticks and not the thinner part that goes in your mouth. Noodles can be either sucked from the chopsticks or wrapped around them forming them into a ball shape – whichever you feel most comfortable with. Chinese rice is usually fairly sticky so that it can be picked up in clumps although in China the normal way of eating rice with chopsticks is to hold the bowl of rice up to the mouth and then push the rice into the mouth with the chopsticks – Chinese etiquette also dictates that it is polite to eat every single grain of rice.
Hopefully these simple directions will enable you to be able to master the art of eating with chopsticks, and as a footnote it is also thought that eating with chopsticks is a perfect way to lose weight as chopsticks force people to eat their food more slowly and they also encourage people to eat more stir fried vegetables than the more calorific rice. However, wanting to lose weight or not, do try to use the chopsticks next time you eat Oriental food and don’t opt for the knife and fork.