Ever try eating with those smoothly cut bamboo sticks wrapped up in the red/orange wrapper and included with your sushi? How did you do? Chopsticks can either be fun or trouble to eat with! The Chinese and other Asian cultures have been using them for more than 3000 years. When Mesopotamia and Egypt were developing the use of the fork for cooking, China was developing the use of chopsticks. And, like the fork, chopsticks were first designed to be used for cooking. They were made much larger than the variety seen today in popular Asian restaurants, which are intended for eating not cooking. Cooking chopsticks are made long enough to reach into a sizzling pan or deep pot of soup without the cook getting burned! As obvious as it may seem to us, they were not initially used for eating. Prior to the use of chopsticks people in Asian used a combination of their hands, knives, and spoons for eating. It wasn’t until the Han Dynasty in China that chopsticks began to be used as common eating utensils. But the idea of chopsticks used for eating quickly spread throughout Asian, including Korea, Vietnam, and Japan (Ever the innovator, Japan invented disposable chopsticks in the late 1800s!). Since their spread during and after the Han Dynasty, chopsticks have been the main utensils at most Asian dinner tables.
There are a few simple techniques for using chopsticks. The basic techniques is to hold one chopstick in the joint between your thumb and forefinger and rest it on the side of your middle finger. Then place the second chopstick between your pointer-finger and thumb and let the back end of that chopstick rest on the side of your knuckle. See this picture for a visualization: https://www.facebook.com/luckysamuraigastonia/photos/a.271716589639739.1073741829.262632437214821/654582601353134/?type=1&theater
After you get them set the idea it to use them like tweezers. Start out by practicing on the easier items, like broccoli, or chicken / steak. Mushrooms are hard to grab! And so is the rice if it is not mixed with your shrimp sauce.
For children or those having trouble getting the correct grip, you can ask for an extra straw and insert the back of one chopstick into each side of the straw and then bend the straw in-half in order to make a quick ‘beginner’ set of chopsticks.
When eating at an Asian restaurant where the food is served on plates, it is a good idea to use one hand with a napkin to hold under the chopsticks as you are bringing food up from your plate to your mouth in case it falls! Normally, during traditional meals in Asia, there would be a small bowl available to each person that could be used for this purpose.
When eating the soba noodles, before attempting to pick up the noodles, turn your hand upside-down by rotating your wrist. When the chopsticks are upside-down, slide them into the noodle and then rotate your hand back to its normal position. This will cause the noodles to wrap around your chopsticks, making them a whole lot easier to keep hold of!
Eating fried rice with chopsticks is difficult without mixing it with shrimp sauce first. However, it is still possible as long as you have a little patience 😉 You’ll have to make the chopsticks into a “V” shape, hold them steady, and use them to ‘scoop’ up the rice. Even with this technique, when I get to the last of my rice, I still have to raise my plate off the table and shovel the rice into my mouth. In Asian, when eating out of a bowl, this is standard etiquette (we will discuss more chopstick etiquette in the next blog). That being said, it doesn’t really apply to a plate. And I can’t promise that your guests won’t give you disapproving glares -_-
I hope this helps everyone have a little more fun during their next chopstick-wielding meal!
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