Hungering to learn cool new things? It is both useful and fun to pick up the art of using chopsticks (and it gives you bragging rights too). With their origins in China, chopsticks have been used to consume and stir food for over 6000 years. Apprehensive beginners should know that eating with chopsticks becomes easier with practice (remember ‘wax on-wax off’ from the old Karate Kid film?). It is advisable to start with short wooden chopsticks as they allow more grip than their metal or plastic counterparts. Chopsticks are meant to be extensions of your fingers (obviously this doesn’t mean you need all five of them!) with the narrow ends used to pick the food.
Road to Mastery
- The main fingers in use are the thumb, middle and index fingers. Start without the sticks. With your palm facing you, rest the tips of your ring and and little fingers on your palm.
- Naturally your middle finger will now point to your other hand, the index finger will point away, and the thumb will point up.
- Now place one stick at the bottom of the V between your thumb and index finger while leaving about 2 inches space from the broad end.
- Place the other stick with the same distance from the broad end. Place it at the bottom of the index finger with the stick resting on the whole index finger and grip it firmly with the tip of the thumb. Use your ring and little finger to support your middle finger.
- Make sure the tips are at the same level at all times.
- You can now start by using the narrow ends to pick up a piece of carrot or an eraser or any other small object if you don’t have food around. If it keeps falling off you should start over.
- While trying with food, make sure you don’t let the sticks get greased by food where you are gripping them. Again make sure the tips are at the same level and take a break and stretch if your hand tenses up.
The Perfect Pick Me Up
Don’t get frustrated and start poking or spearing at your food because this is impolite according to Chinese tradition just as tapping your bowl with the sticks is (beggars do this to ask for alms). It is acceptable to hold the bowl/plate close to your mouth while eating rice or soupy noodles but be sure not to dig in search of particular things, as this is equated to grave digging by the Chinese (aren’t they a classist lot in spite of the revolution?). It is considered poor etiquette to point chopsticks towards others seated at the table. Chopsticks should not be left vertically stuck into a bowl of rice because this resembles the ritual of incense-burning that symbolises “feeding” the dead and death in general. If you ever find yourself in a traditional Chinese setting, know that placing the chopsticks next to your bowl means you are taking a break and placing them on the rim of the bowl means you’re done.
Forgive me, dear reader, if some of the details provided were inconsequential, but trust me, you really don’t want to piss the Chinese off about their food. Lastly, be patient. Who knows you might be able to use it as a weapon (like in Kung Fu Panda) one day. But you’ll know you’ve graduated once you are able to lift slippery steamed momos off your plate and into your mouth.