This final week looking into Asian table manners explores chopsticks. Despite the Thai culture not predominantly using the utensil, my family did use chopsticks with noodle dishes. Practically any East-Asian inspired restaurant in the U.S. comes with the option to use chopsticks, yet there are fewer who can even operate a set.
But there is more than just the mechanics of holding the chopsticks. What you do with your chopsticks is just as important as how you use them.
Chopsticks are typically made of bamboo, but more modern ones may be made of plastic or stainless steel. (The latter tends to be more dishwasher-friendly.) There are some national differences in the type of chopstick used. For example, Chinese chopsticks (kuaizi) are typically blunt-ended. Japanese chopsticks (hashi) are typically tapered or pointed. They were originally invented in China as a cooking utensil, but soon evolved to become a cooking, serving and eating utensil. In Japan, there are different standards for chopsticks based on their function. While hashi are used for eating, longer chopsticks are used for cooking (ryoribashi) and serving (saibashi).
Korean chopsticks (jeotgarak) are usually made of metal, and they often are flat and rectangular shaped. In Vietnam, chopsticks (đũa) more closely resemble the Chinese style – wooden, with tapered, yet blunt ends.
Just as in Western cultures, where there is an acceptable way to hold a fork or place your knife when not in use, there are the same common table manners with chopsticks.
- Chopsticks should be held on the ends farthest away from your food. Do not hold your chopsticks at the middle or lower third.
- When not in use, place your chopsticks atop your bowl, straight and together, or on a chopstick rest.
- Chopsticks are not to be left crossed on a plate.
- Never stick your chopsticks, or leave them, sticking upright in a bowl of rice. This is a practice at funerals and is meant to signify death.
- Do not pass food from one set of chopsticks to anther set. This is also reminiscent of a funeral practice during the cremation processes when the bones are passed using chopsticks.
- Chopsticks are not spears, do not use them to pick up food simply by spearing it.
- While we’re on the topic of what chopsticks aren’t, let’s include: javelins, drumsticks or
- Do not stick chopsticks in your hair. The hair ornament used in a traditional Japanese hairstyle is called a Kanzashi.
- Try not to use chopsticks to pick through your dish. This is known as “digging the grave.” Although I admit I sometimes do this to circulate air through dense noodle dishes.