Say ‘Asian eating’ and you’ll probably think of chopsticks. Though today, even households and restaurants in Asia are usually equipped with spoons, forks and knives; there’s still nothing quite like the authentic chopsticks experience. In fact, Asian parents inadvertently teach children discipline, culture and customs through using chopsticks; and it is considered poor form for the family if kids can’t use them properly.
We covered the mythical origins and some basics here. So let’s take a look at the finer points of chopsticks etiquette.
- Filial piety and respect for elders is a central Asian value, so no matter how old you are, you should always wait for your elders to pick up their chopsticks before yourself.
- Always use matching chopsticks to avoid bad luck.
- Food is meant to be savour, so enjoy in small mouthfuls.
- Decide what you want from a shared plate beforehand, and always use the serving utensil on the dish if there’s one. Transfer the food to your plate or bowl, and continue eating with your chopsticks.
- It is acceptable to hold your bowl and push the rice in your mouth. But only in Korean culture, the bowl should always stay on the table, use your chopsticks for dishes and the spoon for rice and soup.
- Use reverse open-close motion with your chopsticks to break your food into smaller bites.
- Place them horizontally on top of your bowl or plate when you’ve finished. In Japanese culture, always place the pointed tip to the left.
- Never stab your chopsticks upright into your bowl of rice. It looks like an offering to the dead for many Asian cultures as incense sticks are stuck in the same manner on altars. For Japanese, the exact custom of chopsticks straight up in a rice bowl is part of the funeral ceremony.
- Never hold or place your chopsticks separately, or in any other position besides parallel and together. Placing them in a V is rude, especially in Vietnam. Crossing them in Japanese culture also means death.
- Don’t point, gesture or wave around with them at anything or anyone. Also, ensure your pointer finger doesn’t stick out when holding them.
- Don’t fumble about a shared dish for a particular piece.
- Resist the urge to stab food with them like forks, or add your spoon to cut.
- Don’t chew or suck the tips. Chopsticks are for putting food in your mouth without touching your lips or teeth.
- Except in Korean culture, try not to slurp too loudly.
- Don’t tap or click your chopsticks on your plate or bowl.
- Don’t pass food to another person’s chopsticks. Put it in his/her bowl or plate instead.
- For bamboo disposable chopsticks, it’s rude to divide them openly and rub them together. Always do it discreetly at the side.
- And needless to say: don’t play or make faces with your chopsticks.
For Asians, how you use chopsticks shows your civility, as well as respect for your host, chef and labourers who had toiled for your food. So always use them properly to savour every delicious mouthful.