Love Asian cuisine but struggle with using chopsticks? Don’t worry, you are not alone. While holding chopsticks might be second nature to Asians, it could be a source of anxiety for non-natives dining out at Chinese or Japanese outlets.
If you ever wondered about the incentive to learn how to eat with chopsticks, there is a compelling reason. Over 1.5 billion people in the world use chopsticks for their meals.
Also, with the increasing movement of Asian cuisine to the West and beyond, eating with chopsticks is considered a part of the food experience. Hence, learning how to use chopsticks is a handy skill. If you are sitting at a local Asian restaurant with no idea what to do with your chopsticks, this post is for you!
This guide on how to hold chopsticks will help you to get started. Using chopsticks is no less than an art form, but we know that you are a hidden artist yourself! By the end of this post, we hope that chopsticks become an important cutlery for your food experience. Let’s get started!
Before learning how to hold chopsticks, it helps to get a hang of how and why chopsticks were adopted. The cultural evolution of chopsticks from Ancient China to the present day globalized world will expand your understanding of this unique eating utensil.
Table of contents
- What Are the Different Ways to Use Chopsticks?
- Step by Step Guide on How to Hold Chopsticks
- What Are Chopsticks?
- Where Did It All Start?
- How Did Chopsticks Become So Popular?
- Philosophical Symbolism of Chopsticks
- Folklores and Legends
- Different Countries, Different Chopsticks
- Why Use Chopsticks?
- Reasons To Make a Switch from Forks to Chopsticks
- What is the Significance of Chopsticks?
- What Are The Different Foods You Can Eat With Chopsticks?
- Chopstick Etiquette and Taboos in Different Countries
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Chopsticks
What Are the Different Ways to Use Chopsticks?
Let’s start by answering the main question – How to hold a chopstick? What are the different methods of using chopsticks?
If you are a fork and knife person, learning the intricacies of holding chopsticks could put you off. Give yourself space to make mistakes and try not to get frustrated with yourself. Practice makes perfect. Sooner or later, you’ll be eating your food with your new charming cutlery additions.
Apart from following basic chopsticks etiquette, learning how to use them properly is the most important of them all. It will help you have a better food experience and give you the confidence to use chopsticks in a more public setting.
Let’s break down the process of handling chopsticks in five steps.
Step by Step Guide on How to Hold Chopsticks
Step 1 : Inventory Check – Do You Have Everything Required to Practice?
Before you even begin learning the step by step process, you need to conduct an inventory check. Do you have a pair of chopsticks to start practicing? If not, then consider purchasing a pair of chopsticks online.
Additionally, it is advisable to buy bamboo or wooden chopsticks. Metal and plastic chopsticks are more suited for people who know how to work with chopsticks. These chopsticks are smooth and might cause your food to slip. Unless you are really confident about your chopsticks skills, it is better to stick with bamboo chopsticks.
Also, if you are environmentally conscious, you could consider purchasing reusable chopsticks. As for practicing with food, you could try using any sliced fruits, popcorn, or even grapes. Finally, place only a small portion of food to practice your skills on.
Step 2 : Hold a Single Chopstick in Your Dominant Hand
Now, we move on to getting a hang of how to hold your chopsticks.We will use our dominant hand to hold chopsticks. Next, place a single chopstick between your thumb and the index finger. This is the nook or the curve between your thumb and index finger.
This bottom will provide you with stability. It should not move and must stay still at the base. The tapered side of the chopstick (or the side that points to the food), rests with support from your ring finger.
Remember, this chopstick should remain firm between your fingers.
Step 3 : Hold the Second Chopstick Like a Pencil
After you’ve nailed the placement of the first chopstick, it’s time to focus on the second one.
The position of the second chopstick is similar to that of a pencil or a pen. If you recollect, we held our pencils with the help of our index and thumb finger. This is similar to the first chopstick but there are some variations.
Our second chopstick should be placed at a position higher in the nook of the thumb and index finger. Moreover, the tapered end should rest and get support from the middle finger.
The second chopstick is the one that does all the work while the first remains stationary. While picking up your food, you’ll move the second chopstick.
Also, make sure that both the chopsticks are parallel to each other. If you don’t think they are, slightly tap the chopsticks on the table (hopefully, a clean surface) to make sure they are aligned and parallel.
Fun Fact: There is a widely believed superstition in China that if you come across an uneven pair of chopsticks at the food table, you are likely to miss your next traveling journey whether it is by – train, plane, or boat!
Step 4: The First Move
Now that we have got the placement right, it is time to test our chopsticks’ movement in unison. Slowly, open and close the chopsticks. Also, try to get comfortable with your grip. Finally, don’t forget that the bottom chopstick remains stationary while the top chopstick moves and does all the work.
Step 5: The First Morsel
This is the ultimate part of our step by step guide on how to use your chopsticks – pick up a small piece of food. It’s time to have your first chopsticks-held morsel! You will pick up food and place it between both your chopsticks.
While the upper chopstick moves to grab the food, the lower chopstick provides you with support. Remember to keep your fingers steady and in control. Also, don’t pinch your food too hard – you might drop it.
After you’ve nailed picking up sample food, it is time to graduate and test your skills. You could start testing your chopsticks’ skill on heavier pieces of food.
It will take time to learn the proper chopstick placement! Just like any other skill that has a steep learning curve, making it to the other side of trial and error is what counts.
However, if you continue to struggle with using chopsticks, you could consider another option.
There are many training chopsticks available in the market and you could easily purchase one online. These chopsticks have pre-placed finger rings/props. They are your cheat guide to learning the correct chopstick placement!
We are not yet done! Apart from eating, there are other practical uses for your chopsticks.
You could use it to stir or serve your food. If you are cooking a dish that requires delicate plating, you could take the help of your chopsticks. Finally, picking out small food items from pots, jars, and cans is easier with chopsticks!
If you require an actual demonstration, here is a quick YouTube shorts video for you.
If you are short on time and want to learn the placement fast, here is a YouTube video from the ‘For Us Foodies’ channel.
What Are Chopsticks?
If you are familiar with kitchen tongs, then understanding the use of chopsticks is quite easy.
Chopsticks are two sticks of equal length. It is used to pick up food with your dominant hand. Chopsticks are a common sight in Asian restaurants. Moreover, it is considered the primary cutlery in some East Asian countries.
You will find that there are different types and forms of chopsticks. Initially, while choosing, it might seem quite confusing to figure out which one to use.
Usually, the type of chopsticks used depends on – the individual and the type of meal one is having.
People use chopsticks of different materials. These include wood, bamboo, metal and plastic. If you were a royalty during the ancient era, then you would’ve used silver, jade or bronze chopsticks!
Where Did It All Start?
History says that chopsticks are more than 3,000 years old. They are widely believed to have their roots in China. In Chinese, chopsticks are called ‘Kuaizi’, written as 筷子, and pronounced as ‘Kweye-zr’.
It is quite unclear as to how the English word ‘Chopsticks’ for Kuaizi came into existence. The earliest mention of the word is in the 1699 book, Voyages and Descriptions. The author, William Dampier, writes that English seamen call this cutlery, ‘Chopsticks’.
To conduct trade with China, the British would use a modified form of English called Chinese Pidgin English. Many believe that the word chopsticks originate from the Chinese Pidgin English word called ‘chop chop.’ This word meant ‘be quick’ or ‘hurry up!’
The first actual evidence of chopsticks date back to the New Stone Age during the reign of the Shang Dynasty (1766 – 1122 BC). In the Shang Dynasty, people were fond of using hot pots (or deep pots) to cook their meals. Chopsticks became a convenient utensil to stir and pick up the food in these pots.
As they cooked food in boiling water, chopsticks made sure that they didn’t burn their hands. So, the earliest use of chopsticks was as a cooking utensil rather than an eating tool.
Excavations in the Henan Province of China led to the discovery of chopsticks. Archaeologists found bronze chopsticks in Tombs of the Yin Ruins. However, experts speculate that chopsticks existed way before the Shang Dynasty.
By the time of the Han Dynasty, rice became the main food in China. During this time, chopsticks slowly found their way onto the food table. When the Ming Dynasty started, chopsticks solidified their use as an eating utensil.
How Did Chopsticks Become So Popular?
There were other reasons that worked in the favor of chopsticks. In Ancient China, the population boom caused a food crisis.
With an increasing population, it became necessary for the Chinese to cook food rapidly. Cutting and cooking food in smaller pieces allowed them to save costs and manage the problem of food scarcity.
Moreover, smaller food portions eliminated the use of knives. This became the perfect reason to adopt chopsticks. These sticks allowed people to have small morsels and limited the quantity of food one could consume.
In Chinese culture, eating is a communal activity. With the shared dish kept in the center of the table, chopsticks allowed people to grab and transfer food onto their individual plates.
Philosophical Symbolism of Chopsticks
Also, the use of chopsticks has a philosophical underlining to it. The Chinese philosopher, Confucius, is considered a key figure in making chopsticks mainstream.
Confucius was an influential philosopher in Ancient China. His religious philosophy of ‘Confucianism’ was quite popular 2,500 years ago.
Confucius advocated the use of Chopsticks. According to him, knives and forks symbolize violence and warfare. Chopsticks, on the other hand, symbolized gentle nature and calmness.
Folklores and Legends
However, the exact origin of chopsticks remains unclear. There are many legends and folktales associated with the utensil.
One legend says that the Chinese started using chopsticks during the Great Floods of the Yellow River.
There is another interesting legend involving the Chinese noble, Jiang Tai Gong (12th century BC – 11th century BC). The lore says that a divine bird advised the noble to use chopsticks.
As per the legend, Jiang Tai Gong had a very lazy attitude towards life. It goes on to say that the noble would often go out fishing and return without any catch. Fed up with his lax attitude, his wife sought to get rid of him for good.
One day, she decided to poison his meal. As the noble was about to eat his food, a bird flew down and started pecking his hand. In an attempt to get rid of the bird, he got up and drove the bird away from his house.
As he went out of the house, the bird spoke to him. The bird advised him to use two bamboo sticks to pick up his food.
Jiang Tai Gong went home and followed the advice of the bird. He grabbed his food with two bamboo twigs. When the bamboo twigs came in contact with the poisonous food, it changed color and released white smoke.
Realizing that her plot was exposed, the noble’s wife ran away. When the neighbors heard the story, they started using chopsticks to pick up their food as well. This led to the popularity of chopsticks in China.
Different Countries, Different Chopsticks
Using chopsticks is a common practice in some East Asian countries. However, each country uses chopsticks of different materials and types. Some countries where chopsticks are heavily used include – China, Korea, and Japan. Let’s talk about some major differences in chopsticks in these three regions.
Chinese chopsticks are longer than their other Asian counterparts. Moreover, the tapered end of the chopstick is blunt.
As we have mentioned before, in Ancient China, hotpots were used to make food. Additionally, having food in China is a communal activity. Hence, the use of long chopsticks allowed people to share, easily stir and pick up food.
When it comes to length, Korean chopsticks sit in the middle order. Korean chopsticks are flat and long-lasting. The material used to make Korean chopsticks is usually metal.
There are two reasons for the popularity of metal chopsticks in Korea. During ancient times, only the wealthy could afford to use metal chopsticks.
Hence, using these chopsticks is seen as a sign of royalty. Second, there is an assumption that metal chopsticks can detect whether the food is poisoned.
When compared to other chopsticks, Japanese chopsticks are the shortest. This is because Japanese people usually don’t share their food.
Also, while eating, Japanese people tend to bring their plates/bowls closer to their mouth. The Japanese diet includes a lot of raw fish and so, their chopsticks are slightly pointy. This allows them to easily remove fish bones. Chopsticks in Japan are usually made of wood and plastic. They also have rounded ends.
In addition to this, based on the occasion, Japanese people use a different set of chopsticks.
Why Use Chopsticks?
For beginners, it might seem unnecessary to make chopsticks a staple cutlery in their drawer. You might think of chopsticks as a tool reserved only for a particular cuisine at an Asian restaurant. Does it have what it takes to be a regular in your food experience? The answer is, Yes.
Admittedly, it is difficult to master the use of chopsticks. However, once you get a hang of using chopsticks, it is quite possible that you might ditch your fork altogether!
There are many reasons to take the chopsticks route. If you are health conscious or believe in mindful eating, chopsticks might just as well be the utensil of your choice.
Some reasons for choosing chopsticks include – it is helpful in your weight loss journey, lowers the glycemic index of your food, improves your dexterity and motor skills, and promotes mindful eating.
Reasons To Make a Switch from Forks to Chopsticks
1. Weight Loss
If you are on a weight management mission, then chopsticks are just the right utensils to help you get started. While eating, we usually pay less attention to our food and have a tendency to overstuff ourselves.
Chopsticks help us slow down and allow for only small food morsels at a time. Eating slowly and taking small bites help in controlling your portion size. Moreover, you become attuned to your body and understand when you start feeling full.
2. Lowers Glycemic Index of Your Food
Eating with chopsticks also helps in lowering the Glycemic Index of your food. What is the Glycemic Index? It is a measure that shows the effect of each measure of food on your blood sugar level.
A 2015 study published in Physiology and Behavior notes that the GI response of eating food with chopsticks is lower than eating food with any other utensil.
When you eat with chopsticks, you have smaller portions of food. This gives you enough time to chew food and helps in better digestion.
3. Improves Dexterity or Motor Skills
Another interesting fact is that chopsticks could help improve your motor skills. Motor skills mean movement of body muscles to perform certain tasks.
As the utensil relies on the movement of your fingers, it can help you get better at hand-eye coordination.
Another plus point is that it could strengthen your hand movements. This could be a great exercise for kids who are just learning to develop motor skills. It could also be helpful for improving dexterity in older adults.
4. Mindful Eating
We are usually chomping our food while scrolling through our phones or watching T.V. In this fast-paced world, slowing down seems next to impossible.
As chopsticks make room for smaller bites, you start eating intentionally. It provides you with a more immersive experience.
With other eating utensils, there is no need to put in much thought while picking up our food. However, chopsticks force you to be an active participant while eating.
This is because you have to make use of your fingers and eyes to strike a delicate balance with your chopsticks. This could help you be in the present moment, savor your food, and appreciate the nourishment that you receive.
What is the Significance of Chopsticks?
These were some health-based reasons for using chopsticks. Now let’s discuss the significance of chopsticks.
Chopsticks also represent ancient symbolism in their structure. Here are five reasons why chopsticks are significant and what their structure says about Chinese philosophy:
- The two ends of the chopsticks are different in shape. While the tapered end (from which we pick up food) is round, the other end is square. According to Ancient Chinese philosophy, the round end signifies heaven. The square end represents land and the paddy fields. Together, these two ends symbolize that the food you eat is a blessing from heaven.
- Chopsticks also stand for the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang. While eating with chopsticks, we use a pincer movement. This means that while one stick stays stationary, the other moves. This shows the balance between yin and yang.
- Our five fingers also stand for the five elements of the world. These elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. The fingers that we use to maneuver the chopsticks represent our balance with earth and heaven.
- Using chopsticks is a sign of showing kindness to your food. When you slow down, you pay attention to that which nourishes you. In a way, chopsticks help you reach a meditative stage while eating food.
What Are The Different Foods You Can Eat With Chopsticks?
Now that we have covered the process of using chopsticks, let’s look at some popular dishes that you could get to try your chopsticks skill on. We will look into our list that includes rice, ramen, and sushi.
It might seem hard to believe but eating rice with chopsticks is possible! When it comes to eating rice, there are two chopstick methods that you could choose from – the clump method and the shovel method.
After you’ve learnt the basics, you can move on to learn how to hold your chopsticks for rice. While maintaining a gap between your chopsticks, insert it in your bowl of rice at an acute angle. Then, start picking up the rice and eating it.
Learn how to hold your chopsticks for rice using the Clump Method: For the Clump Method, hold your chopsticks sideways (using your thumb and index finger). Maintain a firm grip over your chopsticks and pick up some rice with your chopsticks. The Clump Method is useful to eat sticky rice. The aim of this method is to get hold of clumped rice.
Learn how to hold your chopsticks for rice using the Shovel Method: The Shovel Method is an informal method. Do keep in mind that the shovel method is considered rude in formal settings as there is a high likelihood that you might drop some rice.
In this method, you bring the rice bowl closer to your mouth. Then, start picking up and transferring it to your mouth.
If you conjure up an image of chopsticks, you’ll most probably imagine someone with a bowl of ramen and chopsticks in their hand. This has to be the most popular dish for eating with chopsticks. Let’s learn how to eat ramen noodles with chopsticks.
Eating ramen with chopsticks requires some skill. By now, you are probably aware of how to hold your chopsticks in the correct position! So, keeping that lesson in mind, pick up a few noodles. Also, make sure not to load your chopsticks with too many noodles.
Using the tip of your chopsticks, squeeze a bite-sized amount of noodles. Then lift the noodles so that they are completely de-tangled.
Once they are de-tangled, dip it in the bowl again so that you get additional broth and fat for your helping. Next, to eat the noodles, form a shape with your lips similar to when you try to aerate a hot drink.
Sushi is another well-known East Asian dish. For the unaware, it is vinegared rice with added ingredients that include raw or cooked fish. In Japanese, the word ‘sushi’ means ‘sour’. This is because the vinegared rice is sour to taste.
It is acceptable to eat sushi either with your hands or with chopsticks. Infact, if you are eating Nigiri Sushi, it is considered completely normal to use your hands.
On the other hand, Sashimi (fish slices) is eaten with chopsticks. Since it contains no rice, it is easier to grab Sashimi with chopsticks.
To learn how to use chopsticks for sushi, we use the same approach. Place one chopstick in the cradle of your thumb and index finger. Then, proceed to hold the second chopstick like a pencil between your thumb and index finger.
Next, gently pick up the sushi with your chopsticks, and start eating. Also, remember to place the sushi face down on your tongue. This allows you to enjoy the taste and flavor of the fresh fish. Usually, sushi is served in small portions. Hence, it should be eaten in one bite.
The condiments that are offered with sushi include soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger. While sushi is already loaded with soy sauce, if you need extra seasoning you can add the condiment. However, be careful and don’t go overboard with the soy sauce.
In order to cleanse your palette, ginger should be eaten in between bites. As for wasabi, you can add a little amount over your fish. Finally, never mix wasabi with soy sauce. If you do this, wasabi will lose its flavor and aroma.
Chopstick Etiquette and Taboos in Different Countries
We have learnt the art of using chopsticks! Now, it’s time to take it to the next level and familiarize ourselves with some ground rules.
Though chopsticks are common in East Asian countries, you’ll find that different countries follow their own rules and conventions.
However, there’s no need to worry. Once you understand the reasoning behind these rules, following them would be a piece of cake.
By now, you know that the most important etiquette while using chopsticks is to hold it properly. Some other good etiquette rules to follow are – placing your chopsticks in the chopstick holder when not eating or while talking to other diners and taking smaller bites so that you don’t spill your food.
When using chopsticks, there is a list of practices that are considered taboo. The below mentioned list are all complete no-nos. It is better to err on the side of caution by following these rules!
Complete No-Nos while using chopsticks
- Never Place Your Chopsticks in an Upright Position
When it comes to using your chopsticks, holding your chopsticks in an upright position symbolizes funeral practices in some East Asian Countries. This is considered the biggest taboo when using chopsticks. In Japan, during funerals, chopsticks are placed vertically in a bowl of rice.
- Never Point Your Chopsticks at Another Person
It is common knowledge that pointing a finger at another person comes across as disrespectful. Similarly, while eating, pointing your chopstick at another person is considered impolite.
Additionally, make sure that when you place your chopsticks in a resting position, the tip isn’t pointing towards the person sitting across you. This is a sign that shows aiming swords or arrows at the other person.
If you have been provided with a chopsticks rest, you can place your chopsticks on it. If not, you could let the chopsticks rest on your plate, but make sure it is angled away from the diners sitting across you. Additionally, when you are trying to decide what to eat, avoid hovering over the dish with your chopsticks.
- Never Pass Food From One Chopstick to Another Chopstick
This is another chopstick taboo that represents funeral practices. During Japanese funerals, the deceased person’s family passes bone fragments from person to person using chopsticks. Imitating this practice will be a grave mistake.
- Don’t Rub Your Chopsticks
Yet another common blunder is rubbing your chopsticks to remove splinters. Even if you’re dealing with cheap chopsticks, it is seen as a sign of disrespect towards your host.
This is because it gives the host the impression that you do not trust them to provide you with good quality cutlery.
- Don’t Use a Shared Dish as Your Own
It is perfectly okay to take food from shared dishes. However, picking up food with your chopsticks from a shared dish and eating it directly is considered bad manners. You have to first pick up the food from the communal dish, place it in your individual plate, and then proceed to eat.
- Don’t Knock Chopsticks on the Table
Another chopstick taboo is knocking them on the table or your bowl, plate, or dish like a drum stick. In Chinese culture, knocking or tapping bowls with chopsticks is seen as a sign of begging.
- Don’t Suck on Your Chopsticks and Don’t Cross Them
Do not suck or chew on your chopstick. It is considered rude and impolite. Additionally, don’t cross your chopsticks either. In China, it is a symbol that represents death.
From the Shang Dynasty to the globalized world, the evolution of chopsticks has been quite fascinating. Initially used as a cooking tool, it soon found its way on the dinner table. Folktales, Confucius’ philosophy, and the growing population in Ancient China all marked the rise of chopsticks.
With the help of our step by step guide on how to hold chopsticks, you can confidently start using chopsticks. Additionally, keeping in mind common chopsticks etiquette is really important. Hopefully, you’ll go from a chopsticks newbie to a chopsticks connoisseur in no time!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Chopsticks
For ramen, you need to first position your first chopstick in the corner of your thumb and index finger. The second chopstick is placed in the same corner but slightly above the first chopstick and it rests on the middle finger.
The second chopstick should resemble a pencil position. You can then proceed to pick up a few noodles with your chopstick to de-tangle it from the rest. Finally, before eating, you can dip the noodles back in the bowl to soak them in extra broth.
Yes, there is a rude way of holding chopsticks. It is considered rude to point your chopsticks at another person. If you are having a conversation with someone, place your chopsticks in the chopstick holder provided to you.
Additionally, holding your chopsticks and hovering over the dishes for too long, passing food from one chopstick to another chopstick are other faux pas that you need to steer clear from.
While using chopsticks, there are a few rules that you need to follow. Though different Asian countries have their own rules, there are some common conventions followed everywhere.
The seven cardinal chopsticks’ rules are – Never place your chopsticks in an upright position, don’t point your chopsticks at another person, and don’t pass your food from one chopstick to another chopstick.
Also, never rub your chopsticks to get rid of splinters, do not suck on your chopsticks, and don’t cross them. Finally, never use chopsticks to directly eat from communal dishes.
Chinese chopsticks are longer and thicker than their other Asian counterparts. However, the process of holding chopsticks is quite standard in China.
You need to use your dominant hand to place the chopstick in the cradle of your thumb and index finger with support from the ring finger. Next, place the other chopstick in a pencil position in the same nook but slightly above the first chopstick.
The second chopstick will rest on your middle finger. You’ll use the second chopstick to grab the food while the first chopstick remains stationary.
During Ancient China, the population boom led to food scarcity. In order to resolve this, people started cutting their food into smaller pieces to save cost and fuel.
As the size of the food reduced, it completely eliminated the need to use knives at the table.
During this time, chopsticks were the perfect alternative during this time. Its ability to pick up small food pieces made it an eating utensil. Soon, the use of chopsticks spread from China to other East Asian countries
If you are a health-conscious person, you might find chopsticks to be a better option. It helps you in weight management, aids in digestion, and allows you to practice mindful eating.
However, it is quite difficult to use chopsticks while dealing with certain foods. Hence, if you would like to complete your meal faster, you might want to stick to forks.