As a Korean, I think I may have been born with chopsticks in hand. I don't remember ever learning how to use them, they were just in my hands and I never knew the struggle as an adult. My wonderful boyfriend, an Englishman, had used them before but was not blessed with the years of practice and I got to put him through chopstick boot camp before he met my Asian grandparents. Let's just say that they were impressed and giggling through the meal.
The gentle nature of wooden chopsticks makes them a great tool on non-stick pans. They're my bacon flippers, scrambled egg mixers, Flaming Hot Cheeto grabbers, and my all-around finger extensions. Continue reading to learn how to officially use them and also learn how not to offend cultures while you do.
"Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.”
― Laurence Sterne
As food evolves, the tools to eat them adapt along with them. The three most popular chopstick types (from left to right) are Korean, Japanese, and Chinese chopsticks.
The Korean chopsticks are typically made of metal and often have beautiful patterns and engravings around the handle. They're usually flat as opposed to round, so it might take a bit of getting used to, and people often find them slippery. The ones shown are a bit heavier, so if you don't use chopsticks every day, they might be a bit tiring to you. There are round, hollow versions with more pointed and grooved tips that are lighter and grippier than its predecessor.
The Japanese chopsticks are usually wooden and have highly pointed tips, helpful for picking out bones in their fishy dishes. They're typically shorter than most of the other styles, and are treated as an artisanal craft. If you make it over to Japan, you can get your own custom pairs or find adorably printed ones for less than $1.
The Chinese chopsticks are some of the longest chopsticks and you'll often find them made of plastic which make them a bit slippery as well. People have found these hard to use because of their thicker tips, but with a bit of practice, they're great for stuffing your face.
How to use them
The struggle is real sometimes. Slippery noodles escaping your grip just as they're in reach of your anxious chompers. The splash. The shame. The sadness.
Knowing how to use chopsticks in the first task. Here's a video by Layana Cutlery called How To Hold Chopsticks Correctly. This is how I was taught, but if you have your own way that works for you, go right ahead.
If you're still struggling or are teaching your kids, here's an cost-friendly way to make trainer chopsticks. Just roll up the wrapper or a piece of paper, wedge it in between your chopsticks and secure the paper with a rubber band. Make sure you wrap above the paper a few more times than below so that they naturally open up for you.
There are plenty of plastic attachments out on the internet, but I would never be able to fork out money for something I can DIY.
So where do we put our chopsticks if we can't put them on our bowls or plates or in our mouths?! Chopstick holders! In nicer asian restaurants they'll provide holders at the table. I often make my own paper holders out of the wrappers they come in. Here's a great tutorial by BeatTheBush where he shows you how to make your own holders at varying levels of difficulty.
The asian market has blown up with cute accessories such as these cat chopstick holders. There are pandas, bananas, fish, sushi, leaves, frogs...the possibilities are endless. I'd love to see what funky holders you all have out there.
Countries have their own rules and superstitions, so I'll try to break it down as much as possible. In general, I'd avoid sticking your chopsticks straight into a bowl of rice as it is assimilated with death since funerals often have bowls of rice with chopsticks or incense standing straight up. It's bad luck in pretty much every Asian country, so avoid it at all costs.
In Korea, it's custom to wait for the elders to eat before you, so picking up your chopsticks first is a taboo. Bringing your bowl close to your face when eating is also frowned upon.
In Japan, avoid crossing your chopsticks as it's seen as bad luck and a symbol of death. It's also seen as bad etiquette to place your chopsticks on top of your bowl while you're not eating.
Finally, in China, the major taboos are spearing your food with your chopsticks, digging through your food to get something in particular, and tapping your chopsticks against your bowl. To be fair, that all sounds fairly annoying anyway.
I hope this was helpful for all of you and that you'll be showing off your skills to all of your asian friends. They'll appreciate the effort at least.