The Chopstick Challenge
When you sit down to eat a delicious Asian meal, do you find yourself facing the chopstick challenge? I used to! When I was a child, there was always something very intriguing about the two sticks sitting next to my bowl at the local Chinese restaurant. I always found myself having to give them a try. I was never very successful and had to revert back to the fork so as not to starve, but it was always fun trying. It adds to the whole experience and flavour of your meal if you can eat it the way it is intended to be eaten. I never at that time dreamed that one day I'd be eating every meal, everyday, with two wooden sticks.
A 60 Second Run Down On How To Hold Your Chopsticks
How To Position You Chopsticks
I think it's very important to point out, right from the beginning, that whilst there is "technically" a correct way to hold chopsticks, everyone is different and for many it becomes a case of however you can get the food from the bowl to your mouth, without spilling it all over the table. In the fun instructional video I put together below, you can see the "technically correct" way to hold the chopsticks and you can also see my unconventional way, which is how they best work for me. Among the people I know, everyone holds their sticks a little differently, it really comes down to what is comfortable for you, but there are some basic guidelines you can follow... so let's have a look.
PICKING UP YOUR STICKS
When picking up your chopsticks, make sure that you position them the correct way around in your hand. The thick end of the chopstick is the back-end, this is the end that is placed near the base of you thumb and pointer finger. The thin end of the stick is the end that we use to pick up the food.
When you are first learning to hold the sticks correctly, you will probably feel it is easier to hold the chopsticks around the middle. This is because it feels like you can get a firmer grip on the food, however, you will soon find that this gives you less control, is not comfortable and will not allow you open the chopsticks wide enough to pick up larger objects. The correct way is to make sure that no more than 10 cm of stick is showing at the back. The sooner you can get used to holding them further back along the stick, the easier it will become to pick up a whole different array of food. If you find your hand naturally slipping down lower on the sticks as you eat (it happens often) make sure that you pull the sticks back into position or turn your hand over and tap the base of the sticks on the table or side of the bowl pushing the sticks back to where they should be.
Breaking Down The Grip
It's not really normal to pick up each stick individually but for the purpose of showing you how the sticks should be positioned, lets start at the absolute beginning.
Start by picking up the stick in a very relaxed manner, concentrating on getting it positioned correctly.
Now grip the stick between your thumb and pointer finger, making sure that it is resting on top of your middle finger. It is a very similar holding position to that which you would use if you were holding a pen.
Pick up the other chopstick and slide the base of it through the hole created on the inside of your thumb and pointer finger.
NOTE : Even though you are gripping the top stick now, your hands should still feel relaxed as the stick is resting on your middle finger.
Experiment a little trying to open and close the end of the chopsticks as if grabbing food. The bottom chopstick should stay still. Only the top stick should be moving.
Once you think the sticks are comfortable and working with you and not against you, start experimenting by trying to pick up some food.
Things To Remember
- If you don't keep your hand reasonably relaxed, it will start to ache from gripping the chopsticks too hard for too long.
- If you're eating from shared dishes, hold your bowl with your other hand and place it near the main plate of food, this way you don't have such a long distance to try and successfully get the food from the plate to your bowl.
- Hold your bowl close to your mouth when you are using your chopsticks to scoop your rice, otherwise you could end up with your dinner in your lap.
- For most western cultures, it is considered rude to drink soup from the bowl, but in China, drinking from the bowl and putting your mouth to the edge of the bowl to scoop your food with your chopsticks is very common. It is not common here to actually touch your food with your hands, in fact they will even often supply disposable gloves if you buy something that absolutely must be eaten by hand, like a sandwich.
Chinese people are very superstitious and the one main superstition that you will commonly come across to do with chopsticks, is to not stand them into your bowl of rice. The reason behind this is that the two chopsticks standing up in a bowl of food actually closely resembles the incense sticks that are burned when people die. This being the case... if you do this, Chinese people apparently believe that it indicates death in some way. I say "apparently" because many of my friends actually do stand their chopsticks in to their bowls of rice. When I questioned them about this, many had never heard of this superstition and some had heard of it but don't believe in it. This may vary from family to family or even region to region. Just to be safe and not offend or worry anyone, I don't do it. The correct thing to do if you need to put your chopsticks down is to lay your chopsticks across the top of your bowl or if available, lay them on to chopstick holders.