Can you use chopsticks?

I remember the first time I used chopsticks. We were at Aiea Chop Suey (HA!); it was my mom, my younger brother, and me. We were not given any silverware, just those horrible off-white plastic set of sticks.

“Uh, I said. “How are we supposed to eat this?”

My mom was already eating. She laughed.

I knew this was one of those “figure it out, kids” moments, so my brother and I awkwardly held the chopping sticks in our small hands, looked at how my mother was holding them, and gave it a go (more like a stab).

There was no way I was going to starve. It was sink or swim, baby.

Actually, I learned to swim at the recreation center. My dad was much more civilized than my mom.

Interestingly, my mom, brother, and I all hold our chopsticks differently.

An heaping plate of delicious pad Thai, 2017. (*note the fork and spoon that is used for most dishes in Thailand)

There was this time when my brother and I were at the dinner table and I chose a fork over chopsticks for the noodles we were eating. He looked pointedly at my choice and made a tsk-tsk sound.

Look, I can use them. It’s just I like to eat, and chopsticks make me eat slower. I wasn’t raised to bring the bowl up to my snout and push food in.

This reminds me of when my friend Y, who was raised in Japan, did this at a vegetarian restaurant in Chiang Mai. I was definitely surprised when she put the plate of morning glory to her lips and started shoveling the vegetables in. Thais are very polite eaters.

For example, when they are eating a bowl of noodle soup, the ladies put their noodles in their duck spoon before eating them. They don’t pick up some noodles and eat them directly from the chopsticks. It’s a very methodical dainty way to eat, and yeah, sometimes I do like the locals, other times, I’m like f- it.

I’ve listened to my mom talk down about how foreigners eat their noodles, raising them high above their heads and trying to get their mouths under the dangling strings.

Thais also had a fit when the Chinese starting coming over here in droves. As you can imagine, spitting bones on the restaurant floor did not go over too well in the Land of Smiles. Although just over the border in Cambodia it’s common for men to slurp their food.

Fried spring rolls, pumpkin and tofu and yellow noodles, oh my, Siem Reap, 2017.

The first time I heard this, my eyes got wide, and then I immediately thought, “this must be cultural’. But my fellow American expats went crazy over this. I mean, a couple of them were like, “OMG. I have to leave the room” and left. Now, of course, I get it, you don’t get used to the sound, but as Dorothy said, “We’re not in Kansas anymore!”

My BF used to live in China so I think he fancies himself a chopstick expert. I’m not expert. I would say I’m above-average because of my creativity. Sometimes, I separate the sticks to pull things apart. I cut food using them. I stab food. Dumplings are slippery, and I don’t care if you judge me! Poking food also releases steam, and I hate burning my tongue on hot foods.

Here I am demonstrating “the ‘ol pulling apart food with the chopsticks” routine… [Chiang Mai, 2013]
When I was in grad school, my dear friends consisted of a Hawaiian-Chinese, Korean-American, and a Latina from Texas. One day, we decided to get sushi and headed to a park near downtown Honolulu. It was here we discovered that our favorite Mexican American didn’t know how to use chopsticks. We watched fascinated as she tried to pick up her food. We were all laughing, but then we told her to pick up her food with her hands already; it was getting too painful to watch.

But even if you are proficient in using chopsticks, the BF is totally grossed out with using your personal chopsticks to dip into communal dishes – which I understand. It’s funny because if you did this with your own fork or spoon, everyone would be like, whaaat? But somehow using chopsticks makes it seem “cultural” and less of a sanitary issue than it is.

Did you just double dip?

Although, I should mention that I’m not THAT creative with chopsticks. As in, I haven’t killed anyone by using them as a weapon as I’ve seen in kung fu movies. I have put them in my hair though. And they are great for supporting growing plants. My mom uses wooden ones as kindling for getting the BBQ going.

Oh, my Buddha, aren’t we Asian enough?

Spicy! [Khao soi, Chiang Rai, 2014]

Do you remember when you learned to use chopsticks?

40 thoughts on “Can you use chopsticks?

  1. I was never formally taught how to use chopsticks as a kid in my Chinese family. My parents simply handed me chopsticks at a young age, made some vague gestures on how to hold them and off I went using them. They did let me use fork and spoons more often, though. But these days when I eat Chinese food in a restaurant, I use chopsticks. Same goes for when I’m eating Chinese of Asian noodles at home.

    Like you, I’m not that creative with chopsticks and many have said my chopstick holding technique is weird. Maybe it has got to the with the shape of one of my thumb and this thumb can’t bend very well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Speaking of thumbs, for years I didn’t realize that the way I hold my pen or pencil is incorrect. I compensate by wrapping my thumb over it instead of “pinching” the pen.

      Now I’m curious how you hold your chopsticks!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gosh I wish I could remember when I learned to use chopsticks. It was well before I moved to Japan that’s for sure. Maybe it was sometime when Chinese takeout was wildly popular as was eating said takeout out of those white paper cartons with chopsticks. Who knows? I do know that some Japanese people are beyond floored that silly Westerners know how to use chopsticks. To quote Elle Woods: “What? Like it’s hard?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahah. Yes, it was tres trendy wasn’t it to eat out of the takeout boxes. Which reminds me of sushi becoming popular in America, and then suddenly using chopsticks became really important. Those buggers are tricky. I feel like such a pig stuffing a whole crab roll in my mouth. 😛

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  3. I was never taught how to use chopsticks either, like Mabel. I just figured it out on my own, I guess (I have no memory of this), and I apparently do it “wrong.” I have no shame in using chopsticks to stab and pull apart. They’re very versatile! I also cannot eat long pasta with a fork. Twirling is so tedious and doesn’t work well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Twirling is so tedious” – hahahhaha. I’ve never heard that before 😛

      And um, I doubt you use chopsticks wrong. Is there a wrong way to hold them? Like I said, I’ve looked around the table and noticed that everyone is holding them differently. Now, I need to pay attention to this again!

      Like

  4. I love this, because it’s such a simple cultural thing that speaks to how different we all are around the globe. Food etiquette has been used as a kind of metaphor or analogy to culture in many books I’ve read, and it is really fascinating how differently people eat, and because it’s such an important part of EVERY culture, can be quite significant. The rituals around (or not around) eating vary. I remember when I was first learning about Korean culture, one of the things always mentioned was food, because Koreans tend to approach eating differently than Americans. I mean, watch any Kdrama and you’ll know; mothers constantly worrying about how their kids are eating, moms sending a million tupperware side dishes to kids and kid’s friends who don’t have food (i.e a bursting-full fridge), people sitting to eat breakfast with over a dozen plates on the table…and of course, communal food, where everyone can double-dip with their chopsticks. It was a lot of fun to experience that side of Korea in such a visceral way, and I would love to tour other countries and really get to know their food rituals, particularly in culinary hotspots like France or Italy.

    But yeah, I can use chopsticks really well. Had to, when you’re presented with the thin, slippery metal ones in Korea…

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    1. Oooo. Yes, the thin metal ones. Horrible invention. I went through a phase when I requested wooden chopsticks in restaurants when they gave me anything slick and difficult to use.

      Food culture around the world is definitely interesting. I have to admit though I fear going to India as a left-handed person 😛

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  5. Great chopsticks post! I remember my Chinese neighbors taught me how to use chopsticks (not my mom, surprisingly). The father of my friend told me to hold one like a pen and then insert the other one in. I was super proud that day.

    The communal chopstick thing is gross… but totally normal in China. I never realized how unsanitary it was until I left China.

    I also use chopsticks for weird purposes… to stir tea, to stir cocktails, and I use them to scramble eggs. When my former british roommate saw me do this, she said: “wow, you’re so Asian.”

    I heard in Thailand they don’t use chopsticks that often… is that true?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks!

      I’ve tried scrambling eggs with chopsticks, but it seems weird. I rather use a fork or a beater. Although, now that I think about it, I do use them to stir the coffee in my French Press.

      Handy things, them chopping sticks. My roommates thought I was brilliant in the kitchen because I could make fried rice and easy Asian dishes – it’s all in the oyster sauce – but I suspect it was the way I looked too 😛

      Yeah, Thailand is more a fork and spoon place. Chopsticks are for bowls of noodle soup, and really not much else comes to mind.

      Like

  6. I remember when my white American family first started eating sushi. No one used chop sticks — we would just pick up the sushi pieces with our hands. Then I got older and went out for sushi with my friends and realized that was really not a a cool thing to do. I think that’s when I learned how to use chopsticks (albeit badly and I’m still bad) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, we do have quite a few Chinese people here and Chinese food is popular (as is sushi). So there’s more than I expected!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Interesting. I know about the Indian population there which was surprising, like really surprising. But when I was in Ecuador, I wasn’t expecting to see Chinese there. So. There you have it – the Chinese get around 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  7. when I was around 10-14 yrs. old, my mother suddenly told me I was holding my chopsticks wrong…I don’t use my index finger as a lever. I use the middle finger. So she tried to correct me which I willingly acquiesce. Unfortunately my fingers were getting sore.

    She was wise enough to let it go. After all, she should have told me much younger at that time!!! I use chopsticks to whip eggs quickly for scrambling or mixing a sauce. Or for baking..to take out sticky muffin dough from the spoon into muffin cup tin. 🙂

    Honest, that’s the measure of fusion living….raised on chopsticks in North Amercia but using them for other types of cooking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How interesting. I’ve never heard or seen someone use their middle finger and now I see from comments that two of you do it this way! I suppose it doesn’t really matter as long as you get the job done though, right?

      Yes, fusion living indeed. I think when I’m frying certain foods, chopsticks make more sense. I suppose they are like tongs that way.

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  8. Lani!!!

    I must say how happy you look and sound as of late!!! 🙂

    My oldest friend’s mother was of Italian descent and a transplant from New Jersey, to my home state of Washington. She was the one who taught me to use chopsticks. My folks were from Southern Illinois and Oklahoma, making them charming, but nonetheless useless in the art of using bamboo sticks to consume and enjoy a meal with. Yep,the plastic and metal ones are worst!!

    Back to my first statement now. Through your words, and the number of posts you have made of late, I can tell that your personal funk has retreated. My heart feels so happy for you. Sometimes we all need to go about in our own personal hell for awhile, just to emerge and see how wonderful this world of our can really be!!!

    All the best to you,

    Guy C.

    PS: Happy belated or early birthday to you, My Dear!!!

    Oh, one last thought. My chopstick style is to use my middle finger and the web of my hand for the support stick. The action stick uses my index finger and thumb to get the job done. Bon Appetit!!!! ♥

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How funny. I love these answers. Thanks for the kind words and birthday message, but actually my birthday is still coming up. I wrote that previous post early, but it was on my mind.

      My “personal funk” as you gently put it has mostly abated, but trust me, this is life. It comes and goes, but I hope the worst of it is behind me. Thank you. xxoo

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pretty much all I can eat with chopsticks is sushi. It’s also the one thing I just have to. It doesn’t seem right any other way. I’m impressed with your skills because mine are so very minimal, and I love how they look when people use them well! You know you’re a master when you can catch a fly 😊.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m still sometimes asked by Chinese people if I can use chopsticks. It would be fun if I couldn’t after more than 10 years living in China, haha. I only learned when I arrived here… it was either that or using my hand. I do think chopsticks make more sense that a fork when food is already cut to bite size (so, they are perfect for Chinese food, haha).

    I’ve never seen anyone eating noodles the way your mum said! It sounds very complicated and a perfect way to drip sauce/soup on your face and your clothes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahha. Yeahhhh, chopsticks are so perfect for Chinese food. The Japanese might also have a say, too.

      No, I never have seen that either. Either my mom saw some folks having a laugh or they were really struggling. It reminds me of something that kids do.

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  11. Chopsticks! I learned to use them on a visit to my grandparents’ hometown in China when I was 11 (12?) and I remember as an exchange student in Singapore years later, my classmates commented about how I was using my chopsticks the correct way (3 fingers) as opposed to the lazier “2 finger” way. According to them, the 3 finger way is more stable and can hold a lot more food. My grandma says the same so I guess to some, there’s a right way. I think whatever works, works – there isn’t any one style. With that said, I wouldn’t change my 3 finger way as I’m used to it.

    Regarding the communal plates, what I’ve been taught is to switch to the other ends of the chopsticks when getting something from the shared plates. Then I switch back for my own food. So when I’m done, both ends of the chopsticks are dirty.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! OMG. We’ve got an expert! I think I need to eat noodles today to watch the BF. I just went to the kitchen and held chopsticks and I see I hold them the 3 finger way. Whew.

      Using the other ends? I’ve never heard or seen that. I don’t think I could do it. We just ask for extra chopsticks or a serving spoon. Thanks, Daisy!

      Like

      1. Lol, I wouldn’t say personally the way with 2 fingers is wrong. It’s more like what we learn first is easier to just keep going at than having to change later. If food goes in our mouths without dropping it, we’re good. 😎

        I thought of your post today btw while I was having ramen for lunch. I actually didn’t realize how much I use them in my everyday routine until I read your post. I eat with chopsticks at least half of the week! I even have a favorite pair in my bag.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Why am I not surprised you have your own pair in your bag? 😀

        I know. I was thinking about all this as I plucked the toast out of the toaster with chopsticks. Hahahhaa. As in we keep them next to the toaster…

        Like

  12. The post title just cracked me up. After living in Korea for four years, I returned to the USA. A Korean person I with went to a Korean restaurant after getting back. After ordering our food, the Korean waitress turned to my friend and said, in Korean, “Can the foreigner (외국인) use chopsticks?” Hilarious. Will never forget that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nah, I’m a Taurus. I know my moon sign and rising sign and all that, too. But I also know my blood type, so I’m not a complete loon. Hahahaha. But, Gemini, yeah, I know folks like you 😉

      Like

      1. Lani,

        As an ex-medical professional (Is there such a thing? LOL), it is crazy how many of us guys cannot remember our blood types; so good for you!!

        BUT my rising is Libra and my Moon is Taurus. Ain’t that some silly stuff!! 🙂

        Also, I have an inordinate amount of “May Babies” as lifelong besties!!! Who knows why? But I still find stuff like this interesting.

        “Hey, Mike, Lani just posted something new!!”

        That is a statement that even perks our Shih Tzu’s ears, and get’s us all ready for me reading aloud and them listening to something fun and interesting. Your photos are put directly from the laptop to a brilliant LCD TV via HDMI cable. Gosh, this really is a “Beautiful World” after all. 🙂

        I have been following your blog just before you left CM or right after you moved to CR. Hey, in internet terms, that is a long time!!!

        Someday I would like to meet in person and introduce you and your BF to my hubby, Mike. But for now, it sounds like both our lives are going to be in a funky but interesting flux. (Shhhhhh….CDMX rocks. This town may of trapped me, LOL!!!)

        Once again, thank you for your POV’s; they rock your many friend’s world!!!!

        Guy.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You really know how to make a girl feel good and special! 😉

        Libra moon, yo.

        Yes, when the stars align we will have to meet.

        Thank you. Truly. Really. Hugs from the ‘rai!

        Like

  13. I use/hold chopsticks differently to how you’re supposed to, too! I can’t remember the exact moment I learnt how to use chopsticks, but when I was a kid, almost every Friday night we went to a Chinese restaurant for our end-of-week family meal. The waiters and owners always asked chopsticks or fork and spoon. My dad always went for the cutlery, which made the servers chuckle, but I remember my mum would always ask for both. So I’d do the same. She’d try to help me use the chopsticks, and I guess it’s stuck ever since.

    We bought some ridiculously overpriced (but still cheap by western standards) chopsticks from Vietnam, and they’re always brought out of the cutlery draw whenever we order Thai or Sushi. Though, sometimes if I’m really hungry, I’ll reach for the fork first 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  14. For me, I still prefer fork and spoon or fork and knife.
    I find chopsticks a hassle to use though it may be quite useful for certain food.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. My Jewish-White adoptive parents learned how to use chopsticks well before I ever did. I was the weird Korean Kid at the Chinese Restaurant always requesting a fork and knife. I think I was in college, when I acquired a taste for sushi and finally learned how to use them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Just goes to show you – you can’t judge a book by its cover 😉 Thanks for finding me, Dan! I shall stalk you when my life returns back to normal!

      Like

  16. Heh. Whenever I eat pho, I put the noodles in the spoon. How else would you get a mouthful of noodles and broth? For me it’s not about dainty, it’s about getting the perfect mouthful.
    And when I eat rice with chopsticks, I totally pick up the bowl and shovel it in. I find it more elegant than picking up bitefuls, but having a long path to the mouth that increases the odds of it all falling apart, no matter how skilled I may or may not be. (I’m medium skilled, I guess.)
    I honestly don’t remember when I learned to use chopsticks. I do remember that a lot of Asian-American restaurants have those wooden chopsticks that are held together with a rubber band and a piece of paper wedged for space. The training wheels of chopsticks. Those were cute.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is TRUE. In each spoonful you can pick up what you want and get certain flavors in every bite. I’m just such a hungry hungry hippo I feel like I just want all of the soup in my gullet as quickly as possible 😀

      Yeah, if there’s rice to eat, I’ll use a spoon. Even in Japanese or Chinese restaurants where it is completely acceptable and even expected to pick up the bowl to your lips. I’d probably miss my mouth if I used the “chopsticks as shovel” method.

      I was wondering when someone was going to bring up “training wheels” chopsticks! They look funny, but I’ve never tried them. They might rock!

      Like

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