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.
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.
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.
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?
Do you remember when you learned to use chopsticks?