By Clarissa Wei for Food Network Kitchen
Clarissa Wei is a freelance journalist based in Taipei.
The humble chopstick, which originated in China but is used all over Asia, is a versatile and sometimes the only tool needed to enjoy a meal. When I was a kid, learning how to hold a person properly was a rite of passage; when I was a toddler, my Taiwanese parents would hold their breath and watch. In the end I made it (every kid got it eventually) and they all breathed a sigh of relief knowing that I was now ready to face the world alone.
Now, according to some, there is actually a proper way to hold chopsticks (more on that below), and in some households, being able to hold chopsticks perfectly is a sign of a well-mannered child. I, on the one hand, are a chopstick liberal and believe that achievement lies in being able to pick up food with relative ease – not the accuracy of two sticks relative to each other.
The perfect way to hold chopsticks
If you’re after perfection, the correct way to use chopsticks is to keep them parallel to each other at all times.
1. Place the bottom chopsticks. Let the back end of it fit in the gap between your thumb and index finger, and the front end on the bottom of your ring finger. Put your thumb on the chopsticks.
2. Put chopsticks on. Keeping your thumb straight, hold the top chopstick like a pen and place it in the space between the upper knuckle of your middle finger and the tip of your index finger.
3. Always keep the bottom chopsticks fixed and only move the top chopsticks. To move the bottom chopsticks, bend your middle and index fingers (while not bending your thumb).
Adjust the position of the chopsticks accordingly to feel comfortable; you should grab the top third of the chopsticks, not the middle.
Practice regularly. If this isn’t the most comfortable way for you to hold your chopsticks, then switch it up until you can pick up food quickly and comfortably without dropping it.
Once you get the hang of it, chopsticks can be used to eat anything. Pick vegetables and protein; some more advanced chopstick users can even pick up grains of rice. Chopsticks are especially good for gripping long, slippery noodles.
What not to eat with chopsticks
There are not so many hard and fast rules when it comes to chopsticks. The only major faux pas is placing a pair upright in a bowl of rice, which is considered a major taboo in East Asian culture. The upright chopsticks resemble a pair of incense sticks, symbolizing death and reminiscent of altars dedicated to the dead.
Some may also consider it rude to stab your food with chopsticks, but if you’re a beginner, most people tend to forgive this.
Also, depending on who you are dining with, always seriously consider whether you should use your own personal chopsticks for home-style dishes. For hygienic reasons, some families insist on using a second pair of communal chopsticks to hold food.
what chopsticks do you use
For starters, I find wood or bamboo to be the easiest materials to start with; these chopsticks are easier to grip. Lacquer chopsticks are also great and last much longer than wood.
There are also stainless steel chopsticks, more typical of Korean dishes, but it can be slippery and difficult to use if you haven’t mastered chopstick wielding.
At the end of the day – no matter what people say – there is more than one correct way to hold chopsticks. As one of the most used vessels in the world, there is a lot of room for flexibility. You just need a little practice.
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