Friday, October 16, 2009

Culture Lesson: Chopsticks Etiquette

Friends, family, strangers, I have a secret: I'm a snob regarding chopsticks etiquette. I'm not Miss Manners, but when I'm done with you, you'll (hopefully) never rub your chopsticks ever again. And if you do—and my goodness you had better not—I take every right to tell you to knock it off.

Chopsticks are a funny thing to Westerners. For Asian countries, chopsticks are utensils, and no matter where you're using them, that is how they should be treated. You wouldn't commit these faux pas with a fork, knife, or spoon, and a pair of chopsticks is off limits too.

With that reminder, let's get to a bulleted list of faux pas and general advice.

General Use
Most of these notes are because the actions are considered crass, insensitive, and rude. Before you start, ask yourself if you would do with this another utensil of object at home or in another restaurant. Please note that some rules vary by country and/or region, and that this is a general guide.

  • The chopsticks you receive in the restaurant are probably wood. Chopsticks may be made out of a more durable material, such as bone, bamboo, or plastic. If your pair is wood, pull the chopsticks apart carefully. Do NOT treat the chopsticks like a wish bone. If you bungle your pull-apart, politely ask for a new pair.

  • Do NOT rub the chopsticks together. Do not point, drum on the table, impersonate a walrus, or otherwise abuse the chopsticks in any "comical" way.

  • Do NOT deliberately chew or bite your chopsticks.

  • Do NOT stab or impale your food.

  • Do NOT stick your chopsticks in your food, plate, or bowl upright. (The chopsticks now resemble funeral rites.)

  • When reaching for food from a communal bowl or plate, DO use the opposite ends of your chopsticks to obtain the food. It's bad etiquette to let the saliva end of your chopsticks to touch or engage in activity with something that will be eaten by someone else. And Buddhist ceremonies transfer bones from narrow end to narrow end. (Sometimes serving chopsticks are provided. These are a different color to distinguish their purpose.)

  • DO take food from the top.

  • DO rest your chopsticks appropriately:

  • If the restaurant does not provide the utensils you are accustomed to, and you feel uncomfortable with chop sticks, politely inquire if you may have a fork.
  • Just Hungry notes that many cultures consider left-handed eating to be very rude. I'm left-handed and though flexible, more apt to drop and spill using my right I'll happily give you a pass here and hope that in America at least, other diners will too. (I promise to eat at a snail's pace abroad. Friends, let the shame begin in the comments.)

Chopsticks and Sushi

Please refer to the gorgeous illustration above from the September 2005 issue of Food & Wine, reprinted without permission from publication, publisher, or illustrator Peter Arkle. Please note the rule regarding mixing wasabi and soy sauce. Please, if you must be so uncouth, paint the two on your sushi with ginger or gently dip your sushi in the condiments.

Have any questions? Leave a comment. Feel lost? Let's go get sushi!

Update: Washington Post Magazine had a great graphic in its Dec. 6 issue. Have a look@

Additional Resources:
Sushi in America, Food & Wine (September 2005)
Sushi Bar Tutorial & Etiquette, Sushi Secrets
Your guide to better chopstick etiquette (mostly Japanese), Just Hungry (When I read Maki's post last January I cheered!)
The Breakdown: Sushi Secrets, Washington Post Magazine


L said...

Dude. The Wallman got sushi last week as we departed Eugene and, as he was driving, I had to assist him in eating it. He was impressed with my adeptedness in using chopsticks. Just thought you should know.

Alyson & Ford said...

Love your writings. I am writing a post about your blog as I found it so interesting and useful. Probably be up in a week or so!

Alyzabeth's Mommy for One Year!

Personalized chopsticks said...

Learning how to eat with chopsticks is not as difficult as it appears, and like all things in life, practice makes perfect! Chinese food is often prepared and served in small bite-size pieces, which makes it easy when eating with chopsticks.