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Chopsticks

Chopsticks are the traditional eating utensils, pairs of small tapering sticks, of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam (the four "Chopstick countries"). Chopsticks are commonly made of wood, bone or ivory, but in modern times, plastic as well.

Table of contents

Names

"Chopstick" is the pidgin-English and English name for the implements. "Chop" is pidgin-English for "quick", the Mandarin word for chopsticks being kuizi (筷子) or kui'er (筷兒), meaning "the bamboo-objects for eating quickly". However, originally in Classical Chinese and some older literature, they are zh (箸), possibly just a phonetic character that merely indicates that the object is made of bamboo.

Although the Hanzi, zh, also spread to Japan. It's more commonly hashi. And in Korea, neither of the Chinese words are used now at all, but s__k (젓가락) is used instead, which means "__".

Usage

Held between the thumb and fingers of the right hand, they are used as tongs to take up portions of the food, which is brought to table cut up into small and convenient pieces, or as means for sweeping the rice and small particles of food into the mouth from the bowl. Many rules of etiquette govern the proper conduct of the chopsticks.

Chopsticks are traditionally held in the right hand only, even by the left-handed. (In East Asia, as in Muslim countries, the left hand is used in the toilet, the right hand used for eating.) In modern times, biases against left-handed eating are becoming less severe, and so chopsticks might be held with either hand. Chopsticks are simple in design - merely two thin rods (top and bottom area smaller than one square centimeter, length varies), each with one end slightly smaller than the other. The smaller, round ends come in contact with the food. In practice, their use is an acquired skill that can take some mastery. In addition, East Asian food is generally geared to be eaten with chopsticks. For example, rice in East Asia is often prepared to be sticky; rice prepared by Western methods to be "fluffy" and particulate is extremely difficult to eat with chopsticks.

Types

There are three main styles of chopsticks:

  • Chinese: long, wooden sticks that taper to a rounded end.
  • Japanese: short, wooden sticks that taper to a pointed end
  • Korean: short, metal sticks that taper to a blunted end

How to use

  1. Put one chopstick between the palm and the base of the thumb,
  2. Use the ring finger (the third finger) to support the lower part of the stick.
  3. With the thumb, squeeze the stick down while the ring finger pushes it up. The stick should be stationary and very stable.
  4. Use the tips of the thumb, the index and middle finger to hold the other stick like an ink pen.
  5. Make sure the tips of the two sticks line up.
  6. Pivot the upper stick up and down towards the stationary lower stick.
  7. With enough practice, the two sticks function like a pair of pincers.
  8. For easier handling in the beginning, hold the sticks at the midpoint as a child would do. With proficiency, hold the sticks at the upper ends for a farther reach and a more mature look.

General etiquette

  • The chopsticks should not touch the mouth. It is also poor table manners to suck on the tip of the chopsticks.
  • If there are serving spoons or public chopsticks on the table, use those to get the food to your own plate/bowl before switching to your own set.
  • After you have picked up an item, it is yours. You should not put it back in the dish. (So set your aim before raising your chopsticks.)
  • It may be a polite gesture to pick up the best piece of food and send it to your guests' bowl. (Use caution in this practice; many people observe some kind of special diet and picking food for your guests may not be appropriate to each person's tastes. Furthermore, it may be best, due to hygienic concern, to use the serving utensil instead of your own chopsticks if you perform this gesture.)
  • Never rest your chopsticks by sticking them point-first into your bowl of rice. This is reminiscent of ancestral offerings and can be seen as disrespectful.

Chinese etiquette

  • Dishes are usually prepared in such a way that each piece is bite-sized so if the item is too small or too big to be picked up by the chopsticks, then it is not designed to be eaten with the chopsticks.
  • The rice bowl[?] is raised to the mouth and the rice is shoved into the mouth using the chopsticks. If rice is served on a plate, as is more common in the West, you should eat it with a fork or spoon. It is quite tedious to try to pick up the rice, grain by grain. Picking up rice from a plate with chopsticks is an indication that someone is a beginner at using them.
    • Chinese don't traditionally eat rice from a plate[?], but bowl.

Japanese etiquette

In general, chopsticks should be used for eating and no other purpose. Do not point with chopsticks, or gesture with them, or use as drumsticks, or use to bang on a dish or bowl to catch the attention of a waiter or waitress or mother or father.

  • Do not dig around in dishes for choice bits of food. Eat from the top and choose what is to be eaten before reaching with chopsticks (don't hover around or poke looking for special ingredients).
  • Never stab or pierce any food with chopsticks.
  • Never stand chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice (or anything else, for that matter, but rice especially because the act is part of a funeral rite)
  • Don't move dishes around with chopsticks.
  • Don't lick or suck the ends of chopsticks.
  • Don't let food drop off ends of chopsticks.
  • Don't shove food into your mouth with chopsticks. Soup bowls, but no other dishes or bowls are brought to the mouth in Japan.
  • Never touch food in a common dish with the pointed (eating) end of chopsticks. Use the blunt end to transfer food from a common dish to your own plate or bowl (never your mouth). (No hygiene problems if all do this.)
  • Never use chopsticks to transfer something to someone else's chopsticks or someone else's plate or bowl.
  • Place pointed ends of the chopsticks on a chopstick rest when chopsticks are not being used.

Korean etiquette

  • It is clear that the small surface area of the chopsticks makes rapid eating less efficient than with a larger implement. And unlike most Asian countries, Koreans tend to use a spoon for a lot of the things chopsticks are used for. Koreans use a spoon for their rice and soup, and chopsticks for everything else at the table.

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