Somewhere during the 1980’s Americans were told “there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s.” True as this may be there is one caveat: unless you’re eating with chopsticks. Chopsticks, like a fork and knife, come with their own set of rules and proper decorum. There is a right way and a wrong way to eat with chopsticks. Use them properly, and you will be seen as graceful and respectful. Go the wrong way, and you may not only offend your host, but you may even press bad luck upon your table!
Assuming you've passed the training chopsticks phase, let’s ensure you know what is right from wrong when using chopsticks. Some of these require a certain understanding of Asian cultures, and some are just common sense.
Don’t Stab Your Food. It may be second nature to pierce food with a knife and fork, but with chopsticks, it’s unacceptable. In many Asian countries, chefs take extra care to prepare intricate and ornate foods, like sushi. Spearing the food with a chopstick is considered disgraceful and disrespectful to the chef. Your chopstick is not a sword, and your food is not to be treated like a kebab.
Don’t Leave Your Chopsticks Lying Around. If you’ve finished eating or are in between bites, your chopsticks should be placed neatly beside your bowl or plate. Never leave your chopsticks to rest in a bowl of food, and do not allow them to sit idly in your hands, lest you use them to gesture during a conversation — another faux pas. In most cases, chopstick rests are provided. If your chopsticks arrive wrapped in paper, tie the paper into a knot to form your own chopstick rest.
Never Stick Your Chopsticks in a Bowl of Rice. This is a gesture shown at funerals, along with other symbolic rituals that invite the departed to enjoy a gift of food. If you do that during a meal, you won’t be seen as hospitable, you’ll be seen as inviting bad luck to the table.
Chopsticks Are Not Stirring Sticks. It is extremely poor form to use chopsticks to stir around your soup. Remember, extra care is placed in presentation, especially in Asian cuisine. Stirring the ingredients of a bowl of soup would be akin to smearing intricately decorated frosting on a slice of cake. In the case of pho, a Vietnamese soup that invites you to add condiments and herbs, it’s better to fold the ingredients gently, adding a little bit at a time.
Chopsticks Are Not Chimes. Don’t use your chopsticks to clink dishes or glasses. Using a fork or knife on a glass at a wedding reception is charming to many, but to Asians, it’s alarming. In most Asian cultures, chopsticks are kept clean and in plain sight so dirt does not enter the mouth. To use a chopstick on a glass would be seen as dirtying the chopstick, and therefore, disrespecting its purpose.
Mis-matched Chopsticks Aren’t Cute. It’s never been in fashion to mix and match different types of chopsticks, so please don’t start now. When you are going to eat with chopsticks, make sure that you have a matching pair, and always check that your chopsticks are free from cracks or breaks.
There are endless rules and varieties on proper chopstick form, and the above demonstrates the most widely accepted “right way” to eat with chopsticks. Naturally, if you’re in your own home, with your own box of take-out, you can eat whichever way you desire. However, if you happen to find yourself the guest of an Asian host or dining in an Asian restaurant, a little bit of respect for chopsticks will go a long way.