Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Learning to eat with chopsticks should be on everyone's bucket list

Last week, I wrote a post about what to buy at the Asian market.  I mentioned that I'd write another post about the utensils and appliances I use.  As I began writing, I realized that chopsticks needed a post all of their own.

When I was little, my parents made a choice that would affect my entire life.  They (perhaps just my father) decided that I should not learn to speak Vietnamese.  It was the mid 1960's and mixed couples were frowned upon.  I was to be raised "American," whatever that meant.  My father thought I'd be confused otherwise.  Along with not learning the language, I did not learn to appreciate eating, cooking, or anything associated with being Vietnamese.  It wasn't until college that I embraced my heritage.  This is something I've regretted all of my life (a completely different post).

When I met my husband 18 years ago, we went to an Asian restaurant in Chicago for one of our first dates.  I was mortified that he easily picked up chopsticks and began eating.  I don't recall if he said anything about my not knowing how to use them, but I came away determined that I'd learn to.  How could this French Canadian (white) boy know how to use chopsticks and a 1/2 Asian girl not?!  So, for the next 2 months, I only used chopsticks at all meals.  I learned quickly .

Now, my whole family eats with chopsticks.  Sometimes we even use them while eating spaghetti.  The boys learned to use chopsticks quite early.  Kids learn quickly and are only limited by the adults that surround them.  I cook with chopsticks, too.

Some interesting facts about chopsticks:

They were first made in China some 5,000 years ago.
The first pair were likely twigs. 
An old Korean superstition holds that “the closer to the tip one holds a pair of chopsticks, the longer one will stay unmarried.”
Thais do not commonly use chopsticks.
Standing chopsticks in a bowl of rice is considered bad manners.  It resembles incense sticks at a funeral.  [source]

Here is a a video on how to use chopsticks.  But, I must stress that the easiest way to learn is by simply using (fumbling) with them for a month or so.  For kids, it can be easier to start out with chopsticks that are joined together with rubber bands.  You can see how to make your own learning chopsticks here.  Or you can buy fun chopsticks for them like these from Fred and Friends

I have three different types of chopsticks in my house.
This place setting includes a rice bowl and a small sauce bowl for dipping.  I use my sauce bowls for spoon rests, too.

Fancy chopsticks:
These are mostly for show and, in my opinion, harder to use than plain wooden chopsticks.  Mine are wooden with shell inlays and should be hand washed.  They add an elegant touch to your table setting especially if used with chopstick rests (like my pewter fish above). 

Everyday chopsticks:

My everyday chopsticks are wooden and have a round tip (unlike my fancy ones with pointed tips).  They grip better than plastic ones.  And, they also come in handy to turn out corners of my sewing projects.

Cooking chopsticks:

These are longer and are great when stir frying, not to mention impressing your friends.

Another great reason for using chopsticks...you'll eat slower and less food.  Not a bad thing to do for many of us in the US.

I get the biggest joy out of seeing my kids eat with chopsticks.  I think it is a small gift that you can give to yourself or your kids.  If you do not know how to eat with chopsticks, I challenge you to learn.  If you do, come back and let me know!


  1. We're big chopstick folks at my house as well. My son is forever playing with them and they're treated as just another utensil when cooking or eating, just like a fork or a spoon. (and yes, I have one in my sewing bag for the exact reason you described!)
    My husband even stirs his coffee every morning with one because it's quieter than a metal spoon clanging- so cute and considerate of him.

  2. What an interesting post. Especially about you.
    Did you read about China trying to get people to
    stop using wooden chopsticks ? Too many trees needed
    to keep up the supply.

  3. Love this post, Linda. I have to say I am only a passable chopstick user. But more than chopsticks, I think you are right on about the importance of embracing our heritages. Our elders tried to assimilate-- to become "American". We know that being American is about being ourselves, honoring our many various cultures, while sharing a broader American culture.

  4. But it's soooo hard! Unless you use your chopsticks to stab or scoop the food, I suppose :)

  5. I love all of your responses.

    Many chopsticks are made with bamboo which is sustainable. I didn't hear about China wanting to stop the use of wooden chopsticks. I think the answer would be going with bamboo. I hate the plastic ones!!

  6. You've had a fascinating upbringing, that's for sure! I can only imagine how tough it must have been for your Mom...what a time to come from vietnam.

    Although we use chopsticks at restaurants, we don't at home. We do try to teach our kids about all sorts of cuisines, although the English/scottish/welsh cooking of our ancestors is not very ...ahem...complex ;-)

  7. I went out to dinner a few years ago with two of my closest friends and I chose a Korean BBQ place. It surprised me that both of my friends did not know how to use chopsticks. I don't know why I was surprised... I had the whitest of white bread upbringings and didn't even have take out Chinese until I was in college. By then, I was voracious to learn about other cultures.

    I know so many people of our age that did not have the opportunity to learn the language of their home, if it wasn't English. Parents were making the choice for the good of their children. I'm so glad that cultural climate has changed.


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