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Using Chopsticks with Grace and Precision

By Martha Dahlen

The Chinese character for the Tao is translated as “the Way”; it can refer to a way of living as well as a perfectly ordinary street. In Chinese culture, the mundane and the esoteric are seamlessly integrated. To truly understand the principles of Taoist astrology and Feng Shui, one must somehow understand Chinese culture. Awareness of these differences will give you greater understanding and comfort in your dealings with the Asian culture, whether in business or eating with your friends in a restaurant or in their homes.

Chinese Table Manners: Use chopsticks with grace and precision

The main principle when it comes to chopsticks is to use them gracefully and precisely. Chopsticks can serve two functions. The main rule is to take whatever you touch. Mainly, they transfer food into your mouth. Secondarily, they may also be used to serve yourself from the central dishes. This latter is the tricky bit. Once the chopsticks have been in your mouth, they are loaded with bacteria. If you then poke them through the central dish you are essentially inoculating the entire dish with your germs. Preferably, you use your chopsticks to acquire, precisely and exclusively, the single morsel that you want and do not touch anything else. (Also, you must use them as “pincers”; please do not stab the food unless you are desperate!) It is easier, quicker, and more informal to serve yourself with your own chopsticks, but there are certain cases when you should use a serving spoon or serving chopsticks. 1) If you have a contagious condition of any sort, use a serving spoon. 2) If you cannot use chopsticks well, use a serving spoon. 3) If anyone at the table prefers that you all use serving spoons, honour this request. When in doubt, watch what the host of the group does, and follow his/her lead.
If you enjoy Asian food, I encourage you to become adept in using chopsticks. Acquire a pair, and practice. Chinese chopsticks are often blunt at the ends and longer, while Japanese are pointed, generally shorter and lighter in weight. I personally prefer the precision of pointed chopsticks, but longer ones are considered (by the Chinese) more elegant; you should find your own preference. In any form, chopsticks are exquisitely suited for eating green salad as well as noodles (even spaghetti!). Also get a bowl; practice using the two together. In this way, you necessarily eat more slowly, mouthful by mouthful. And in this way too–perhaps only in this way?— you experience “authentic” Chinese and Japanese food.
image credit Kyla Duhamel flickr

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