How to Use Chopsticks: Which Handle Position Is Preferred?

The situation is familiar to us all: you're at a restaurant with some people you don't know very well for dinner. Without giving it much thought, you order the noodles (or rice, or ramen...) and, when they arrive, you notice that chopsticks are the only utensil available.

Those who feel a shiver of anxiety at the sight before them may rest assured that they are in the best possible place.

When you're just getting started with chopsticks, it can feel like you're up against the wall. No one is born knowing how to use chopsticks; it is a skill that must be learned, complete with the accompanying awkwardness and self-consciousness, even if you've been using them since you were a child. We chatted with Ellen Chew, proprietor of Rasa Sayang in London's Chinatown, to get the scoop on whether or not there are special techniques for holding chopsticks, and to pick up some useful hints and pointers.

I'm not sure if I'm holding my chopsticks wrong.

Even if there was a correct way to use chopsticks a few decades ago, Ellen claims that this is no longer the case. Even among those who have used chopsticks as their primary form of cutlery their entire lives, Ellen has encountered individuals who don't follow the norm.

In any case, the two most common approaches to using chopsticks are the classic style and the innovative style, also known as the "traditional" and "crossover," respectively.

The correct technique for using chopsticks

This is the proper and common method of using chopsticks. Your index finger will act as a pen grip for the upper chopstick, while your thumb and forefinger will support the lower chopstick in a crook.

Chopsticks are held in this manner by holding the bottom one like a pen. As a next step, place the top chopstick atop the bottom one, and switch your index finger's grip from the bottom to the top one. Moving your index finger up and down should reveal that the top chopstick does all the work while the bottom one remains (relatively) motionless.

The Crossover Approach

According to Ellen, the crossover method of using chopsticks is perfectly acceptable and may even be preferred by some people. Both the back and the front chopstick are used in this technique. The rear chopstick remains stationary while the forward one crosses in front of the plate to exert control over the meal.

If you want to give the crossover technique a shot, you'll need to hold the back chopstick in the crook of your thumb while pressing the front against the pad of your ring finger. When the fatter end of the front chopstick is placed atop the fatter end of the back chopstick, the two are crossed over the top and the index and middle fingers are used to guide the food.

The Yagi Studio Images from Getty

Advice on how to lessen the frustration of using chopsticks

It doesn't matter which way of holding chopsticks you prefer (or perhaps you've developed your own) Hey, whatever works for you, buddy I'll give you one simple piece of advice that will make your own life better: How convenient!

Even though it may seem counterintuitive to hold your chopsticks at a height that allows you to gain a firm grasp on a slippery prawn, doing so will actually give you the upper hand. In order to better control your chopsticks and to better grasp both large and small items, try holding them higher up, away from the end that touches the food.

How impolite is it to use chopsticks?

There are a few things to remember when using chopsticks and other dining utensils to ensure you don't offend your dinner companions.

Avoid poking your chopsticks straight down into a bowl of rice, as doing so is considered extremely rude in Chinese culture. Though it may seem like a good idea to pop them in there to prevent them from rolling away, you should not do so.

Standing your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice resembles the incense holders you might find on a grave or altar for someone who has passed away in China, and Ellen says that the Chinese love and lean into symbolism in many forms. This is not only impolite, but also a very bad sign for the future. Instead, rest your chopsticks across the top of your bowl if you need to set them down. It's also possible to find useful chopstick rests in many Chinese restaurants and homes.

That way, we won't be prodding our food with chopsticks. Brill After that, you should never use your chopsticks to mess with or stir dishes that you share with others. Using chopsticks that have been in your mouth is not only rude but also bad manners in Chinese culture.

As a final note, when eating hot pot, you should never use your own chopsticks to taste the broth. Instead, diners typically use two sets of chopsticks: one set for eating, and another set for exploring the hot pot. When eating hot pot, it is common practice to share a pair of chopsticks among diners. These are typically much more extensive, allowing you to search the pot thoroughly for any hidden treasures. Take the good stuff from the big'sticks, put it on your own plate, and then use your own'sticks to hotpot like a pro.

HUIZENG HU Images by Getty

Inappropriate fork use?

You've experimented with both the conventional and crossover chopstick grips, as well as a variety of other positions to see if you can find one that's more attuned to your needs, but nothing seems to work. That's perfectly fine with me

Ellen maintains that requesting utensils is completely acceptable. Some surprisingly large numbers of people do, and forks are never in short supply at a Chinese restaurant. In the end, it doesn't matter how the delicious meal makes it from the plate to the mouth as long as the eating is enjoyable.

Confidence in asking for a fork from the waiter could be just the thing to calm the nerves of the person sitting next to you who is uncomfortable using chopsticks.

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