How to use chopsticks, according to a self-taught expert
This quintessential East Asian utensil isn’t hard to master.
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Whether you simply don’t want to see a pair of chopsticks going to waste next time you order take-out, or you want to impress your friends on the next trip to a hot pot joint, knowing how to use chopsticks can be useful.
Chopsticks are two pieces of long, often tapered sticks that are made out of bamboo, plastic, or metal. In East Asian kitchens, chopsticks are king—they’re the fork and knife, sometimes the egg beater, and rarely, food styling tweezers. However, this seemingly universal tool can be difficult to maneuver for those who didn’t grow up using them. To this day, I still remember refusing to use chopsticks until I turned 6 or 7. Though I had been practicing with since I mumbled my first words, it took me a couple of years to embrace the techniques involved.
The different types of chopsticks
The type of chopsticks may dictate how difficult it is to use them. Chinese chopsticks, mostly made out of bamboo, feature tapered ends and are longer than Japanese chopsticks. They're easy to maneuver and can hold a good amount of food, like cooked rice. Japanese chopsticks are pointy and short, which is great for bone-in fish, but require more practice to use. Korean chopsticks, typically made out of silver or other metal, are more designed with aesthetics in mind. They’re more flat than the Chinese and Japanese chopsticks, which makes them the most difficult to use.
How to use chopsticks
While I’m no member of the chopsticks police—I firmly believe that you can hold your chopsticks however you want—I decided to compile a detailed guide to help those who want to learn to use them for the first time, or more effectively than they do currently. By taking the time to learn now, you can avoid feeling left out the next time you dine out with friends at a fancy sushi establishment.
Step 1: Hold one chopstick like you hold a pen.
To get used to holding chopsticks, the first step is as simple as holding a pen, resting on your middle finger—you won’t have to think about it because it’s all muscle memory. But, unlike how you hold a pen, you should hold the chopsticks from the mid-way point or two-thirds of the way up the chopsticks to gain some leverage when actually picking up food.
Step 2: Slide in the second piece.
While the first chopstick is in place, slide the second one between your middle finger and index finger, and make sure the second chopstick rests at the base of your thumb. Hold the bottom chopstick firmly so you have a better grip.
Step 3: Adjust the chopsticks to make sure they’ll work.
To ensure you’re doing it right, move the top chopstick around to see if it’s too loose or too tight. (If it slips out when you hold them, it’s too loose. If the two chopsticks cross when you hold them, it's too tight.) You can adjust them by moving the chopsticks up and down to find the best spot that works for you. The rule of thumb is your bottom chopstick should work as a strong base that lifts the food and the top one should act as the “targeting” tool that provides precision in picking up and handling food.
Step 4: Make sure the tips of the chopsticks are aligned.
If they’re not, you can tap them on the table to make sure the tips are aligned. Unaligned tips can make picking up food all but impossible.
Step 5: Practice makes perfect.
You can practice holding the bottom chopstick still while moving the top chopstick freely. If the two chopsticks get stuck or too tight to move, then you’ll need to adjust the way you hold them.
Chopsticks etiquette and helpful tips
Again, these are my personal preferences for how to use chopsticks and as far as I know, there’s no one correct way to use chopsticks. Whether you’re eating soupy dumplings, slurping rich ramen noodles, or grilling meats at a Korean barbecue, you should settle on the method you feel most comfortable with to enjoy the food. If you’re looking for more tips and tricks, check out Reviewed for more how-tos!
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