West Eats East
Two pieces of sticks made people wonder what when they were seen eating with them the very first time. Chopsticks they were, and were exclusively used by Asians. About 20 years ago I was still hesitant to use them at a picnic outside. During the last ten years or so they came to appear on TV sitcom scenes as exotic eating from a doggy bag. Today chopsticks are commonly used by many in eating sushi or other Asian foods. Chopsticks appear to have finally been recognized as one of our utensils. You are an updated eater if skilled in their use, whereas you may be branded uncivilized if you fumble when using them. Here we tell you the stories behind the two sticks.
Believe or not, chopsticks can function for almost all movements for eating except for sucking liquid like through a straw. First, you can pick up chunks of food or rice, carrying them from a plate or a bowl to mouth. You may pick up small, round, slippery peas or noodles if well maneuvered. You may scoop up food pieces like fried rice by paralleled sticks, slightly parted. When you hold each stick separately by two hands and cross-pull, you can cut foods, even meat. By piercing you may pick up meat or veggies. Mixing or stirring is easy. As a matter of course, chopsticks are for both eating and cooking. Thus chopsticks function as a fork, knife or spoon and furthermore a tool more than a tong in cooking, though not often seen on cooking shows other than the Asian ones.
The materials of chopsticks, originally twigs, are now commonly bones in China, metal in Korea, and wood, occasionally lacquered, in Japan or plastic all over the place for personal use. As far as I am aware of, Japan might be the only place to provide versatile sizes or types to accommodate for toddlers, children, adults and occasions or uses. There everybody was right-handed for chopsticks and also writing until 30-40 years ago, probably true all over Asia, despite no difference of chopsticks for either hand use. In a good table mannered family, the individual personal use of chopsticks is separated from the ones for picking-up things from plates or bowls shared for hygiene as well as for personal peace-in-mind reasons. If provided none, a concerned eater would turn chopsticks upside down to use the other ends to pick up the shared food. At many Asian eateries nowadays, disposable ones are placed horizontally or vertically on the table, or simply tossed, which are marvelously engineered for splitting into two pieces. The wood ones are shifting to bamboo lately. Though, disposable has always been the subject to be accused by natural conservation groups even though bamboo is the fastest growing, almost inexhaustible natural resource. Besides, bamboo chopsticks have to compete with giant pandas which feed on bamboo a joke. Today reusable, plastic in wooden appearance, which is machine washable, is coming.
The chopsticks are the primary objective of table manners in Japan, though it may not be 100% applicable here, but good to know. If wrongly done there, you would be disgraced for poor family origin or undereducated. It is a good observation to help in judging a person at a business eating, a gathering of friends-associates, and even a date at an early stage before getting too intimate.
Following are things for Japanese who are born with chopsticks. No wandering chopsticks in air to move from one dish to another. Be determined to eat. Never point chopsticks to things or persons. It is dangerous. Chopsticks, are not an alternative to toothpicks. Chopsticks are not for drawing plates or bowls closer to you. Do not grab both sticks in one palm to scoop or overfill food from a bowl or plate in a K-9 eating style. Do not tap the table to hurry up serving. Do not lick them before start using. Do not play drumming with chopsticks on a bowl or plate. The most inappropriate practice you should not do is the transfer of food held in someone’s chopsticks to another. It is only done, in Japan, to transfer bone remains from one person to another at a crematory. Do not let chopsticks stand straight into cooked or steamed rice in a bowl, which is an offering to the dead. Rubbing the split pieces to remove any hangnail may be good for the safety reason. But nowadays chopsticks are well made to leave nothing harmful after split, I believe.
I strongly recommend to practice, if not good with chopsticks, prior to going to a Japanese restaurant. Tie two sticks together at the end with a rubber band and try to move one stick by your index and middle fingers. You may ask for a fork to eat sushi, otherwise. Or use your fingers after cleaned. With Chinese foods I usually use a fork because it is easier to eat foods which are cooked all together in a wok. A brain surgeon in Chicago invented a hybrid of chopsticks and fork, the Chork, though I do not see many. Today chopsticks are in the right hand and a cellphone is in the left at the table, or the other way round for lefties. Is it a good table manner here? Do not stick yourself by chopsticks while sending a text message.