Chopstick Etiquette: 8 Golden Rules

Chopstick Etiquette
Use chopsticks to eat noodles, rice, and sushi, but avoid playing with them in a restaurant. Respect chopstick etiquette, such as not pointing with them, and be aware of cultural customs, like not passing food or putting chopsticks upright in rice.

1. Chopstick 101

Chopsticks are eating utensils used to eat in many East Asian countries. They are made from different materials, like plastic, metal, and bamboo. They consist of two sticks. One is kept still, and the other is moved to pinch food.

Japanese chopsticks are the shortest since they usually don’t share food. They are also rounded and pointed to make it easier to remove fish bones. Korean chopsticks are medium and made out of metal. You need less material to make them since they are flat. While Chinese chopsticks are the longest and have blunt ends, which makes it easier to pick up big items.

2. How To Hold Chopsticks

Holding chopstick correctly
Holding chopstick correctly

Practice these steps to learn how to use a pair of chopsticks:

  1. Have your hand tilted downwards to hold it properly.
  2. Hold one chopstick between the base of your thumb and the side of your ring fingernail.
  3. The other chopstick will go between the side of your middle finger nail and your index finger. It should also be on the tip of your thumb.
  4. You will move the latter one with your two fingers up and down.
  5. Keep your thumb straight and still.

Both right-handed and left-handed people can follow the same steps with their dominant hand.

3. Eating with Chopsticks

man eating noodles with chopsticks
Man eating noodles with chopsticks

To eat noodles, pick them up with the chopsticks and slurp them. Don’t eat noodles and meat or vegetables in the same bite. Eat one, then the other. You can use your chopsticks to bring the ends of long noodles into your mouth.

Chopsticks will be tilted to the side and serve as a spoon when eating rice. Get the chopsticks under a clump of sticky rice, and bring them together. Then, bring them to your mouth. You can use your free hand to bring the rice bowl closer to your mouth.

You can also eat sushi with chopsticks. Just pick it up, dip it in soy sauce, and eat.

Fun fact: Initially, sushi was finger food. People used to eat it with their hands.

4. Sharing Food

Don’t pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another in Japan. Use another pair of chopsticks or the other end of yours.

Japanese culture has the tradition of passing the bones of the deceased from chopstick to chopstick. So don’t use them to move the dishes as well.

5. Where To Place Chopsticks

Use a chopstick holder called a hashi-oki. If you only have disposable chopsticks, use the packaging as a substitute.

If you don’t have any chopstick rest alternatives, place them parallel on top of your plate. Never place crossed chopsticks on top of your plate. This is a death symbol in Japan.

Also, don’t point with your chopsticks, even when you set them on the plate. This is impolite in Japan and China since pointing at someone is bad manners, whether with a finger or a chopstick.

Don’t put chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice in Japan. A rice bowl like this is used as an offering to the deceased in Japanese funerals. So it would be inconvenient in another context. People also think it brings bad luck.

6. Chopsticks in a Restaurant

Remember that chopsticks aren’t a toy or a drumstick, so playing with them in a restaurant setting is a no-no. If you stab your food with chopsticks, people will assume you don’t think the food is cooked well. Don’t wave them. Just pick a dish and eat. After that, rest your chopstick.

Don’t sleep on chopstick etiquette, especially at a date or a Japanese business dinner. Don’t rub them against each other, as Japanese people will assume you think they’re cheap chopsticks and you are rubbing them to eliminate splinters.

7. When Not To Use a Chopstick

If you aren’t good with chopsticks or they won’t work for a specific plate, it is completely acceptable to ask for one. Most Korean restaurants will give you a spoon already, but you will probably have to ask if you need other eating utensils in other countries.

Try to ask for a fork or spoon in the local language. This is more respectful since it shows your consideration of their culture if you can’t make hand gestures or ask for someone who speaks your language.

8. Chopstick Hygiene

Don’t use your chopsticks to pass food or eat from shared dishes. This is unhygienic. Don’t hold them in your mouth. Aside from being unsanitary, it is also dangerous. You also shouldn’t bite, suck, or lick your chopsticks.

You should clean wooden chopsticks by soaking them in water. Use lukewarm water for other types of chopsticks. Throw them away if they have a crack.

Ana C.

Ana C. is an artistic writer who loves shaping language around her message. For her, etiquette is about respecting everyone and spreading kindness. She loves hanging out with goats, analyzing TV shows, and eating feijoada with farofa.

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