Chopsticks: The DOs and DON'Ts

There used to be a time when if you went to a Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean or Thai restaurant and someone was not of Asian descent, they were automatically given silverware, as it was commonly assumed they would not know how to use chopsticks.

I've noticed that somewhere along the way, things changed, and eating with chopsticks is no longer a novelty. With such a wide range of Asian food available here in Houston, every person in a sushi restaurant or a pho place use chopsticks with ease. However, there are certain rules of etiquette that come from more than 3,000 years of history. Most of these rules are common sense, but some come from rituals and superstitions. Here's a list of some of the general DOs and DON'Ts for the next time you're feasting with chopsticks.

Most Asian meals are served family-style, and main dishes are shared with the whole table. You wouldn't double-dip a chip at a party, so Don't eat food directly from the shared plate.

If there is not a serving utensil Do place the food into your individual bowl or plate first. It is also acceptable in most Asian cultures to use the fat end of the chopsticks to pick up food from communal plates -- except in Korea, where it's thought to be unsanitary.

Don't wave your chopsticks around or use them to gesture or point at anyone or anything.

Do place them horizontally on top of your individual bowl or plate when not in use. Crossing your chopsticks is taboo, as it is a symbol of death.

Don't stick them into your food -- this is reminiscent of placing incense at the altar during a funeral.

Do decide what to pick up before you reach into the shared plate. Don't pick through looking for what you want.

Don't put food back once you have picked it up.

Don't suck on the tip of your chopsticks. Chopsticks are not meant to touch your teeth, or lips but rather you are to take the food from the chopstick. When eating rice, it is acceptable to hold the bowl and push the rice into your mouth, although the exception is in the Korean culture. Slurping your noodles is also not only accepted, but a sign of appreciating the food.

Don't use your chopsticks to pierce pieces of food to eat -- this is an extremely rude gesture, and you might as well use a fork if you are doing this.

Don't pass food to another person chopstick to chopstick; this is also symbolic of a funeral ritual.

Don't use chopsticks that don't match or broken chopsticks; the idea is that things belonging in pairs that are not used together is bad luck.

Something that a lot of us are guilty of: Don't break apart wooden chopsticks and rub them together -- this can be considered a rude gesture to your host. If absolutely necessary, you should do it to the side and not directly on the table.

And finally, it's probably a good idea not to do the chopstick walrus at the table either.

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Minh T Truong