Eating Chinese Food With Chopsticks
If you ve ever eaten in a Chinese restaurant you will be familiar with those long thin utensils, which are traditionally used to eat Chinese food. Yes, I m talking about chopsticks. These versatile and efficient objects are actually reasonably easy to use despite appearances to the contrary. In fact with a little practice, one can become proficient in their use.
History shows that chopsticks have been in use since the time of the Shang Dynasty which ruled China between 1600 BC and 1046 BC. The chopsticks from those times would have been made of all sorts of different materials such as bamboo, bronze or ivory and decorated with enamel or lacquer or even gold or silver. A collection of more that one thousand pairs can be seen in the Kuaizi Museum in Shanghai. These days, bamboo or plastic is more usual.
Chopsticks are normally eight to ten inches in length but whereas Japanese ones taper almost to a point, Chinese chopsticks only narrow very slightly towards the end.
It s a little hard to explain how to use chopsticks without the benefit of pictures, but in essence your hand should be vertical as if you were about to shake hands, then curl your fingers round as if you were about to grasp a glass tumbler. Place the chopsticks on the side of your hand and rest your thumb on top of them. Now move your index finger out of the way slightly so that the chopsticks are resting on the side of your middle finger then slip the one nearest to your thumb to the end of your index finger so that it s resting on your fourth and little fingers. By moving your thumb and index finger slightly, the end of one chopstick will move back and forth, enabling you to pick up food. Try practicing by picking up pieces of cotton wool or other quite small items. You ll be amazed how easy it is to master the knack.
Because the Chinese use chopsticks to eat, they prepare their food accordingly. Meat and vegetables are usually sliced into thin strips, which also makes them very quick to cook. Dumplings are a little bigger but still small enough to be gripped with chopsticks and rice can be scooped straight from the bowl to the mouth. The only other implement on offer when dining Chinese style would be a soup spoon, from which it is quite alright to slurp as this is not impolite in Chinese circles.
However, there is strict etiquette surrounding the use of chopsticks. For example spearing something like a dumpling, standing chopsticks vertically in a bowl of food, sucking or licking them, waving them around particular at other people and using them to pull a dish of food towards you are all considered very bad manners.
While some of the above are just tradition, the reason for not standing chopsticks upright in a bowl of food is that their appearance resembles that of incense sticks which are lit in remembrance of the dead. To the Chinese, each meal is a celebration of life so they don t usually mix eating with grieving.