My first experience with chopsticks was not so pleasant. We were at a lunch table and everybody else was eating with chopsticks (well, they all were localites) . When I told them about my inability to use chopsticks, they advised me to try using them first. People around me gave me all sort of tips and tricks to hold the chopsticks and pick up food. But there is nothing like a standard way of using chopsticks. If a certain way works naturally for one person, you won't be even able to hold them properly, if you try the same way.
So there I was, totally hungry and fumbling with a dumpling. Picking up soggy, slippery (and yet delicious) dumpling with a pair of chopsticks was almost impossible task for me. I tried to ask for a spoon and fork, but all I got was more instructions to use the chopsticks effectively. Somehow I got the impression that it's not polite to use spoons on the lunch table. My food was just circling in the dish. So I tried to poke into the dumpling to lift it, but all I could do was to lift it until it barely reached about 10 inches height.... and then I had to quickly lean forward to catch it in my mouth. So with a combination of chopsticks and rigorous neck exercise, I managed to eat those three dumplings (Now I know why Chinese people are so petite). I was all awestruck to see all those small cute kids eating seamlessly with chopsticks. Eventually they handed me spoons, but I felt a huge complex with that whole chopstick business.
That three week trip couldn't do much to improve my chopstick skills. When you somebody demonstrating it, the whole things looks so simple. But in fact there is no more difficult task than that. Chinese people do all sorts of tricks with chopsticks. They can roll the noddles, cut the noodles. pick up slippery dumplings, cut the dumplings, even eat a crab.
Interesting part is, I managed to learn to eat rice with chopsticks.
Ok, this chopstick episode was reminded because of this mail I got, which had explanation about "How to use chopsticks". There is no point going through the steps, since it doesn't help much. But the "Bad manners" listed in the end were quite interesting.
Bad Manners (Using chopsticks)
- Mayoi-bashi: Mayoi means "dithering". It is bad manners to wave your chopsticks around aimlessly over the food, trying to decide what to take next.
- Utsuri-bashi: Changing the food you have selected after you have touched the food.
- Saguri-bashi: Looking for contents in a soup with chopsticks.
- Sashi-bashi: Sashi means "inserting". It is bad manners to spear food with the points of the chopsticks as if they were a fork.
- Yose-bashi: Yose means "drawing near". It is bad manners to pull the dishes towards you using the chopsticks. Always pick the dishes up in the hand.
- Yoko-bashi: Keeping chopsticks together and using them like spoon.
- Komi-bashi: Raking foods into one's already full mouth with chopsticks.
- Neburi-bashi: Licking the ends of chopsticks.
- Don't eat with a broken or mismatched pair of chopsticks.
- Don't eat twice in a row from the same dish except your rice bowl.
- Don't stick chopsticks in your rice. This is commonly done at funerals, or as an offering which is placed on the alter at an ancestral shrine.
- Don't dig under food to get the best pieces.
- Don't eat food directly from the central plate, transfer it to your bowl first.
- Don't lick your chopsticks. Don't stab your food with a chopstick.
- Don't set chopsticks on your bowl of dishes. Chopsticks should be placed on the table, chopstick holder or tray. When you are not using the chopsticks, put them in front of you onto the table or a dish with the tip to the left.
- Do not give food from your chopsticks directly to somebody other's chopsticks. Only at Buddhist funerals where the bones of the burned body are given in that way from person to person.
- Don't make noise with your chopsticks.
- Neither point with the chopsticks to something or somebody nor move them too much around in the air.
- Don't reach across another person with your chopsticks.
- Knife and fork are used for Western food only. Spoons are used for eating certain Japanese dishes, for example donburi or Japanese style curry rice. A Chinese style ceramic spoon is sometimes used to eat soups.
- Making slurping noises while eating noodles is perfectly acceptable in . There is no need to excuse yourself for making noises while eating.