Readers' poll #4: Chopsticks are lots of fun


I'm writing about Korean food right now, which begs the question of why Koreans use silver chopsticks, which got me thinking about how globalised Asian food has become and wondering how common it is for anyone --- not just Asians --- to know how to use chopsticks these days.

So here's my readers' poll: How old were you when you learned to use chopsticks? Feel free to embellish your answer with tragic tales of food dropped on the floor or being rapped on the knuckles by your elders, if any.

Also, I'm interested to see if anyone says, no, in fact they have not learned to use chopsticks.

My story: I don't remember exactly when I was taught to use chopsticks, but I grew up first using the fork and spoon --- to eat Asian meals, yes. Even today, at home I reach for a fork-and-spoon combination before I think about chopsticks, unless sushi is involved. I suspect I must have been six? seven? years old when I could use chopsticks competently in public (i.e. my parents didn't have to request for a fork and spoon if we were at a Chinese restaurant).

But my parents always lamented that my brother and I learned the wrong technique. To this day I can't control my chopsticks in the traditional fashion, where the chopstick closer to the body stays static while the thumb, index and middle finger lever the other one and keep it moving. I can still pick up most food and I did okay with those darn slippery silver Korean chopsticks for almost two months, but the occasional quail's egg or soft tofu still eludes me.

Oh, but the tearful tale of how I had to sit at the dinner table and learn to cut steak properly ... That's a story for another day.

So, do tell: when did you learn to use chopsticks and do you have a story to tell about it?



At 8/29/2009 7:39 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...


My 8-yr old son learnt to use chopsticks of his own accord starting around age 3, even before I was ready to let him begin. I was hesitant (for fear of having to clean up messes) but he was insistent; being the youngest, he wanted to do whatever the older siblings were doing. I can't remember when he got really competent, but I didn't care as long as he didn't drop a mess for us to clean up.

In restaurants sometimes they would provide him with 'training' chopsticks for kids, but he would remove the rolled-up-paper-cum-rubberband contraption and use the chopsticks as per adults.

One can easily improvise 'training' chopsticks by sticking in a piece of rolled-up paper as a 'fulcrum' and using rubberbands as springs. As in this pic:

But I doubt if these really 'train' the kids up to use chopsticks the proper way. The easiest way to learn is if it's 'caught' rather than 'taught', like languages learnt in early childhood.


At 8/29/2009 7:48 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Btw, I suspect the fork-n-spoon combo is a S.E.Asian thing. I think filipinos eat this way too. We still do it this way in my home, even though my 2 younger kids have somehow evolved their own comfort zone of eating with the odd combination of chopsticks, metal spoon & rice on a plate.


At 8/30/2009 2:48 pm , Anonymous Enid said...

Hm, good one. I don't really have any chopstick trauma...I don't recall going through a learning process with them, but I can't pinpoint an exact age at which I could use them with ease. I guess 4 or 5?

I don't hold them the right way though. I hold them the way I hold my pens. I think I realized it was wrong only when I came across some instructions on the back of a wrapper (those paper things some chopsticks come in.

I don't really prefer chopsticks over the fork-and-spoon combo per se, but there are some things I *have* to eat with chopsticks. I guess Chinese stuff, especially noodle dishes or porridge with dishes (just a spoon will do for congee!). I feel very odd eating hor fun, for example, with a spoon and fork.

At 8/30/2009 3:17 pm , Blogger naixuhs said...

I don't recall when my parents first let me try to use them. Perhaps when I was 5-6 years....I think there may be a picture of this somewhere.

I have to very consciously use the chopsticks in traditional method if using the silver (and often more rounded) chopsticks. Nevertheless, my avant garde method has served me well (as I suspect your similar less traditional method has as well). I have never gone hungry or never seem to eat too slowly with them. However, I do remember comments about my non-traditional technique.

Recently, I bought the Thomas the Tank Engine Children's Chopsticks (with the special finger grips) for a friend. Her boy is 5 going on 6 years and is having much fun with them.

For the record, I still use the good old spoon and fork at home in Canada with virtually all Asian meals. I often revert back to using my hands when picking pizza, ribs, chili crabs, satay, and even sushi. Nothing beats the basics!

At 8/31/2009 4:28 am , Blogger Jess said...

I don't remember when I first started using chopsticks, but I do remember when I started using them properly.

I was in Primary 5, having lunch with Noorjanah, my only Malay friend at that time. We were at the hawker center across from Punggol Park, which has, IMHO the best bak chor mee in town, but I digress.

She looked at the way I was holding my chopsticks, and exclaimed in HORROR that I was doing it all wrong. She then taught me how hold them properly, and I have never criss-crossed my chopsticks since.

At 8/31/2009 11:05 am , Blogger Little Miss Drinkalot said...

I'm far more intrigued by your photo of... is that ice cream on instant noodles/soba with strawberry jam and sesame seeds???

At 7/27/2011 6:20 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I lived in California, I worked in an area surrounded by Asian Restaurants. My co-workers invited me to lunch frequently, and we would often go to either a Japanese restaurant or a Chinese restaurant. It seemed most of my colleagues knew how to use chopsticks, so I knew I had to learn, and learn soon. I noticed another lady from our group was also struggling, so we both got together and decided to practiced during our breaks at work. We didn't even have chopsticks to practice with, so we used two ballpoint pens...lol. We tore up sheets of paper, crinkled the paper into balls, and this is how we practiced. Believe it or not, this worked out very well, and by the time we went to lunch the following week, we were pretty proficient. Now I use them as often as I can for various bite-size foods, and even salads. Incidentally, I now own a set of stainless steel chopsticks, and I use them all the time. I like the feel of them better than the wooden chopsticks I own.


At 7/27/2011 6:34 pm , Blogger Tym said...

@cyberkaren - Thanks for sharing your story! Are your stainless steel chopsticks the flat Korean kind?

PS: If you're dextrous, chopsticks are also good for cooking with, like flipping over pieces of meat and such.

At 7/28/2011 9:10 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tym. Thank you for your kind response.
My stainless steel chopsticks are not the Korean type, but they are nicely balanced and easy to use. They are sort of round and tapered toward the end with groves to make it easier to grab the food. I do not use the metal chopsticks to stir or flip food as metal conducts heat faster, and the chopsticks would probably become too hot to work with. I do use wooden chopsticks when cooking and stirring which works out very well, indeed.

Best Regards,


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