The Right Way to Use Chopsticks, According to an Expert

And what never to do while using them.

February 07, 2023

Photo by: Yone Liau

Yone Liau

By Clarissa Wei for Food Network Kitchen

Clarissa Wei is a freelance journalist based in Taipei.

A utensil of Chinese origins but used all over Asia, the humble chopstick is versatile tool and sometimes the only tool needed to enjoy a meal. When I was a kid, learning how to properly hold one was a rite of passage; my Taiwanese parents would watch with baited breath as I attempted the act as a toddler. Eventually I nailed it (every kid eventually gets it), and they breathed a collective sigh relief knowing that I was now properly prepared to face the world on my own.

Now according to some folks, there is actually a single proper way to hold chopsticks (more on that below), and in certain families, the ability to achieve that perfect hold is a mark of a well-mannered kid. I, for one, am a chopstick liberal, and believe that the accomplishment lies is being able to pick up food with relative ease—not on how accurately the two sticks are held relative to one another.

How to Hold Chopsticks

If you’re aiming for perfection, the proper way to use chopsticks is to have the sticks parallel to one another at all times.

Photo by: Yone Liau

Yone Liau

1. Place the bottom chopstick. Let the back end of it rest in the crevice between your thumb and index finger, and the front end rest on bottom of your ring finger. Lay your thumb over the chopstick.

Photo by: Yone Liau

Yone Liau

2. Place the top chopstick. Keeping your thumb straight, hold the top chopstick like a pen and place it in the space between the top knuckle of your middle finger and the tip of your index finger.

Photo by: Yone Liau

Yone Liau

3. Keep the bottom chopstick fixed at all times while only moving the top chopstick. To move the bottom chopstick, bend your middle and index fingers (while not bending your thumb).

Adjust the placement of the chopstick accordingly so that it feels comfortable; you should be grasping onto the top third of the chopstick, not the middle.

Practice often. And if this is not the most comfortable way for you to hold a chopstick, then switch it up until you can quickly and comfortably pick up pieces of food without dropping it.

How to Eat with Chopsticks

After you get the hang of it, the chopsticks can be used to eat anything. Pick up veggies and proteins; some more advanced users of the chopstick can even pick up individual grains of rice. Chopsticks are especially great for gripping long, slippery noodles.

What Not To Do When Eating with Chopsticks

There aren’t that many hard rules when it comes to chopsticks. The only major faux pas is sticking a pair upright in a bowl of rice, which is considered a major taboo in East Asian cultures. The upright chopsticks resemble a pair of incense, which symbolizes death and are reminiscent of the altar offerings to the deceased.

Some folks might also consider it rude to stab your food with chopsticks, but most tend to be forgiving about this if you’re a beginner.

Also depending on who you’re dining with, always be conscientious about whether or not you should be using your own personal chopstick for family-style dishes. For sanitary reasons, some families insist on using a second pair of communal chopsticks to grab the food with.

What Type Of Chopsticks To Use

For beginners, I find wood or bamboo to be the easiest materials to start with; these chopsticks are much easier to grip. Lacquered chopsticks are also great and tend to last a lot longer than wood.

There are also stainless steel chopsticks, which are more typical of Korean cuisine, but it can be slippery and difficult to use if you’re not yet fluent in the art of chopstick wielding.

At the end of the day—despite what people may say—there isn’t just one right way to hold a chopstick. As one of the most used utensils in the world, there is a lot of room for flexibility. You just need a bit of practice.

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