Learning the Art of Chopsticks

chopsticks resting on a bowl of rice
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Learning the Art of Chopsticks

Here’s everything you need to know about that unfamiliar pair of “sticks” lying next to your fork and knife at the restaurant. Chopsticks go back thousands of years to ancient China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam before traveling overseas, by way of immigrants, and becoming a common choice of dining weaponry in Hawaii. In fact, some say the name may have derived from Chinese Pidgin English, with “chop chop” meaning quickly.

A lunch bento is best eaten with chopsticks.

You’ll come across chopsticks at almost any Hawaii eatery, particularly ones serving local or Asian dishes; most times they offer chopsticks as an alternative to using a fork, making it that much more authentic when eating noodles, rice, kim chee or mandoo.

Learn the art of eating with chopsticks in Hawaii by starting with the basics: the different types, how to hold them and proper chopstick etiquette.

The Chopstick Quiver

There’s the classy, sassier ones made of resin or bamboo, included as part of the table setting for fancy sit-down restaurants. The more common ones are disposable (called waribashi), made of wood and wrapped in paper. In fact, they’re so common that Japan uses about 24 billion pairs a year (that’s 200 pairs per person!). To lessen the environmental impact, my aunty actually carries a pair of bamboo chopsticks in her purse instead of using the wooden ones provided by restaurants.

Holding Chopsticks

Disposable chopsticks require the user to break them apart first by pulling gently at the skinnier end of the sticks. To get rid of splinters, some people will roll them together in the palm of their hands or file one on the other. I’ve learned that this is bad table manners, however, so do this sparingly.

Similar to how we use tongs, chopsticks pick up portions of food that are oftentimes chopped into smaller pieces. Use the same hand you use when holding a fork or spoon and think of it like this: top stick moves, bottom stick is stationary. Operate the top stick with your pointer and middle finger, while resting the bottom chopstick between the base of your thumb and index finger.

Proper Chopstick Etiquette

Different regions of the world have different chopstick do’s and don’ts. Mostly, the rules derive from superstition, symbolism and tradition. Because Hawaii is made up of various Asian ethnicities, the rules here have become mixed and mingled into our own. Here are some I was taught while growing up in the islands. Hopefully they will help you get through your first delicious Hawaii meal!

-Never leave chopsticks standing vertically in a bowl of rice or food; it welcomes death and represents incenses left as offerings to the deceased.

-Don’t use chopsticks to dig around your meal for a particular morsel; it symbolizes digging your grave.

-Don’t point chopsticks at others seated the table, whether at rest or in your hand.

-Don’t leave chopsticks crossed at the table; it symbolizes death.

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