|"You do not sew with a fork, and I see no reason why you should eat with knitting needles." — Miss Piggy|
Chopstick History and Etiquette"The ultimately restricted, and therefore it may be thought, the ultimately delicate, manner of eating with one's hands is to use the thumb and two fingers of the right hand, only the tips of these ideally being allowed to touch the food. This gesture, we find even more by artificially elongating the fingers and further reducing their number, is of course the origin of chopsticks. Once people became accustomed to fingers remaining clean throughout the meal, napkins used for serious cleansing seemed not only redundant but downright nasty."
"Father João Rodrigues observed in the 17th century that the Japanese were "much amazed at our eating with the hands and wiping them on napkins, which then remain covered with food stains, and this causes them both nausea and disgust." Napkins laid on knees are still an " ethnic," western affectation in China and Japan. There is, however, a tradition of supplying diners several times during the meal with small rough towels wrung out in boiling water, for hand and face wiping.
Chopsticks seem to have evolved in the East specifically for use with rice: The staple grain in China was originally millet, which the Li Chi insists must be eaten with a spoon, not with chopsticks like rice. Chinese rice is not loose and dry like that chosen by Indians, Arabs, and Africans, who prefer eating it with their hands, but sticky and slightly moist even without sauce; it is easily handled with chopsticks. The earliest word for chopsticks seems to have been Zi, related to the root meaning, "help". This is pronounced, however, like the word for "stop", or "becalm" used of boats. Chinese boatman are said to have renamed them kuai – zi, which sounds like "fast fellows", because Chinese think of chopsticks as swift and agile, the very opposite of halting and being becalmed. This is now their Chinese name; "chopsticks" is of course a western barbarism. In Japanese, chopsticks are called hashi, "bridge", because they effect the transition from bowl to mouth.
Chopsticks are thought of as fast, then, and helpful. Meals in China often surprise visitors by the speed with which they are eaten; chopsticks enable the Chinese and Japanese to eat food which is sizzling hot, but because is often served in small pieces it gets cold if people dawdle. Chopstick users remain more likely than we are to use their hands as aids in eating but it is not at all advisable to get them greasy: chopsticks, and especially the lacquered chopsticks common in Japan and Korea, are extremely difficult to manage with slippery fingers. Porcelain spoons are used for soups and the more liquid dishes; children are allowed to use spoons for everything until they are about three or four years old, when chopstick training begins."
When the host gives the sign, you may begin to take the cài with your chopsticks. The gestures used by Chinese, Japanese, and others to do this are fascinating for Westerners. They look accomplished. Delicate, precise, and gentle-- much more polished that our own behavior at meals. Roland Barthes in "The Empire of Signs" speaks of eulogies on the Japanese manipulation of chopsticks: "There is something maternal, the same precisely measured care taken in moving a child... the instrument never pierces, cuts, or slips, never wounds but only selects, turns, shifts. For the chopsticks... In order to divide, must separate, part, peck, instead of cutting and piercing, in the manner of our implements; they never violate the food stuff; either they gradually unravel it (in the case of vegetables) or else prod it into separate pieces (in the case of fish, eels) thereby rediscovering the natural fissures of the substance." A Westerner feels like a brute butcher before this Oriental delicacy. Barthe says that we are "armed with pikes and knives "like predators rather than gentle mothers, our food, " a prey to which one does violence."
|“Man who catch fly with chopstick, capable of anything.” ― Mr. Miyagi, in The Karate Kid|
|“Marriage is like twirling a baton, turning hand springs or eating with chopsticks. It looks easy until you try it.” — Helen Rowland|
Mannerly diners with chopsticks never "fish about" for morsels; they must take the bit they touch first. This means that one begins by eyeing one's target carefully: if you prod it, you must take and eat it. Using chopsticks need in no way mean that people eat food touched by implements which have been in other people's mouths. Yet a very western distaste for even the thought of touching the food of all with utensils of each has spread. In 1984, Hu Yaobang, the former Communist Party Secretary, criticized the traditional Chinese way of eating and urged change on sanitary grounds. A good deal of such concern must in fact be a desire to participate in Western prestige as being somehow more in ineffably "modern." The admiration of people like Roland Barthe 's for superior Oriental wisdom seems to be less satisfying than the allure of technological hygiene and "modern "mental instruments. A compromise with "modernity" is the Japanese pre-wrapped disposable set of wooden chopsticks.
The problem that Westerners experience is often the result of attempts to eat rice with chopsticks from flat plates: the small bowl raised towards a face is far easier to manage with the proper zest. Chinese themselves, given food on a flat plate, prefer to use a porcelain spoon (to stand in for its sister, the bowl). This spoon, like a bowl, has a flat bottom, so they can be laid down without spilling the contents.
The kind of food we ourselves eat, together with the way we cook and serve it, predisposes us to use knives, forks, and spoons, and our idea of what constitutes "place setting "also influences our food choices. Oriental food is cut up in the kitchen so they can be eaten with chopsticks – but also, as Barthe points out, chopsticks came into being because each mouthful is regarded as comestable partly because it is small; being confronted with a large slab meet on the dish can be a disgusting experience for people from rice – and – chopstick cultures. In addition, rice – growing is a land use which reduces the amount of fuel available, so that meat and vegetables must usually be cooked quickly to save wood. Cutting them up small facilitates stir-frying and other quick-cooking methods.
But unfortunately there is an ecological price to pay for this, as hundreds of millions of trees are chopped down every year to supply throwaway chopstick wood– in 1987, 20 billion chopsticks were used and discarded in Japan alone. It has never been acceptable to return bitten morsels of meat, vegetables, or fish to the common dish; but because the bowl of rice is "private territory, "a piece of meat or vegetable maybe held in chopsticks and bitten, and the rest put down on the rice in the bowl, to be finished later. One must never, in Japan, stick the chopsticks up right in the rice. This is done only when offerings are made by Buddhist mourners for their dead: standing chopsticks are rather like our own taboos about an empty chair at the table.
|The kind of food we ourselves eat, together with the way we cook and serve it, predisposes us to use knives, forks, and spoons, and our idea of what constitutes "place setting "also influences our food choices.|
The Chinese may be thought of as treating the little bowl like a cross between a teacup any large spoon, with the chopsticks as "helpers. "Table manners always impose difficult restraints: "if you rattle your chopsticks against the bowl," says the Chinese proverb, "you and your descendants will always be poor." Whatever happens, however, at an ordinary meal every single grain of rice in one's bowl must be eaten before dinner is over. Leaving rice is a disgusting behavior, because it shows a lack of knowledge of one's own appetite in the first place, together with greed for meat and vegetables, and no respect for rice – its culture, its history, and the hard work that has been involved in getting it to the table.
Rice is never to be gripped, lifted, and eaten grain by grain, as Western novices in the art of chopstick-handling find themselves doing with so much frustration and so many complaints. "Picking "at one's food is very rude, in fact, for Oriental manners, more than our own, demand demonstrations of delight and pleasure in eating, and inept fiddling with one's chopsticks is apt to be interpreted not merely as a want of competence but as a depressing unwillingness as well." – Margaret Visser, The Rituals of Dinner
Compiled and submitted by Demita Usher of Social Graces and Savoir Faire