Good Habits: On Using Chopsticks

 Our founder Yuka's family chopsticks. 

Our founder Yuka's family chopsticks. 

Even the most elegant chopsticks have a simple design reflecting centuries of dining history.  However, some people can find it difficult to master chopsticks. Part of the reason for this learning curve is that chopstick use is cultural as well as practical.  The use of these utensils reflect the traditional values of Japanese cuisine and, when used properly, they honor the meal and host.  When used improperly, they can cause great disrespect.  Here are a few tips to make sure you're using yours well. 

Size is important.  Because chopsticks are like an extension of your hands, you want to make sure to select a pair that are comfortable to use.  Chopsticks that are too long or short make eating less enjoyable, so having ones that are the perfect size is important. 

Here's how you can find your ideal length: 

  1. Hold your thumb and index finger in an L shape.
  2. Measure the distance from fingertip to fingertip.
  3. Multiply this number by 1.5.

Another way to approximate this length is to measure the length of your foot.  Kids need shorter chopsticks, so some Japanese parents get ones that are 15% of their child's height. 

Some chopsticks are easier to handle than others. Children's chopsticks often have finger grooves to help them get used to holding utensils.  Starter adult ones have textured tips to better hold food and ridged tops for an easier grip.  More experienced users can graduate to slippery--yet beautiful--smooth chopsticks. 

Bamboo and wood make the best chopsticks.  A well-made pair can last a lifetime.  Some are even passed down as heirlooms over generations.  We prefer lacquered chopsticks since they do not pick up the taste of food like untreated wood ones. 

Beware these dinner-table taboos: 

- Sticking your chopsticks upright in your rice bowl
- Spearing your chopsticks into a piece of food like a fork
- Passing food from chopstick to chopstick
- Taking food from a communal bowl with your own chopsticks
- Licking or biting your chopsticks

While these prohibitions stem from Buddhist traditions, most of them are also unsanitary.  A good way to stay on the safe side is treating the chopsticks as hygienically as possible.  Keeping them to yourself is best. 

Remember that chopsticks transport food to your mouth; they are part of your hand, not the meal.  If you take care of them, they'll be good to you too!

WORDS BY MAGALI ROMAN