Pick up the first chopstick with the middle finger and thumb. Stiffen your hand for a firm grip. Have the broad end of the chopstick lay on the part where your thumb and index finger connect. Rest the narrow end on the tip of your ring finger, and hold it in place with the tip of your middle finger. (Hint: try holding it the way you hold a pen to write. It might rest on your ring finger or your middle finger, held in place by your index finger. Place the chopstick then lift your index finger so it can hold the second chopstick.)
Grip the second chopstick with your index finger. Place your thumb over the second chopstick. Adjust your grip to a more comfortable position. Make sure the narrow tips of the chopsticks are even with each other to help prevent them from crossing or being unable to “pinch” the food.
Hold it steady. This chopstick should not move when you attempt to pick up food. Alternatively, hold the first chopstick steady and move the second (top) chopstick by moving the tip of your index finger up and down while the thumb remains relatively steady, acting like a pivot point. The top chopstick remains pressed to the index finger from the tip through the first joint. The movement comes from flexing the joint closest to the knuckle. Straightening your index finger opens the chopsticks and bending it closes them, with perhaps a slight flexing of the thumb to keep the chopsticks lined up with each other. (Note: this alternative is different from the photos in how the top chopstick is held. The movement comes from the top chopstick, not the bottom one, so the top chopstick is held so that it can be moved easily. Use the method that is comfortable for you.)
Practice opening and closing the chopsticks. Make sure the broad ends of the chopsticks do not make an “X” as this will make it difficult to pick up food.
- Pick up food at a good angle (try roughly 45 degrees from the plate); slightly lift it up. If it feels unstable, put it down and try again.
- Start out holding the chopsticks in the middle or closer to the tips while you get used to the movement and keeping the tips aligned. As you get more comfortable and confident, start hold the chopsticks closer and closer to the broad ends.
- While it may seem easier at first to hold the chopsticks near their tips, holding them further back means that they are closer to parallel, which helps to scoop food (like rice) from below. You’ll also be able to pick up larger pieces of food (see photo #3 above).
- You don’t always have to hold the chopsticks completely accurately. As long as you can comfortably pick up the food and bring it to your mouth, you’re using chopsticks correctly.
- Take the chopsticks home to practice using them. Follow the steps above and lift a peanut, a pen, or a piece of fish. Try eating dinner with them.
- Floppy and/or sliced foods like cold cuts or sliced cheeses are good to practice on. They’re more forgiving than cubed foods while you’re learning to keep the chopsticks lined up and how much pressure to apply.
- Apply a firm but gentle pressure on the food, just enough to keep the food from falling from the chopsticks. Too much pressure is more likely to cause your chopsticks to cross at the narrow ends unless they’re perfectly aligned and could launch your food across the table.
- Be patient as it takes a while to learn to use them correctly. It is perfectly permissible to ask for a fork or spoon if you get too frustrated.
- Wood or bamboo chopsticks are the easiest to use, while plastic ones will be harder to use. Metal chopsticks, as favored by the Koreans, are the hardest of all. Master one, and move up to the next. The next time you go out your hosts will be impressed!
- Avoid sticking your chopsticks into your rice straight down. It’s bad manners, because it resembles the incense that family members burn to mourn a dead relative. When done put chopsticks over bowl and lay them flat.
- Avoid passing food with the chopsticks. As in the previous warning, this resembles a section of the traditional Japanese funeral, where the family members pass bones using chopsticks. Instead, when passing food, place the food on an intermediary plate, preferably using a serving utensil or, if none is provided, turn your chopsticks around so the ends that have not been in your mouth touch the food, then give the plate to whomever.
- Chinese etiquette says that you may lift your personal rice bowl close to your mouth with one hand, as you use the chopsticks to push the rice into your mouth. However, Korean etiquette says this is very bad form! Be aware of the people you are eating with, and what the customs are.
- Also do not cross your chopsticks, because in Chinese cultures this is a symbol for death. Always lay them parallel to each other.