Why do people eat Chinese food with chopsticks?

People that have enjoyed the functionality and ease of forks for decades feel compelled to use chopsticks for Asian food. Why? I did in the seventies out of some sort of national curiosity, I guess. I’m old and don’t really remember exactly why I did it. I do remember giving that up in frustration somewhere in my forties and going back to the realistic comfort of a fork. I even commit the sin of cutting up ramen noodles so they’ll fit in a spoon neatly. (I commit the same offense with spaghetti-i don’t like slurping.) I do regularly eat Cheetos and other insults to the fingertips with chopsticks, as well as popcorn for the sheer enjoyment of it (popcorn being a toy food in the first place). But I wonder why people who have used forks for decades feel compelled to use chopsticks with Asian food. I’ve gone to work lunches with white people who became upset that the Thai place didn’t have chopsticks or that they had to ask for them at Chinese places. I see people using them with cup-o-noodles at their desk where nobody is watching or joining them. Is this what people are taught as kids now? Has this become something ingrained in our culture that I missed by being childless?

There is a bunch of rules and conventions that surround pretty much every single experience of consumption. Not just that, but most individual foods/drinks have utensils and rituals attached to them that extend beyond the mere practical, and that contribute to the entire food ‘experience’ in terms of tactile sensation and emotional response. Often when we’re close to that food/drink, we don’t even notice our own conventions.

By way of analogy, there’s no substantive difference between drinking champagne from a glass or from a coffee mug, but few would go for the latter. Nor is there with supping Cheerios and milk out of a bottle rather than with a bowl and spoon. Nor is there much difference - in terms of the eating itself - between sitting at a restaurant table to eat with a knife and fork or walking around the restaurant holding the plate in one hand and ferrying the food into your mouth with the other. It’s convention and aesthetics.

If you’ve always eaten Chinese food with chopsticks, for many people it just feels ‘wrong’ to eat them with other utensils.

This is funny, because the majority of Thai people eat their food with a fork and spoon (and though you do occasionally see chopsticks at some noodle places in Thailand, they’re often to cater to tourist presupposition and are certainly not the norm).

I use chopsticks most often with Sushi, because I think they’re the most convenient way to eat Sushi.

Well, in Japan they eat sushi with their fingers, which would seem to be even more convenient. I use chopsticks myself because I get American-style sushi with sauce on it.

I don’t generally use chopsticks for Chinese takeout, but will use it in a restaurant. I impressed the staff at a Japanese restaurant once by eating the entire meal with them; non-Japanese nearly always used Western utensils.

It’s part of the experience.The Chinese food I’m eating probably isn’t Chinese food as it would have been prepared in China, anyway – it’s heavily Americanized. Nevertheless, it’s prepared in the Chinese style, and is made into bite-sized chunks that can be eaten with chopsticks, instead of having to be cut up with knife and fork and pronged into the mouth.

Eating with chopsticks is the expected way to eat it, as well. Do you remember the ribbing politicians got on The Daily Show from Jon Stewart for eating New York pizza with a knife and fork? Yet there’s absolutely no reason you couldn’t eat it that way.
Myself, I taught myself how to eat with chopsticks at an early age so that I could eat Chinese food in what appeared to be the right way. I admit to liking to eat Thai food that way, too, even though I know it’s mainly eaten with western implements.

Eat your Szechuan Beef with a fork if it makes you happy. And your Sicilian pizza, as well, if you want. I’ll continue to use my chopsticks for the former and my hands for the latter.

I use chopsticks for any food that works well with chopsticks. And I eat spaghetti with a fork and spoon, no slurping or cutting required.

I love eating Asian food with a fork and a spoon!(It’s not just Thailand that does it!)


It’s fun, of course!l

Chopsticks is best when you have to mix it all up, or eat it from a bowl, in my opinion!

I’ll use chopsticks when I’m out with Chinese friends in a somewhat authentic restaurant, which is pretty rarely. (I forced myself to learn how to use them at some point, but I’m not very good and my hand cramps after a meal.) Those are also the only places where I’ll bring a bowl up to my mouth, either soup or rice, and scoop things in with the chopsticks as you’re meant to do; really the only plausible way to eat white rice with sticks.

Thing is, this is a very different environment; family style, people sticking their sticks into big dishes in the middle of the table, saliva everywhere. The chopsticks go with the occasion.

99% of the time, though, I’m getting Americanized Chinese food (or Thai or whatever), which means 1 dish with lots of sauce and a heaping bowl of white rice. I like to dump my rice into the sauce so I can slop it all up, which makes Asians cringe but whatever, it’s my food now. That makes it impossible to eat with with chopsticks, so out comes the trusty fork.

I’m skeptical of any white people who insist on using chopsticks at your typical strip mall Asian place, especially if they have to ask for them. I figure I can use either, but if there’s a perfectly good fork sitting right there, I’m not going to pretend like I don’t have decades of experience using it with extreme efficiency.

I cook with chopsticks. They’re easy on non-stick pans, and they work really well for mixing things up and turning things over-- especially stir-fry vegetables.

Gosh, those white people…can they do anything right?

Why not? I can eat faster with a spoon and a pair of chopsticks than you can with a fork if I have to.

steronz - “That makes it impossible to eat with with chopsticks, so out comes the trusty fork.” Wanna bet? That actually makes it much easier to eat with chopsticks, IMO.

To me, it really comes down to what they present on the table at the restaurant. If we’re at our local dumpling joint, they put both a fork and chopsticks in the rolled-up napkin, so I find myself swapping back and forth without really thinking about it.

At the local pho joint, it’s those funky Asian soup spoons and chopsticks. You have to ask for a regular fork and spoon. So I just use what’s provided. (and honestly, eating pho with chopsticks and a spoon is the fastest track to proficiency with chopsticks that I know of)

But when we get takeout Chinese or Thai, I don’t bother with the bamboo chopsticks; it’s regular silverware from the drawer time.

I have a lot of chopsticks and I use them almost exclusively for cooking. I can eat with chopsticks, if I’m out eating sashimi I’ll use the chopsticks instead of asking for a fork, but that’s about it.

Long ago went out to a lunch to say goodbye to a Chinese colleague moving to a new job. We went to Japanese Steak House where they provided chopsticks. The colleague asked for a fork, he said it was too hard to eat with those sticks.

Stewart, a local yahoo, was picking on NY mayor DiBlasio not eating pizza the NY way. It is the soft equivalent of picking on a prominent Chinese person for not eating Chinese food in China with chopsticks.

Hmm, you may have to teach me, picking up slippery grains of rice seems like some Miyagi move. And most restaurants don’t seem to give you spoons if you don’t get soup.

He’s talked about people eating pizza with a knife and fork on more than one occasion, and not just about DiBlasio (although that was the most notable case).

It’s part of the experience for me. Wine in a proper wine glass, martini in a martini glass, Chinese food with chopsticks, blow with a $100 bill…it’s all in the details.

Apparently I’m not very talented in the dexterity department. I’ve never been able to make chopsticks work, so I stick with the fork. People have tried to teach me to use them; it just doesn’t work for me.

“Oh, they’ve seen the fork…”

Jerry on chopsticks.

As for Thai food, chopsticks are always used with noodle dishes, but yes, it’s spoon and fork for everything else. And only the spoon enters the mouth, the fork being to scoop rice and stuff into the spoon. Putting a fork in your mouth is akin to eating with a knife in the West, although for some foods it seems to have become more appropriate than it used to be. Like northern or northeastern sausage.

However, the wife’s older relatives – Chinese, every one of them – always ate rice with chopsticks here.

And if you’re planning a trip to Japan, I highly recommend you learn to use chopsticks for everything. Restaurants will simply assume you know how to, and then you’ll feel like a schmuck asking for a spoon and fork.