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Chopsticks 101

Not a how-to, just a how 'bout that

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If you're a "Westerner" frequenting one of Charlotte's many Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese or Korean restaurants, it's likely that silverware rather than chopsticks will be brought to your place setting. Experienced or adventurous diners may request chopsticks, but the dexterity required to manipulate a shiitake mushroom from plate to mouth with a set of chopsticks can seem daunting to those who haven't mastered the technique.

Eating with two skinny sticks feels unnatural to some of us, but it's been a way of life for about 5,000 years in China. Food was cooked in large pots and retrieved using twigs. As the population grew, it was important to conserve resources so the food was cut into small pieces that would cook fast and save fuel. The small pieces made knives unnecessary, and the twigs evolved into chopsticks. Confucius, who lived from around 551 to 479 BC, may have influenced the development of chopsticks. As a vegetarian, he believed knives reminded people of slaughterhouses and he discouraged their use at the table. By 500 BC, chopstick use had spread to present-day Vietnam, Korea and Japan.

It's really not that difficult to learn to use chopsticks, and somehow the food does taste better when eaten with them. But there are some rules of etiquette and some superstitions that you should know once you get the hang of them:

Don't spear food with the chopsticks.

Don't wave your chopsticks around, point with them, or play with them.

Don't stick chopsticks into your food, especially not into a bowl of rice. In Japanese funerals, the deceased's chopsticks are stuck into a bowl of rice and placed on the family altar as an offering.

Don't pass food directly from your chopsticks to another's. This resembles a ritual in which bone fragments from a cremated body are removed from the pyre and passed by chopsticks among the mourners.

The Chinese believe that an uneven pair of chopsticks at your place setting means you are going to miss a boat, plane or train, and that dropped chopsticks will bring bad luck.

And although I didn't find this in my research, I suspect that shoving chopsticks between your gums and your upper lip so you look like a walrus is considered very gauche.

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