First, find out how to choose the Best Chopsticks for your needs...
Second, learn the trick to using them...
~ and last but not least ~
Prepare to take your new skills out on the town by learning proper Etiquette!

Picking up sushi with chopsticks
Chopsticks with bowl of rice
Picking up food with chopsticks

Before we get into the down and dirty details of picking the best chopsticks, or learning how to use them, or getting valuable tips on proper etiquette so we don't embarrass ourselves at the local sushi bar, let's go over some blander stuff to get some basics out of the way.

Think of it as a foundation...

I know that most people already know what chopsticks are. And I don't want to bore you with stuff you probably already know, but for the sake of those who are brand new to this, let's go over some information that might be helpful for them.

Who knows, you might even pick up a few tidbits of info along the way too...

So, what are Chopsticks?

Chopsticks are tapered sticks of equal length that are the traditional cooking and eating utensils of the Far East. This includes countries like Japan, Korea, Vietnam and China, to name a few.

They can be made of all kinds of different materials including wood, bamboo, stainless steel, porcelain, bone, and plastic. For the more affluent they can also be made of gold, silver, ivory, and jade.

I am personally not in the affluent class so all of mine are made out of wood and bamboo :-)

The lengths of can vary depending on their intended use and also the country that they are being used in.

Typically in Japan, chopsticks for eating are around 8 inches for men and 7 inches for women and are more pointed. For cooking they average between 12 and 15 inches. In China, they usually are longer, more blunt and usually around 10 inches long for those used for eating.

Since my mother is Japanese, I grew up on and tend to prefer the Japanese variety. So if you notice that I might be leaning in that direction in the paragraphs to follow, please try to forgive me...

Picking the Best Chopsticks

Many different kinds of chopsticks

Picking the best chopsticks for your uses is going to require you to ask yourself several questions.

You will have to decide on things like:

  • Are they going to be used for eating or cooking?
  • Do you think that you are an experienced user or a beginner?
  • How much do you want to spend?
  • Do you prefer a pointed or a blunt tip?
  • Will they be for one time use (disposable) or will they be for repeated use?
  • If they are for repeated use, are they for daily use or special occasions only?

These are just a few of the things you will have to decide before you go shopping for a new or even your first set.

If you think you have a good idea of what you're going to use your new chopsticks for, then let's start by looking at the main reason that most people are looking to get them in the first place --- for eating.

Chopsticks for Eating

Girl eating noodles with chopsticks

Were you able to answer the questions above to help you decide which ones may be right for you?

It will help a lot if you did.

If you are ready let's go ahead and talk first about the ones that you throw away.

Disposable Chopsticks for Eating

Wooden disposable chopsticks
Bamboo disposable chopsticks

If you are planning to have a sushi party at your home, or maybe planning to make some kind of oriental style dish for your family, friends or guests then you have probably decided that you need some disposable chopsticks.

Good choice. There's really no need to buy 10 or 20 sets of higher quality ones when you may never use them again.

And there really isn't a whole lot of research and learning that needs to go into your purchase before you pull the trigger either.

The main things that you will probably have to decide  regarding the disposable variety before you buy will be:

  1. Whether they will be the kind that break apart or not and 
  2. If you want them to be wood or bamboo

Cost is almost a non-issue. You can usually obtain either one these on Amazon for between 5 and 8 dollars per 100.

If given a choice, I prefer the round bamboo style. See the picture above on the right to see one of these. They can be already separated or may be joined at the very top.

They have no slick finish on them so they grip food well (good for beginning chopstick guests), are water resistant (because they are bamboo) and are already smooth with no splinters (always nice).

The square lightweight wood ones (see picture above on the left) that are joined most of the way down the center you will have to break apart. The problem is, normally this leaves splinters hanging off which to me is an inconvenience and can occasionally stick in your lip if you are not careful.

My mother taught me to rub them together on the corners of the eating end (about halfway down to the end) to smooth out and knock off those pieces of wood. And the good news is, it does work.

But why not just avoid all of that and get the round bamboo ones for a buck or two more?

Disposable Chopsticks Sushi Bar Etiquette

Chopsticks on holder at sushi bar
Chopsticks and place settings at restaurant

One other thing on the disposable chopsticks. It is supposedly bad sushi manners to do that rubbing trick at a sushi bar (because it supposedly says to the sushi chef or restaurant staff that their chopsticks are cheap...well, duh...they are!). Being a rebel, I normally will do it anyway if they truly are the real cheap ones (the square ones you have to break apart with splinters sticking out of them...).

The way I look at it, if a sushi bar is so cheap that they give their valued customers (in this case, I use that term loosely) the cheapest disposable chopsticks made on the planet earth and ones that can stick in your lip and leave splinters then they shouldn't be surprised or "offended" when their customers rub them together to eliminate the risk of injury to themselves.

And all of this could be avoided if the sushi bar would spend no more than one or two bucks more (per 100) to at least get the smooth bamboo ones which have no splinters.

There is cheap...and then there is CHEAP...Geesh...

Makes me wonder what else they might be doing to cut the sashimi really fresh or is it older than it should be? Is the sushi rice Shinmai (this years crop) or is it last years because it is cheaper...

Just something to think about....

But in the Sushi Bar's defense --- don't do this with the round bamboo ones because they don't need it and it would be an insult to the sushi chef or to the restaurant in general if you did it with these.

You can get either kind, the break apart or the bamboo disposable ones, at Amazon. 

Regular Chopsticks for Eating

These will be the ones that are not disposable and the ones that you will wash, and dry and probably store in your silverware drawer or in a container with your Asian dishes.

Picking the best ones for your needs might best be done through the process of elimination. The first of which will be for those who are newbies. 

For Newbies: Avoid the ones with slick surfaces

Decorative Chopsticks with laquered surface

If using this is or going to be a newly acquired skill for you, or you consider yourself a novice at using them, then I would suggest that you stay away from any that have a slick surface until you become comfortably accomplished at using them.

See the picture above? See how shiny those look? They are pretty, but they will make it harder for you to learn to use because they will be slipperier than just a plain wooden pair. See the picture below to see some like that.

Wooden chopsticks

There is no need to curse your first attempts at using them either by getting some that don't have any natural "grip" to them. This would include ones that have a lacquer or polished looking coating, and ones made of metal.

If you are experienced and confident in your skills, then by all means get what you want. But honestly, even now I still prefer just a plain old bamboo or wooden pair that has no more than a stained look to it if any, and no kind of shiny or "slick" look. At least for my everyday ones.

I just don't like to put in any more effort to pick up my food and get it to my mouth than is necessary and I definitely don't like for my food to be continuously slipping out my grasp because they're as slippery as vegetable oil.

But that is just me.

If you prefer however to drop your food most of the time, then hey, go for it.

Now that's not to say that there is no use for the slick and shiny lacquered coated wooden chopsticks. There really is. They are pretty. And they are nice for special occasions. But to me, it is kind of similar to putting out your best china. You wouldn't want to drag it out and use it everyday, but every once in a while it is nice.

If this is you and you are ready to go ahead and get some, they have a wide selection lacquered chopsticks at Amazon.

For the Experienced: Get what you want

Not very impressive advice is it? Well, most of the best advice, at least to me, is for those who are new or are learning. I do remember trying to use my slippery, pretty pair when I was a young lad and they were a little frustrating.

I don't want to see other people go through that unnecessarily. I didn't have a choice since my mother was Japanese, so I had to use them. For those that are new, I want them to have the best chance of success.

But even for you experienced people, I'd still recommend staying away from the pretty ones for everyday use. But in the end you know, it's really up to you. You may be the greatest chopstick master in the world and have no problems at all. If so, that is just jim dandy.

And just to let you know, they do have a nice selection of them on Amazon, even for you, a great chopstick master :-)

(ignore me...)

Chopsticks for Cooking

Cooking chopsticks versus eating chopsticks

Cooking chopsticks are used for stir frying and deep frying and are longer to help keep one from getting burned by popping grease.

In Japan, they are called Ryoribashi when they are used for cooking and Saibashi when they are used to transfer cooked food to the serving dish. In the picture above you can see how long the Saibashi or Ryoribashi is compared to a regular pair of chopsticks.

Normally they are made out of bamboo. But for deep frying, the bamboo can get discolored and greasy from repeated use in hot oil.

Metal chopsticks
Metal chopsticks

For this reason, many are made of metal (normally stainless steel) and are used for deep frying. The handles can be made of many different kinds of materials. The one on the left in the picture above is made of wood while the one on the right is made of ebony. 

This way the handle stays cool even though the metal portion of the chopstick may be hot from repeated immersion in the hot oil.

Take a look on Amazon for their selection.

The Trick to using Chopsticks

Just so you know, my mother is Japanese and I feel like I have had a pair in my hands since I was born. And to top that, at the same time I got them, they handed me (my parents) a bowl of rice and told me that I needed to start practicing.

Keep in mind that I was just born, still waiting on my first pair of diapers and had not had my first drop of milk yet...

(Nobody can ever say that the Japanese people do not push their children very, very hard... :-)

Well I guess you've probably figured out by now that I might be stretchin' the truth just a wee little bit. I'll admit it. It wasn't quite that bad.

But I did actually learn to eat with them though before I was allowed to eat with a fork (even though my father was American and he always got to use his fork). I didn't get too use a fork (at least on a regular basis) until I was older and was good at using chopsticks. Fairness and equality was obviously not practiced in our home.

All I can figure is, is that my mother wanted me to learn how to eat like a cultured human being before I learned how to eat like a barbarian :-) ...(no offense to the fork only eaters in our audience today...).

And believe it or not, I actually do remember getting to use a fork for the very first time, and thought "Heck, yeah! Now, this is the way to EAT! Chopsticks are so way overrated!!".

Now it was becoming clear to me why Japanese people were so darn thin. How can you get enough sustenance to maintain your bodily functions when all you can pick up is a grain of rice at a time?? Shoveling it in is soooo much more efficient!

It was then that I had an epiphany...

Spoons and Forks Rock!

The world shifted on its axis...

Needless to say, I grew up using forks and spoons also. And I forgot what it was like to learn to use chopsticks. To me, it was second nature.

So here and now I will try to pay penance by attempting to show you how to them.

I hope it is useful.

And as to the "trick", that mainly refers to making sure you are properly holding them. The biggest trick in that being to lock-in the chopstick on the bottom so that it doesn't move. Only the one on top moves. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I don't really think that using them is all that difficult to learn (easy for me to say right?). It will be awkward at first sure, kind of like riding a bike, but if you practice a little using the proper technique you'll soon get the hang of it.

That was my pep talk.

Ok. So let's do this.

how to hold chopsticks
how to hold chopsticks
how to hold chopsticks
  1. Refer to the pictures above to see how to hold the first chopstick.
  2. In the picture on the left, notice how it is firmly in the fold between the thumb and the forefinger. The thumb actually presses into it to help hold it in place. Let the thumb end "wrap over" the top of the it a little. See also that the 4th and 5th fingers press against it also. These fingers press against it pushing it to the left. 
  3. The middle and last picture on the right shows this same hold as you turn your hand over to see the underside. These 3 fingers now holding this chopstick have it firmly "locked" where it is. It doesn't move.
  4. Great! You're halfway there! Let's learn the rest of it.
how to hold chopsticks
how to hold chopsticks
how to hold chopsticks
  1. Now take the second chopstick and place it between the end of the thumb, forefinger and middle finger as in the above pictures.
  2. The index finger should lay nearly on top of it while the middle finger presses into the side kind of pinching it between the thumb and middle finger. 
  3. Now I'll tell ya that you can place the middle finger a little under the top one if it feels better. It may help you lift it up to open it if it is positioned this way. See what "feels" best to you.
  4. Practice opening and closing them by lifting and dropping the top one using mainly the middle and index finger. 

And there you have it! Practice and you'll be an expert in no time. If you don't have a pair at home, the next time you go to a Chinese or Japanese restaurant bring home some disposable ones to practice with.

In Japan there are some traditional rules regarding chopstick use.  Try to follow them if you can (especially in a sushi bar), it will reflect highly on you!

Chopstick Etiquette

  • Always place the pair together, eating end resting on the holder or folded paper that came with them
  • When they are on the rest, point the tip (eating end) to the left 
  • Never stick them upright in your rice
  • Don't spear your food them
  • Never cross them as this is a sign of death
  • Never pass food with them to another persons as this is bad luck. As part of a traditional funeral ceremony, relatives pass the cremated bones of the deceased with chopsticks before putting them in the burial pot
  • When retrieving food from a communal plate, turn them around so that you use the non-eating end to pickup the food
  • In a formal situation, put disposable variety back in the wrapper when you are done eating

And there ya go. Everything you did...and didn't want to know about chopsticks...

Good luck and have fun!

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David Guthrie, EzineArticles Basic Author