Travel Asia
Chopstick Etiquette

Chopstick Etiquette in Asia. Chopsticks rest on a set table in a restaurant in China.


Photo credit: ben matthews / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA


Chinese people are familiar with the use of chopsticks but many foreigners are interested in using it but also puzzled about how to use it with facility. Chinese dining etiquette is built on tradition, not dexterity.

To use the chopstick you must first hold the upper part and don’t cross it, then hold it with your thumb, index finger, middle finger and third finger. One stick is against your third finger and the other leans on your middle finger. When you pick vegetable or meat in the dishes, use your index finger and middle finger to control the sticks.

The use of chopsticks has been a part of Chinese food culture. There are some taboos that visitors on China tours must pay great attention to, or you may make mistakes:

Don’t use it to hit the side of your bowl or plate to make a lot of noise, because Chinese people think only beggars would do this to beg for meals.
When you use it, don’t stretch out your index finger, which would be regarded as a kind of accusation to others.

Never use chopsticks to point at others or wave them around in the air or play with them too much.

It is thought to be an impolite behavior when you suck the end of a chopstick; people will think you lack family education.

Don’t use it to poke at every dish without knowing what you want.

Don’t insert it vertically into the bowls or dishes. Chinese people do this only when they burn incense to sacrifice the dead.

Do not stab or skewer food with your chopsticks.

Pick food up by exerting sufficient inward pressure on the chopsticks to grasp the food securely and move it smoothly to your mouth or bowl. It is consider bad form to drop food, so ensure it is gripped securely before carrying it. Holding one’s bowl close to the dish when serving oneself or close to the mouth when eating helps.

To separate a piece of food into two pieces, exert controlled pressure on the chopsticks while moving them apart from each other. This needs much practice.

Some consider it unhygienic to use the chopsticks that have been near (or in) one’s mouth to pick food from the central dishes. Serving spoons or chopsticks can be provided, and in this case, as a visitor on travel tours to China, you will need remember to alternate between using the serving chopsticks to move food to your bowl and your personal chopsticks for transferring the food to your mouth.

Chopsticks are not used to move bowls or plates.

It is acceptable to transfer food to closely related people (e.g. grandparents, parents, spouse, children, or significant others) if they are having difficulty picking up the food. Also it is a sign of respect to pass food to the elderly first before the dinner starts. Often, family members will transfer a choice piece of food from their plate to a relative’s plate as a sign of caring.

Holding chopsticks incorrectly will reflect badly on a child’s parents, who have the responsibility of teaching their children.

When seated for a meal, it is common custom to allow elders to take up their chopsticks before anyone else.

Chopsticks should not be used upside-down; it is “acceptable” to use them ‘backwards’ to stir or transfer the dish to another plate (if the person does not intend to eat it). This method is used only if there are no serving chopsticks.

Resting chopsticks on the side of one’s bowl or on a chopstick stand signifies one is merely taking a break from eating.


About Travel Asia

Travel Asia is a tour agency that specialises in customised, all-inclusive tours throughout China and Asia. We create adventurous, reliable and cost-effective customised tours for Australians wanting to travel throughout Asia.

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