Yes, you can get through a trip to Asia without ever having to use chopsticks.  Restaurant staff, seeing who you are, will bring forks, knives, and spoons.  Room Service already knows who you are…  But, why wouldn’t you try?

Part of the problem in the West is that most of our food is just not chopstick-friendly; you need a knife and fork to cut large pieces of meat.  Meat was always scarce and expensive in China, so the cuisine uses less of it – and then often in bite-size pieces.  “Instant rice” in Western pantries is light, flaky, and stripped of nutrients – and impossible to eat with chopsticks.  The way rice is harvested, processed, and cooked in Asia preserves its vitamins and minerals, and so it is “sticky” – and easy to pick up with chopsticks.

Another part of the problem is just psychological. We treat chopsticks as mysterious alien tools in the West, and trick ourselves into thinking they’re difficult to use.

Finally, with our car culture and fast-food diet, where our meals come from a bag and are designed to be eaten using one hand while driving, people’s skill at handling forks and spoons is frankly slipping.  It’s hard to ask people to master a new eating implement when they’re speeding down the freeway.

Image by  infomaniac8474  via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Image by infomaniac8474 via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

So, really, if you can write with a pencil, you can use chopsticks.  The bottom one stays in one place – only the upper stick moves with your fingers.  The motion of your hand allows you to pinch and hold the food.

Ultimately, this is like learning how to use a pencil, tie your shoes, or knot a tie. An illustration can only take you so far – you just have to pick up a pair of sticks and practice!  You can buy training chopsticks, which some people say is very helpful, or you can grab an extra set next time you go out for Asian food. Your Asian supermarket has a set of five very nice, lacquered pair for probably $5.

When you are finally on your Asian trip, in a restaurant, and pick up the chopsticks instead of a fork, yes, you’ll get a smile from your hosts.  And you’ll get at the tastiest bits of food ahead of your traveling companions.