VIDEO: Use Chopsticks in 3 (Not So Simple) Steps

chef in Kyoto practicing for knife competition

Last night Olivier and I wandered into Kyotomi, a restaurant in the Gion neighborhood serving traditional Kyoto obanzai ryori (several small dishes of seasonal/local fish/rice/tofu as a prix-fixe menus). The chef was very kind, talking with us for the two hours we were at his counter; he has owned the restaurant for the last 30 years. But as he watched us eat, I could tell there was something wrong. He didn’t seem upset…but just…anxious. Like he couldn’t stand to look at us anymore.

Turns out he actually couldn’t. Every year the guy competes in Shiki Hōchō–also known as “the way of the knife,” a knife cutting ceremony long performed for emperors and nobility where the knife master prepares fish/poultry/tofu without touching the food with his hands. He makes Japanese characters out of single blocks of tofu and filets fish whole in just a couple of slices.

Japanese knife competition in Kyoto

Using chopsticks, we learned, is a similar art, and like we’ve discovered many times over Japan, there is only one way to do it: THE RIGHT WAY.

As I struggled to scoop up rice on the tips of my chopsticks without getting it all over my fingers, face or table (OK, it wasn’t really that bad…but close), the chef offered to show us to use chopsticks as well, and we had been doing it all wrong (the chef said most of his customers use chopsticks wrong *shakes his head).

Not only is there a right way to eat with your chopsticks–there is, of course, a right way to pick up your chopsticks, open your chopsticks, pick up your bowl and put down your chopsticks and bowl. Here’s our lesson, in 3 (not so simple) videos:

PART 1: Picking up and opening your chopsticks

1. Pick up the middle of the chopsticks with your right (we’ll use right as dominant, but it’s your dominant) hand facing down.

2. Place your left hand face up under the chopsticks next to your left. Hold on now to the chopsticks with your left hand.

3. Slide your right hand to the end of the chopsticks and then under and around so it’s facing up next to your left.

4. Grip the chopstick that’s furthest from you now with your right hand; grasp the paper wrapper with your left hand. Pull the chopstick halfway out of the paper with your right hand.

5. Grasp the right chopstick and paper with your left hand. Pull the left chopstick halfway out of the paper with your right hand.

6. Move your right hand to the middle of the chopsticks and hold on; slip off the paper with your left.

7. Grasp the chopsticks between your left ring and middle finger.

8. Take the paper from your left hand with your right hand. Place the paper on the table.

THAT’S IT! No big deal, right? 😉

PART 2: Picking up your bowl

  1. Pick up the lid with both hands. Then, using your right hand, flip the lid over. Grasp back on with both hands.
  2. LOOK AT THE LID. Isn’t it pretty?!
  3. Place the lid to the side.
  4. Pick the bowl up with both hands.
  5. Grasp the bowl with your left hand; the top with your thumb and the bottom with your fingers.
  6. Using your left hand, pick up your chopsticks. Place your chopsticks between the ring and middle fingers of your left hand.
  7. Adjust your hold on the chopsticks with your left hand.
  8. Eat! (Wait, how to eat is a whole other story…)

PART 3: Eating with your chopsticks

  1. NUMBER ONE RULE OF CHOPSTICKS: Your fingers should always be FLAT, not bent up like some old man hands. Good luck with that one…
  2. The end of the chopsticks should rest in the nook between your thumb and pointer finger (um, right??).
  3. Your middle finger directs the top chopstick. Your pointer just rests on top.
  4. Your ring finger and thumb pinch the bottom chopstick and direct it.
  5. Your pinkie finger wraps around your ring finger.
  6. Now pinch like a crab.
  7. Oh, did I mention…DON’T BEND YOUR FINGERS.

Totally easy, right?! You got this.

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