The chopstick expert, Wei Jane Chir, 55, explains, there is right way and a wrong way to use these simple yet elegant utensils.
“Westerners sometimes hold their chopsticks too low or too high,” says Chir, a Taiwan native who is also the artistic director and designer of the International Chinese Culinary Competition.
“Chopsticks should be used as if they were an extension of your arm. Proper use of chopsticks shows that you have education and good manners.”
Indeed, watching Chir maneuver chopsticks while eating food at the Radiance Tea House (158 W. 55th St.; 212-217-0442) is like watching an artist paint. With her slender right hand she deftly works the retractable stainless steel sticks she always keeps in her purse, grasping even the smallest grain of rice.
Chir demonstrates the proper way to hold chopsticks, by resting the lower stick on the ring finger and the gap between the thumb and the index finger, then gripping the second chopstick with the index finger and thumb. The bottom chopstick does not move while the top one is manipulated by the index finger.
“Using chopsticks keeps the brain in shape,” says Chir, an upper West Side resident who owns at least 36 pairs of chopsticks. “More than 100 nerves and muscles have to work in order to use the chopsticks. There is scientific research that shows people who use chopsticks are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease.”
Chopsticks originated in China more than 4,000 years ago. According to Chir, the ruling class originally made their chopsticks out of bronze, which turned out to be poisonous, so they switched to silver and ivory. The working class most often made their chopsticks out of wood, which is more common in north China, or bamboo, more common in the south.
For Chir, the beauty of chopsticks, which are used not only in China but Japan, Korea and Vietnam, lies in their versatility. They can be used for whisking, pulling, clamping, digging, cutting and, of course, picking up various sumptuous items of food.
But chopstick etiquette isn’t simply how to hold the chopsticks, it’s also what to do with them when they are no longer in use.
“It is very rude to cross chopsticks on your plate or suck on them or leave them sticking out of your bowl of rice,” says Chir, who insists that real chopsticks must be between 6 and 8 inches long unless they are primarily used for cooking. “When you are finished with your food, place the chopsticks next to each other so that they rest on top of the bowl. That’s the polite way to say you are finished.”
And, by no means, should New Yorkers ever point them at another person at the table, unless they’re looking for a fight.
“Chopsticks are an integral part of Chinese culture,” says Chir. “If you have a Chinese girlfriend and want to impress her mother, you have to learn proper chopstick etiquette.”
By Jacob E. Osterhout. Read the entire article.