Archive for April, 2008

Why Chinese Don’t Need Forks and Knives

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008


Chopsticks is used many cultures in Asia and it has been around for thousands of years while the fork is relatively new and only used by Europeans. I wonder what Europeans used before, oh, yes, the hand and fingers. Most of the world still uses hand and fingers to eat.

Chopsticks works like two fingers grabbing food. Forks were only invented after they had good knowledge of metallurgy.

Anyway, imagine when you go camping, you have no fork, and what do you do? Use your hand to pick up your food. But it’s too hot, so you grab a stick!

Westerns always feel curious about chopsticks, and find it impossible to eat western food. The food culture difference between east and west explains the large difference with dining and Kitchenware tools.

What westerns worries doesn’t realise is in Chinese cooking, everything is sliced and diced into smaller pieces before cooking so Chinese people don’t need forks and knives. Western cooking dictates chunks of meat or vegetable that has not been diced so that is why most Westerners use forks and knives - because they need to!

It’s a cultural thingy. It’s the way they serve their food. They actually use chopsticks and spoon. Generally, for a family meal, all the different dishes (meat, fish, veggies, soup) are placed in the center of the table and each diner will have a bowl of rice. The meat and veggies will have been chopped up into smaller pieces. So they use chopstick to alternatively pick the dishes they want followed by shoveling rice into their mouths.

Westerners generally serve large chunk of meat individually and thus need fork and knife to assist in cutting these into smaller pieces before placing into the mouth.

There are several things to remember when you use chopsticks.

- Don’t dig in the food on a plate but just get the piece which you want to get
- Don’t pick one piece then drop it back in the plate and change to another piece
- Don’t let your chopsticks be covered with food juice or residue
- Don’t use chopsticks to beat any utensils to make any noise
- Don’t wave your chopsticks
- Don’t use chopsticks like forks
- Don’t use chopsticks as toothpicks
- Don’t lick or suck your chopsticks
- Don’t put chopsticks vertically in rice in a bowl since it resembles the incense sticks for the dead

-Particularly after SARS, it is more common these days that people use a pair of common chopsticks for fetching the food on the plates. Don’t forget to swap your own chopsticks with the ones provided when getting the food because of hygiene reasons.

In a Chinese meal, an even number of dishes should be ordered. Odd numbers of dishes would be appropriate only for occasions such as the meal after a funeral.

The best dish should be put in front of the most important person in order to show your respect. Chicken head or duck head on a plate should not point at guests. The big bowl of soup should be placed in the middle.

With chopsticks you can practically pick up anything with them, without a mess and neatly. Chopsticks are easier and quicker for me to use while eating, and also they are more agile. With chopsticks you can pick up many side dishes; mix and stuff in my mouth with ease. Forks break your food because you have to stab it. Forks are for baby. Once you get the hang of chopsticks, you will find it much easier to do things with.

It’s a culture thing, each dinning tool and Kitchenware has its own merits, we can’t say which is good or not. The above thoughts are just from a Chinese perspective. Why not try for your own and decide for yourself.