Chopstick Etiquette | Japanese, Korean, Chinese & Vietnamese
Tired of being the only person at the table who asks for a fork when visiting Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam or any other Asian country? Then it’s time to learn the proper chopstick etiquette and learning how to use chopsticks the right way!
Using chopsticks is a much bigger deal than simply understanding how to hold them. This is because many countries have different etiquette expected when using this type of cutlery.
In this article, we’re going to look at the do-s and don’t-s of using chopsticks in various Asian countries. This is important to learn so that you don’t offend your hosts or friends while traveling. Not only will you demonstrate your manners, but you’re sure to impress everyone at the table with your cultural knowledge.
WAIT! Before reading up on manners, it’s first important to understand how to use chopsticks. Whether you’re left-handed or right-handed, there’s a proper way to use these tricky cutlery. Follow the link above for more details.
While many countries using chopsticks have their own unique rules, much of the associated etiquette is universal. There are a few key manners that you’ll need to know before visiting Asia.
1. Don’t Stick Your Chopsticks Vertically In Your Food
Sticking chopsticks upward in your food doesn’t appear clean or convenient. In addition, this gesture is often associated with death in many Asian countries. This is because the vertical chopsticks resemble incense offerings at temples, often made in order to communicate with those in the afterlife.
In addition, chopsticks are used to remove large bones from cremated remains. Thus, it’s almost better to lay your chopsticks on the chopstick rest or off to the side on a napkin.
2. Don’t Eat Directly From The Main Plate
In many Asian cultures, shared plates decorate the center of a table. However, it’s more polite to take what you want and add it to your smaller plate or bowl before enjoying it. Eating directly from the serving plate can be considered rude, as it appears greedy, impatient, or unsanitary.
3. Check For Serving Chopsticks
In some cultures, it is acceptable to use your personal chopsticks to grab food on the serving dishes. However, in other countries, chopsticks or large spoons will accompany serving dishes. These should be used to add the food to your plate. Once there, you can use your personal chopsticks to enjoy the food.
If you don’t see any chopsticks arrive with the serving dishes, it’s likely acceptable to use your own chopsticks to take the food. Be sure to ask your party if you’re unsure of any cultural norms.
4. Don’t Point
Of course, chopsticks should not be used to point at another party member. This is simply because the sticks are used to bring food to your mouth and may be considered dirty. Gesture with your hands when trying to get someone’s attention.
5. Don’t Sort Through Food With Your Chopsticks
We all have personal preferences of what we want to eat. However, it’s considered rude to go rummaging through a salad or a roasted fish to find the specific pieces you want – especially if there are no serving chopsticks involved!
Although many cultures are comfortable using personal chopsticks to take food away from the center of the table, moving your sticks all over the food can still be considered unsanitary – not to mention greedy.
Now, let’s look at some of the more unique chopstick etiquette in various Asian countries.
Japanese Chopstick Etiquette
Did you know that Japan has its own unique (slightly strict) chopstick etiquette? Let’s see what makes Japan stand out among other Asian countries.
- In Japan, it’s acceptable to lift a bowl close to your mouth. When doing so, you can use your chopsticks to glide the food into your mouth. For soups, if there is no spoon accompanying the bowl, you can bring the bowl to your mouth to drink the soup.
- If you are served disposable chopsticks, do not rub them together to remove excess wood. This can be considered offensive to the restaurant or person who supplied the chopsticks, as it looks like they purchased the cheapest, low-quality option.
- If a friend is asking you to serve them food, or if you are asking a friend, do not pass the food from chopstick to chopstick. Instead, place the food on their plate or in their bowl directly.
- Two chopsticks should be used at all times. We know how hard it can be to grab something that’s easier to stab, but the Japanese at your table will certainly notice.
- Don’t be indecisive! If you’re considering what you’d like to eat next, don’t hover your chopsticks over each plate. Instead, set them down next to your bowl and consider your options before using your chopsticks to grab them.
- When finishing your meal at a restaurant, return the disposable chopsticks to their wrapper. This is more sanitary for the workers when cleaning the table.
- Don’t cross your chopsticks when sitting them down next to your plate. This symbolizes death in Japan and can make fellow diners uncomfortable.
- If you’re going to set your chopsticks down on the top of a bowl or plate, place them parallel to the table with the tips pointed to the left. This is considered basic chopstick etiquette in Japan.
Korean Chopstick Etiquette
Next up: Korea. What makes Korean chopstick etiquette stand out? Read below to make sure you have all the manners ready during your next visit to the peninsula.
- Unlike other countries, you may be surprised to see that most Korean chopsticks are accompanied by spoons. Spoons should be used for liquids, while chopsticks are used for solids. However, either your spoon or chopstick set can be used for eating rice.
- Unlike Japan, Koreans do not tend to lift their bowls to their mouths. There are some occasions where this does happen, however, such as when drinking the broth of a noodle bowl. It’s best to ask your party what they are comfortable with.
- Chopsticks are traditionally placed to the right of the spoon at a Korean table setting. If it is placed on the left, this resembles a funeral place setting.
WAIT! Did you know that Korean chopsticks are flat? For many chopstick users, this can make Korean chopsticks the trickiest of the lot. In order to make sure you’re using Korean chopsticks correctly, check out this expert guide to flat metal Korean chopsticks.
Chinese Chopstick Etiquette
Planning to visit China? Check out these important chopstick etiquette features before your trip.
- Just like the Japanese, it is not considered rude to bring a bowl close to your mouth.
- Stick together! Chopsticks are not splayed out around the table or even set far away from one another. In China, most people set their chopsticks down with both sides touching one another.
- Finding your food too slippery? Don’t try and take it all at once. Instead, use your chopsticks to cut the slippery food into smaller pieces. This not only makes it easier or yourself, but others at the table.
- Use chopsticks – or your hands – to remove any bones directly from your mouth. Do not use your chopsticks to pick out bones when the food is in the center of the table. This implies that your host was rude not to take them out or did a poor job of removing them in the first place.
- Don’t use your little finger when holding a chopstick. This is simply done in order to make it easier to use rounded chopsticks.
- When you set your chopsticks down next to your bowl, it’s more polite to make sure the tips are not pointed directly at another member of your party.
- Always serve elders before serving yourself. In addition, if you notice their drinks getting empty, make sure to refill it. Age is very significant in Chinese cultural norms and often appears in various customs at the dining table.
Vietnamese Chopstick Etiquette
Vietnam arguably has the least strict chopstick etiquette on our list. However, there are still a couple of things you should note.
- As with China and Japan, it is acceptable to bring your bowl to your mouth in Vietnam.
- Be careful not to set your chopsticks down in a ‘V’-shape, however, as this is considered a bad omen for yourself and others at the table.
Are you ready for your next trip to Asia? Check once more that you’re holding your chopsticks correctly with this expert guide. Visiting Korea in particular? Be sure to double-check the in-s and out-s of flat chopsticks here. Once you’re sure that everything is in place, and you have all the knowledge you need not to offend someone at the dining table, we simply wish you the best of luck! Happy traveling!
Frequently Asked Questions
There are many rules when it comes to eating with chopsticks including not sticking your chopsticks vertically into your bowl, not eating straight from the main plate and many more!
There are many do’s and don’ts when it comes to eating with chopsticks like not using your chopsticks to point at things or leaving them stick vertically into your food.