Chopsticks vs. Forks: Which Is Correct in Thailand?
I was confused! I went to a Thai restaurant for dinner one evening. When my order arrived, I asked for chopsticks. Screech!! Stop! The waitress looked at me as if I had chopsticks growing from my ears. She politely, though a little snidely, informed me that "we don't use chopsticks to eat in Thailand."
Ok, so I've never been to Thailand and she obviously had been or at least her close relatives had. But I have been to numerous Thai restaurants and had never been denied chopsticks before. In fact, some even had the chopsticks already at the table. Were they wrong? Were they just humoring me? Have I been wrong all this time? Had I been guilty of some heinous faux pas? Or did my waitress just not want to make a trip back to get them?
So, after my dinner - with no chopsticks - I headed straight to research. What I found made perfect sense. So many of Thailand's population are descendants of Chinese, ergo many people use chopsticks for eating. So I hadn't committed some dreaded faux pas after all, asking for the chopsticks.
As it turns out, chopsticks replaced hands as the choice for eating in China as far back as the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BC). It is believed they began as two sticks to retrieve the hot food that was prepared in huge pots. Those that were hungry and just couldn't wait, are thought to have used long sticks to retrieve the food from the pots and thus, beat others to food.
The earliest pair of chopsticks found were of bronze and were excavated from the Ruins of Yin. They dated back to 1200 BC.
Today, chopsticks are made of a variety of materials and come in many decorative styles. Most commonly made of various types of wood, chopsticks can also be made of bronze, jade, ivory, bone, plastic or even silver and gold.
In Japan, the ends of the chopsticks taper to almost a point. In China the are more blunted.
It should be noted that there is a movement underway in China to reduce if not eliminate using wood to manufacture chopsticks because of the massive number of trees that are destroyed each year. In fact, the United States exports chopsticks to China regularly.
As for forks, we know how ornate they can be, even today.
The fork is thought to have originated in Greece and migrated to the royal courts of the Middle East around the 7th Century. It was later exported to Italy although it took a while for its use to become apart of the culture until around the 16th Century. Catherine de Medices introduced the fork to France in 1533. And in 1608 the fork arrived in England when Thomas Corgate brought it to court. Still, in England, France and Italy, hands and knives were the preferred method of eating and forks were considered pretentious. Acceptance was slow to come, but when it did, the nobility were the first to embrace its use and created elaborate utensils with different sized and numbered prongs for eating a variety of different foods.
So, as to the original question: Are chopsticks used for eating in Thailand? Well as it turns out, chopsticks did indeed spread from China into other parts of Asia including Korea, Vietnam, Japan and the Northern provinces of Laos, Burma and, yes, Thailand. To be truthful, chopsticks are used in Thailand primarily when eating noodles. The fork and the spoon are both a part of the Thai dining table. So, the answer? It depends on what you are eating and where in Thailand you are eating.
Easy Steps to Using Chopsticks
Tips on Eating with Chopsticks
Using chopsticks for eating is a great way to enjoy a meal. With most Chinese and other Asian meals where chopsticks are the norm, the food is usually cut into small pieces and served with rice or noodles. This makes using chopsticks easy. When soup is served, decorative, porcelain spoons are used.
There are points of etiquette that you should be aware of if you are going to use chopsticks when eating. Before using chopsticks when eating out, read these tips:
- Since chopsticks are tapered, it may be tempting to spear your food with them, particularly if you are having a little difficulty. Don't! It is bad manners to spear your food with chopsticks.
- Do not stick your chopsticks upright in your food, especially not your rice. This is considered to mimic incense sticks that are placed upright in rice as an offering to the dead.
- Do not cross your chopsticks when placing them across your plate or bowl. This is a Chinese symbol of death. Lay them parallel with tapered end pointing left, but not on the table. Use the chopstick holder if one is provided.
- Never point with your chopsticks. They are considered an extension of your hand and just as it is impolite to point with your fingers, the same is so of chopsticks.
- When using chopsticks, hold them as close to top of the chopstick as possible, elongating the chopstick and making use look more elegant.
There are many different styles of chopsticks, so many that there are chopstick collectors. They can be as fun to collect as they can be to use. Online is an excellent source for finding a variety of chopstick styles.
If chopsticks are not your normal eating utensil and you decide to eat with chopsticks, the trick is learn how to effectively use them. Admittedly, it requires some patience and a lot of practice. When you have mastered the skill, you will see that it will slow your eating, helping you to enjoy it more. An indirect result of using chopsticks to eat is that it will contribute to limiting your portions. That is most often a good thing if you are interested in either losing or maintaining your weight.
Just remember, the next time you are eating one of the many wonderful dishes from Thailand, don't automatically ask for the chopsticks and if you do, don't be offended if they hand you a fork.
For more on table setting:
- Why Set a Proper Table Setting? It's Just the In-Laws for Dinner!
Is the proper place setting a big question for you? Do you wonder if you should use placecards or the good China? Place setting for that special occasion can be easy if you follow the rules. Learn how to set to set that special table.
© 2011 Cynthia B. Turner