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Chopsticks Vs. Forks: Which Is Correct in Thailand?

Cynthia writes about a variety of topics. She is the former executive director of a nonprofit agency for children & adults with disabilities

A pair of chopsticks on a lovely plate.

A pair of chopsticks on a lovely plate.

Chopsticks, Please

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?

Was Asking for Chopsticks in a Thai Restaurant a Faux Pas?

So, after my dinner—with no chopsticks—I headed straight to research. What I found made perfect sense. Much of Thailand's population is of Chinese descent; ergo, many people use chopsticks for eating. So, I hadn't committed some dreaded faux pas after all, asking for the chopsticks.

When Did Chopsticks Become Popular in China?

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 the food.

The earliest pair of chopsticks found were made 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.

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.

What's the History of the Fork?

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 a part 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. They created elaborate utensils with different sized and numbered prongs for eating a variety of different foods.

So, Are Chopsticks Used in Thailand or Not?

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.

Japanese print by Utagawa Kuiyoshi (1797–1861).

Japanese print by Utagawa Kuiyoshi (1797–1861).

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Never point with your chopsticks. They are considered an extension of your hand. Just as it is impolite to point with your fingers, the same is so of chopsticks.
  5. When using chopsticks, hold them as close to top of the chopstick as possible, elongating the chopstick and making use look more elegant.

It Takes Patience and Practice

If chopsticks are not your normal eating utensil and you decide to eat with chopsticks, the trick is learning 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.

Chopsticks from Korea, Japan, and China.

Chopsticks from Korea, Japan, and China.

Chopstick Collectors

There are many different styles of chopsticks. For example, in Japan, the ends of the chopsticks taper to almost a point. In China, they are more blunted. In fact, there are so many styles of chopsticks that there are chopstick collectors. These tools can be as fun to collect as they can be to use. Online is an excellent source for finding a variety of chopstick styles.

The Next Time You're Eating Thai Food . . .

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.

© 2011 Cynthia B Turner

Comments

Bob on January 28, 2020:

Lived in Thailand for over 2 years. Worked and spent lots of days with Thais and never saw them use chop sticks. But there are lots of Chinese there that do.

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on September 30, 2018:

Thank you for your comment.

Sirius Magnus on September 28, 2018:

Thanks for your post. As a professional cook I do a lot of research into food and how to eat it. The best policy is: if you want to be a respectful guest, use the utensils that you are given. It's the most reliable way to avoid etiquette faux-pas. The next most ideal technique is to humbly ask your host how best to eat the dish that you are being served.

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on March 24, 2018:

Hmmm. Going to Thailand would be great, I'm sure. Lots of other things to research about Thailand's wonderfully diverse culture. Thanks for stopping by.

Lucy Bonette on March 16, 2018:

So much for research. Just go to Thailand and you’ll see that they don’t eat with chopsticks there. Noodles included a lot of the time. And otherwise it’s a spoon, not a fork.

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on November 03, 2015:

Hmmm. Hadn't thought of it that way. There are dishes, pots, etc. that help us get to the food without using our fingers and eating it raw. I guess we need methods. It's all fun if you don't get too caught up in the choices.

Taranwanderer on October 31, 2015:

Strange that people - in any culture - care so much about how food gets into their mouths. Seems to me they're missing the forest for the tree lol - the important thing is that the food gets into your mouth - not how. Nice hub.

https://hubpages.com/food/The-Beauty-of-a-Breakfas...

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on May 10, 2014:

Hello Nal22, Thank you so much for your comments. I really was confused after the waitress. I can see why spoons would be useful. Many of the dishes I have been exposed to (and that is admittedly not that many) seem to need a spoon with the exception of noodles. Take care.

Nal22 on May 09, 2014:

Hi, i'm thai, and the waitress is wrong. since we do use chopsticks but not with every meal like the chinese korean or japanese. we use it with noodle dishes. we don't use forks to eat rice, its weird. we mostly use spoons for everything, FYI.

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on May 10, 2013:

The history of forks and chopsticks are both interesting. Thanks for taking a look and leaving a comment.

VivaLaChinoiseries on May 08, 2013:

Actually, the Chinese were using forks before transitioning to chopstick; doing away with forks on the table around the Shang Dynasty.

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on March 08, 2013:

Aha! Maybe that's why my waitress was so cryptic. Thanks so much for leaving a comment! Take care.

Eric on March 07, 2013:

Lol, yes food eating etiquette can be confusing in Thailand. There is more too it then just not having chopsticks.

http://www.yourworldyourhome.com/fork-dont-eat-it/

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on August 03, 2012:

Hello Marlene, I'm chuckling as I see you plop those chopsticks on the table. They definitely can be tricky to use and using them draws out the meal, but I like to chase that last grain of rice around the plate. Actually, quite a few grains are left when I eat with chopsticks. :-) I appreciate you leaving a comment!

Marlene Bertrand from USA on August 02, 2012:

This was a really fun hub to read. It is interesting to read that forks were considered pretentious. I always think using chopsticks is pretentious. The Thai restaurants that my husband and I visit either have both type of settings - forks and chopsticks - or just the chopsticks. My husband always opts to eat with the chopsticks. I start off with the chopsticks, then get frustrated and finish with a fork. But, like you said, eating with the chopsticks is a great way to slow down and enjoy the meal. But, I don't have a good handle on how to use chopsticks, so a meal could last forever if I didn't switch to using a fork.

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on April 12, 2012:

Hello Pamela, I didn't start eating Thai food until a few years ago. I thought the same as you, too hot. However, I found that you can actually moderate the heat. The taste of most dishes is fantastic if you've found a good restaurant. The next time you're out, give it a try. Oh, and ask for chopsticks :-).

Pamela N Red from Oklahoma on April 12, 2012:

Interesting. Vietnamese restaurants don't typically give you chopsticks but they usually have some if you ask. They are very western due to the French occupation.

I haven't tried Thai food because I heard it was really hot and I don't know if I could take the spicy food. I should try it sometime.

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on December 15, 2011:

Hello SilkThimble, these were some interesting discoveries for me as well. I'm much more mindful when I ask for chopsticks now.

SilkThimble from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 14, 2011:

Some really interesting trivia about eating utensils. I had never given the issue of chopsticks or not when eating at a Thai restaurant!

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on October 12, 2011:

Cogerson, Thanks for reading and for the vote up. Yeah, who knew that chopstick exporting is so huge. I thought that was pretty interesting as well. I'm much more mindful of my manners since I wrote this.

UltimateMovieRankings from Virginia on October 12, 2011:

Great information in this hub.....who would have guessed that exporting chopsticks to China would be so big.....as for my personal choice...give me a fork.....my wife and my 5 year old can do the chopstick....I fail miserably when trying to use chopsticks. Thanks for including the 5 rules of proper use of chopsticks....I will monitor my wife the next time we go to our favorite Japanese Steakhouse. Voted up and awesome.

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on October 07, 2011:

Blagsmith, I'm glad you found it interesting. I appreciate the comment about the Japanese's use of chopsticks. Thank you for the vote up.

The Blagsmith from Britain on October 07, 2011:

Interesting, Cyndi.

I lived in Japan for a short while and even they don't use chopsticks, or should I say 'hashi', all the time, especially if they are eating a foreign adapted favourite curry rice. Voted up and interesting.

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on September 16, 2011:

Anginwu, I'm so glad you enjoyed this. It was fun to research and definitely educational for me. And wow! You are far from home! Your Mom sure did get it right :)

anglnwu on September 15, 2011:

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and i'm Chinese--I don't even know some of the interesting facts. As for holding the chopsticks, my mother used to say that where you hold your chopsticks will indicate how far away you'll end up when you marry. If you hold it close to the food, you'll marry someone near. For some reason, I hold mine far away, towards the end of the chopsticks. Look at where I end up--12,000 away from home. Mom's always right? Rated up.

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on September 13, 2011:

Thanks so much for commenting. I'm glad that I didn't commit some kind of faux pas by asking for the chopsticks. I'll keep enjoying them. Glad you enjoyed the hub.

Om Paramapoonya on September 12, 2011:

She said "we don't use chopsticks to eat in Thailand"? That's not really true. Well, we don't eat rice with chopsticks like the Japanese and Chinese do, but we do use chopsticks to eat noodle dishes. And I bet there's at least one pair of chopsticks in most Thai households. Nice hub, by the way. It was a fun read. :)

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on August 16, 2011:

Charlitokenn, I'm happy to have been able to provide some new information about using chopsticks. Using them is fun, but it's also good to know the correct way. Thank you for reading!

charlitokenn from DSM city on August 15, 2011:

I never knew the rules of using the chop stick glad to know some, i think i will try these chopsticks

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on August 12, 2011:

Levi, give those chopsticks a try one day. It's not nearly as difficult as it looks and it's fun, too. Thanks so much for reading!

Cynthia B Turner (author) from Georgia on August 12, 2011:

Thanks so much for reading and enjoying. Peter, I'm so glad I got the information correct. I hoped that any Hubber in Thailand would let me know if I had my research correct.

Levi Byrd on August 12, 2011:

Good Article. Z never use chopsticks in any restaurant. When I am given chopsticks at a Chinese Restaurant I usually toss them aside. I ate at a Thai restaurant called Bangkok Thai in Scnenectady New York. They gave me chopsticks. The owners might be from China.

PETER LUMETTA from KENAI, ALAKSA on August 11, 2011:

From here in Thailand I can tell you that your right in your assessment. Since there are many ethnic Chinese in Thailand and a lot of Chinese food and resturants, that I think that is one reason why chopsticks are used in Thailand. Noodles are eaten with chopsticks primarily. The farther north in Thailand the more chinese in character. Good observation, thanks for the interesting story,

Peter

Richardm72 on August 11, 2011:

Great article. Can't wait to get to a Thai restaurant. Now I want to learn how to use chop sticks