The dos and dont’s of eating with chopsticks

There are certain rules to be observed when eating with chopsticks. (Rawpixel pic)

Whether eating a favourite meal at a hawker stall or fine dining in a luxurious hotel, there are certain things that should never be done with chopsticks if you want to be respectful of others at the table.

These are the dos and don’ts of chopstick etiquette wherever you are dining.


• Hold the chopsticks properly

It takes time to learn how to hold chopsticks correctly – not in the middle but leaving about two-thirds from the tip. This gives greater control when picking up food.

Practise by first picking up various bite-sized pieces of food, then try to pick up a round object and finally a grain of rice.

For a real challenge, try picking up a piece of soft tofu without breaking it apart.

Practice makes perfect so don’t be discouraged when the food lands back in the plate instead of in your mouth.

• Use the chopstick holder

Once you are done using a pair of chopsticks, do not place them flat on the table, use the chopstick holder instead.

If there is none, create a chopstick holder out of the plastic wrapper that comes with your disposable chopsticks.

• Always use the communal chopsticks

When eating from a communal plate, use the separate communal chopsticks provided with it.

If communal chopsticks are not provided, use the other end of the chopsticks to pick up food.

• Pick up rice correctly

Compared with other types of rice, Japanese rice is stickier and easy to pick up with chopsticks.

Pick up a mouthful of rice and bring it to your mouth while holding the bowl under it to catch anything that falls.

• Stir your soup with chopsticks

It is totally fine to use chopsticks to stir your soup, or any miso in the soup that has sunk to the bottom, for example, or to move food to your mouth while sipping from the bowl.


• Stick your chopsticks in rice

Sticking a pair of chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice is highly offensive as this is done during funerals as an offering to the deceased.

Likewise, placing chopsticks crossed on a bowl symbolises death.

• Pass food with chopsticks

Passing food from chopsticks to chopsticks is considered offensive as it resembles the funeral ritual where the bones of the deceased are passed from person to person with a pair of chopsticks before being placed in an urn.

• Play with your chopsticks like a toy

Playing around with chopsticks is considered bad etiquette. Chopsticks are also not meant to be used as a hair accessory.

• Stab our food

Never stab or spear your food with a chopstick, pick it up using both.

• Point at people with chopsticks

This is similar to pointing at someone with a finger and is considered rude.

• Wash chopsticks

Never wash chopsticks in a bowl of soup or water to remove the bits stuck to them.

• Suck on chopsticks

Licking or sucking on chopsticks is bad manners and unhygienic, especially if eating from a plate of food shared with other people.

• Stir or search for food

Never use chopsticks to stir the dish or search for food from a communal plate, or hover around the dish, as it is considered greedy.

Also, using your chopsticks to pull a bowl closer is rude.

Etiquette is about having consideration for others. Following these simple rules will make you a pleasant, well-mannered companion anyone would want to dine with.

This article first appeared in

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