How to Use Chopsticks: A Beginner’s Guide

Man eating his dinner with chopsticks

Chopsticks are one of the most versatile utensils on the planet.

They’re used in a variety of different ways in various Asian cultures. From one location to the next, every Asian country utilizes chopsticks in a way that is unique to the culture in that area. With a rich history dating back many, many years, chopsticks hold a lot of sentimental value for the people who use them.

You’ve likely attempted, and maybe even struggled, to use chopsticks when eating out at your favorite restaurant. This is understandable, seeing as chopsticks require practice and a sort of finesse to master. They are not as easy to maneuver as they appear to be at first glance.

For those uninitiated and unfamiliar with the method of using chopsticks, having to use them as one of your primary utensils can be incredibly infuriating. However, just like learning to ride a bike or swim in your adult years, you can conquer the challenge and perfect your ability to use chopsticks through dedicated practice.

Using chopsticks doesn’t have to be an ordeal that causes you frustration. Placing chopsticks between your fingers and successfully eating your food with chopsticks will be simple once you know what you’re doing. Mastering the art of chopsticks can take a bit of time, but don’t give up. Not only will you have gained a new skill, but learning to eat with chopsticks can save you the embarrassment of being the only one at the table who has to ask the waiter for a fork.

Does this sound like a goal you want to reach? Read on to learn more. We’ll teach you how to use chopsticks to eat a meal as if you’ve been doing it your entire life.

Getting Started

When learning how to use chopsticks, it’s best to start one stick at a time. Trying to tackle both of them from the beginning can feel overwhelming. By starting with one, you can familiarize yourself with the feel of it, and then add the second chopstick when you are comfortable doing so.

Chopsticks come in pairs and both chopsticks in a set are identical. It does not matter which one you choose to practice with first, so you don’t worry about trying to tell them apart. You can start with either one. Once you’ve chosen one of the chopsticks, pick it up with your dominant hand.

Place the first chopstick in the space between your thumb and pointer finger. The chopstick should ascend from the tips of your thumb and pointer finger to the open space above your hand. Balance part of the chopstick against your ring finger for good measure. This will help with stability when it comes time to pick up food with the chopstick.

Focus on keeping your hand relaxed. Rather than gripping the chopstick with force, let it rest between your fingers in a comfortable position. If you clench tightly onto the chopstick, you could accidentally cause the learning experience to feel harder instead of easier. While it is important not to squeeze the chopstick between your fingers, the chopstick should also stay upright. Make sure the chopstick feels sturdy enough so that it won’t fall out of your hand and onto the ground. Essentially, you want the chopstick to feel sturdy, but not immobile. If this is not how the chopstick you’re holding feels, then try to reposition it between your fingers until the chopstick is less mobile.

Moving Forward: How to Use Two Chopsticks at Once

Once you feel comfortable holding the first chopstick, it is time to tackle two chopsticks at one time. The best way to learn how to use chopsticks like a professional is to dive right in and practice over and over again. Try not to feel discouraged if you do not pick up this skill with ease right away. It takes time, but eventually, you will figure it out.

With the first chopstick still resting between your thumb and pointer finger, pick up the second chopstick with your other hand. For instance, if you are predominantly right handed, the first chopstick will be between your thumb and pointer finger of your right hand. You’ll pick up the second chopstick with your left hand.

Carefully place the second chopstick in the space between your thumb and pointer finger, just like you did with the first chopstick. Visually, you want the chopstick to lean against the knuckle of your point finger. The main difference between the positioning of the two chopsticks is which finger the tip of the chopsticks touches. Unlike the first chopstick, you should allow the second one to rest on your middle finger, as opposed to your ring finger.

From there, you can implement the combination of your thumb, ring, and middle finger to grasp the stick a bit more tightly. Again, just like the first chopstick, the second chopstick should be movable, but not too loose where it will fall out of your hand with ease. Once you have both chopsticks in their rightful positions, they should create a sort of V shape in your hand.

Some people make the mistake of creating an X shape by criss crossing their chopsticks. Be sure that your chopsticks do not cross over each other, but instead, the very tip of each chopstick should be very close to each other, if not touching. Hold the chopsticks in the position we just taught you for a little while to allow your hands to get comfortable with the position.

Picking Up Food With Your Chopsticks

If you have made it this far, you now know how to pick up chopsticks and hold them in the appropriate positions. Congratulations! This is a big step in the process of understanding chopsticks and how to use them. Now that we have talked about holding chopsticks in your hand, let’s dive into discussion about how to pick food up with your chopsticks.

Now for the real challenge. Being able to hold chopsticks properly is a great first step to using them effectively. However, this ability does not mean anything if you cannot transfer food from a plate or bowl to your mouth. Chopsticks are not helpful if you do not know how to use them as tools for picking up food. Don’t worry, though. We will walk you through the steps of eating with chopsticks as well as share some tips with you.

When using your chopsticks, the bottom stick – or the tip of the first chopstick – should stay mostly stationary. It can move a little bit but you don’t want to allow too much motion. Your index and middle finger are the fingers that will do most, if not all of the work. In order to pick up food, you will need to have one chopstick on either side of the food you’re trying to eat. From there, you’ll have to apply slight pressure so that the food stays between the chopsticks as it moves from the plate to your mouth.

You can separate the chopsticks from each other and make room for food to rest in between the chopsticks by using your index finger and middle finger. This is a learned skill, but it will come to you in no time. To start, practice moving the top chopstick back and forth just to get a feel for how it looks. As you repeatedly move the top chopstick towards and away from the bottom chopstick, you will notice the chopsticks create a clamping motion which allows you to firmly grasp food between the sticks. When practicing, it’s best to start with square-shaped and solid food, such as sushi. This will be much easier to grasp with chopsticks than rice, pasta, or other items, at least for now.

How To Use Chopsticks Like an Expert

Reading a guide on how to use chopsticks is evidence that you want to reach expert level when it comes to eating with chopsticks. Knowing how to use chopsticks is not just as simple as following the steps and advice we listed above. Like any new task, practice is absolutely necessary. Without continual practice, you will not build habits or grow accustomed to using chopsticks. It is not a natural feeling for many people, especially those who did not grow up around chopsticks or learn from an early age how to use them. While it may take some time before you become proficient, never give up on yourself. If you put in the work, you will get to a point where your dinner companions will envy your talent and maybe even ask you to show them the ropes!

Chopsticks are only the beginning of Asian culinary culture.

Are you interested in learning more about Japanese food, drinks, and customs? From understanding the origin of happy hour and ordering martinis, to knowing the difference between sashimi versus nigiri, we write about everything under the sun. Check out the rest of our blog to read about topics like these and so much more.