You might think that after almost 8 months in Asia, I would be a pro at eating with chopsticks. Ha ha ha. No.
I mean I haven’t starved or anything, so I must be able to eat with them. And I usually manage to eat without anyone laughing and pointing at my sad attempts. But still, I’m barely proficient. So why is that?
First, you must realise that in South East Asia, you do not get chopsticks at restaurants. You get a spoon and a fork. Usually no knife. It’s true, in five months in the region, I didn’t have to use chopsticks once. And it wasn’t just that the nice people at the restaurants taking pity on me as a foreigner, that’s how locals eat as well.
So when I arrived in China the first time, I had to learn the art. I had of course eaten at Asian restaurants before, and often, but in Europe you usually get a fork with your meal, and if they don’t offer it you can ask for it. So I had fairly little experience before I arrived in China.
I surreptitiously watched the people around me for tips and tried myself. Their elegant, light grasp of the chopsticks near the top, while still managing to snag anything on their plant in their tips just eluded me. It didn’t seem possible that two chopsticks which were almost perfectly aligned could manage such a feat.
So my method is a little different. I need to hook at least one of my fingers below the bottom chopstick to give it that grasping ability. At first, while successful in the sense that I managed to eat, my hand would feel cramped after the meal. In time my grasp got better, the finger on the bottom is less of a hook and more just extra support from below, but my hand is not that relaxed open one with practically straight fingers of the locals.
Some days are better while other days are just frustrating. On such days, an Italian or Indian restaurant was heaven sent as they always supply you with forks and knives. And some foods are just impossible. For soups you obviously get a spoon, but it’s really for just slurping the liquid after you have eaten all the chunky bits with your chopsticks.
Take this morning, for example. My last morning in Asia, in fact. The nice hotel I was staying at on my last night had a complementary breakfast buffet. It was mixed Chinese and Western buffet which meant I could recognise about half of what was on offer. The foods were helpfully signed in both Chinese and English, and there were a few western foods, but since I don’t eat meat or eggs, my options were limited. So I had vegetarian fried noodles, black mushrooms, cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes. As in round slippery little buggers which are almost impossible to eat with chopsticks. Each took about five tries. Luckily the breakfast room was practically empty at this point.
So there you have it. The seasoned around-the-world traveller, pathetic with chopsticks.
P.s. this was a scheduled post to keep you entertained while I relax on a container ship to Europe.