Chopsticks: They aren't so hard to use

Feb. 3, 2006 12:00 AM

Today's question:

We went out for Asian food last night, and I nearly starved trying to use chopsticks. How did such an inefficient way to transfer food become so popular in the East?

Just because you don't know how to use them doesn't make chopsticks inefficient. I mean, millions of people use chopsticks every day. If they were inefficient, don't you think someone would have said something by now?

And why didn't you just ask the waiter for some silverware?

Chopsticks have been around for thousands of years, but nobody knows for sure how they got started. One idea is that they are trimmed-down versions of twigs and sticks used to pull stuff out of a pot.

As the population grew, there wasn't as much food and fuel to go around, so people started cooking smaller meals with smaller pieces over smaller fires. Smaller pieces were easily handled with chopsticks and meant there was no need for knives.

Indeed, Confucius, who lived from roughly 551 B.C. to 479 B.C., was a vegetarian. He believed knives conjured visions of slaughterhouses and violence and shouldn't be used at the table.

Chinese chopsticks are called kuai-zi, "quick little fellows." "Chop" is pidgin English for kuai, meaning quick or speedy.

Anyway, chopsticks were such a hit in China that they spread to Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other Asian countries, but they never caught on much in places such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. I don't know why.

They really aren't so hard to use if you practice a bit. I mean, even I can use chopsticks.

There is something called forkchops, which are chopsticks on one end and a knife or fork on the other. I think they're for weenies.

What you do is hold one stick between your thumb and your ring finger and keep it stationary. Put the second stick on top and hold with the tips of thumb, index and middle fingers. Use that stick to do all the work.

And don't drop them. That's bad luck.

Come on, if I can do it, you can.

Besides, using chopsticks is good for you. They are thought to improve your memory, give you nimble fingers and sharpen your skill at Chinese brush painting, although I can't say they've helped me very much in that regard.

Reach Thompson at clay .thompson@arizonarepublic .com or (602) 444-8612.

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