The Dos and Don’ts of Using Chopsticks in Asia

pho dinner


Many Asian countries have chopstick etiquette guidelines, which means you should know a few of the basics before digging into your first meal.

When backpacking through any part of Asia, you’ll notice that most meals are best eaten with a pair of chopsticks. Before jumping right into that deliciousness, realize that there’s an art to properly using chopsticks. Many Asian countries have implicit chopstick etiquette guidelines, while others have more specific ones. So, before you hit the streets of Tokyo or alleys of Hanoi, let’s go over a few of the basics you’ll need to know when first picking up those chopsticks in Asia.

DON’T leave chopsticks sticking up vertically.

Want to know the number one rule to using chopsticks? Don’t stab them inside your bowl so they stick up vertically. While it might look super “Insta-worthy” to have your chopsticks poking out of a big steaming bowl of rice, the act is often associated with offerings made to the dead. You will most definitely get some angry eyes peering at you if you do this!

DO lay chopsticks across the rim of your bowl.

Instead of sticking your chopsticks into your rice, it’s totally possible to get an #instayum photo with your chopsticks lying across the rim of your bowl. This flat-lay position is both pretty and makes sure you are still culturally sensitive.

DON’T cross chopsticks on your plate or your bowl.

There is similar reasoning behind this “don’t.” as the reasoning for never placing chopsticks sticking out of a bowl of food. Funeral rites and alter offerings across this region have very specific culinary rituals, like this one, that westerner funeral rites do not. 

DO ask for help if you need it.

Always keep your chopsticks together and never use a single one to spear your food. If you’re having difficulty using the chopsticks, it’s okay to ask for a fork instead. Rice, unless it’s sticky rice, can take ages to eat with chopsticks. Take a look around and see what other people in the restaurant are doing and follow along.

DON’T use your chopstick as a pointer.

Never use your chopstick to point at something or someone. Just like you wouldn’t want someone to poke you with a fork, it’s considered rude to use your chopstick for anything other than eating.

Bonus: DO slurp when eating noodles.

When in Asia, forget everything your mother told you about slurping! Slurping your noodles is not only okay in Asia, but it’s a compliment! Slurping also helps cool the steaming food that’s about to hit your mouth. When you slurp, you’re creating a wind tunnel around your noodles cooling off your mouthful while the rest of your bowl stays steamy hot.

Now that you’ve learned some cultural facts about chopsticks, it’s time to get back to filling up your travel pack and head for the airport! Whether you’re shoveling mee goreng in Malaysia or devouring barbecued pork belly in Seoul, keep these chopstick dos and don’ts handy on your mobile device, or printed out and stored in your packing set!

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Related Links (from Eagle Creek blog):

Unknown Found: Another Side of History in Hanoi

Photo Journal: A Taste of Southeast Asia


Written By: Carl Hedinger

Carl Hedinger is a recovering American expat who writes about travel, life, and everything else at Travel Through Life  and NC Tripping . You can follow his family’s adventures there and on their social media  Facebook Twitter , and  Instagram .