How to Use Chopsticks – Become an Expert in 90 Seconds

I once used chopsticks like Papua New Guinea tribesman spear fish. Then I developed a vice-like power technique that often ended with wet seafood catapulting across the table. Both experiences left me with a strong dislike for chopsticks — seriously, why on earth would someone not use a fork?

Then I spent a year abroad in Japan during 1992 and 1993. It was a revelation.

The 90-second video above provides all the basics you need to become a chopstick pro and never drop food again. Several finer points…

1) Never stick your chopsticks straight down into your rice as a place holder. This is considered bad luck or even a harbinger of death, as bowls of rice with chopsticks sticking out of the center are used in some rites of ancestral worship.

2) Never attempt to pass food from chopstick to chopstick. Bad mojo similar to #2, as this is how unburnt bones are moved to the urn at a cremation.

3) During your practice phase, consider turning the hand and using the chopsticks like a forklift (about 1-1.5″ apart) for larger pieces or wet seafood. Bring your rice bowl closer to the serving dish with your free hand to cut down on distance and potential for splatter disaster. Practice in the beginning on smaller fried items with no liquid beneath them.

4) The technique I explain is common in East Asia (Japan, China, Korea), and there are alternate techniques in South East Asia (Vietnam, for example, where this video was taken). The latter tend to use heavier and longer chopsticks, which are held closer together and even scissored.

5) For those who like fun OCD-like behaviors, getting good as using chopsticks will also improve your pen tricks (demonstrated below).

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59 Replies to “How to Use Chopsticks – Become an Expert in 90 Seconds”

  1. Great tips Tim – now I can finally spin a pen! And I can’t wait to go out for Asian food.

    Keep the quirky posts like this coming. They are just as fun to read and beneficial as the investing, lifestyle, and philanthropy posts!

  2. Very nice. When I wa an exchange student in Japan my host mom made me move grains of rice from one bowl to another to train with chop sticks. Sadly most n0n-Japanese can use chop sticks a lot better than the younger generations in Japan.

  3. Actually the chop sticks upright in a bowl of rice is an offering to your ancestors. That is the way you leave rice for them when you visit their tombs.

    #2 is bad because the only time you transfer things from chop sticks to chop sticks is when you pass the unburnt bones from a cremation from family member to family member. Inevitably all of the bones do not turn to ash, so things like thigh parts, and thicker bones do not burn all the way through. They are moved to the urn by hand.


    Hi K,

    Understood. In my attempt to keep it simple I made it confusing. I’ll clarify.



  4. Yah there are a few different kind of chopsticks too, SE Asia and most regions of China use chopsticks touch at the ends when held together so you can use the lazy/scissor method.

    But Japanese and Korean chopsticks tend to be more pointed and don’t meet at the ends when held together so you need proper technique.

    Korean chopsticks are even worse as they are generally metal and slightly flattened, so they are tough to pick up slippery things with.

  5. I grew up in a household of chopstick-wielding experts — well, my Dad and Mom. But I could never quite grasp their advantage over a fork or even a pointy stick. So to this day, whenever I go out for sushi or Chinese food, I always ask for a fork.

    I’ve loved doing #1 in front of relatives and debunking stupid superstition. My Grandma used to bemoan people leaving food for the dead when there are poor people (this was in Bangkok, where the rich/poor divide on the same street is STARTLING!) who are so hungry, that food shouldn’t go to waste.

    Definitely helpful to have videos for this; spatial movement can’t easily be understood by most in text alone.

  6. Sorry Tim, loved Asian food all my life, but using chopsticks destroys the unique joy of shovelling it all down quickly. I’ll stick with a fork and spoon.

    Mega-cool pen tricks though.

  7. @8020 Financial

    trust me, you can shovel just fine using chopsticks. haven’t you ever seen a japanese person lift a bowl of rice up to their face and just wolf it down? it’s quite efficient.

  8. Among the Chinese people I know, if I use your technique, I always get that condenscending “look at the gwai lo trying to use chopsticks” look, whereas the “scissors” technique, or adopting something similar to your technique, but using only the thumb and first two fingers, draws no notice. And it is a very handy skill for those times when you have food but no utensils, as any pair of sticks can now do the job.

  9. I had a ‘how to use chopsticks’ post planned from my travels in Shanghai last month, guess I’ll skip that one now 🙂

    Nice work Tim.



  10. Hey Tim,

    Great post- this is totally something Kim and I could use. We’re beginning our Asian guidebook series so this will come in very hand as we hit the continent. Keep em’ coming.



  11. @8020 Financial

    Have you never seen Goku from DBZ eat? He’s a beast with chopsticks.

    Nice video Tim, I’ll have to show my wife because she hasn’t had as much practice and I’m a horrible teacher.


  12. Thanks for the tip Tim! It will save me lots of afternoons walking around with a dirty shirt because I spoiled it during lunch! By the way, I’m starting loosing my hair (I’m 34), any hacks to prevent that? Obrigado!

  13. I hate to be that guy that posts a youtube video link, but this is just insane (in response to Tim’s pen tricks video).

  14. Man, talk about practical.

    Awesome information. I really like how varried all of your posts are, but they all seem to fit under a niched down topic of “how to live a proper life”

    Just got back from Costa Rica for the first time and I know what Pura Vida means now.


  15. Noticed you’ve got Pandora playing on the laptop. Great service (and worth the subscription). You’ve shared music rec’s in the past – how about a link to your Pandora profile to share your stations?

    …just click “your profile” button in upper left and share the URL.

  16. Hi Tim,

    Interesting demonstration. I believe that you were doing better than a lot of “native users” (me for example).


    Joshua C

  17. Man, talk about practical.

    Awesome information. I really like how varried all of your posts are, but they all seem to fit under a niched down topic of “how to live a proper life”

    Just got back from Costa Rica for the first time and I know what Pura Vida means now.


    Forgot to write great post! Looking forward to seeing your next post!

  18. Posts like these are why I enjoy your blog, Tim. In the midst of some thought provoking posts, as well as very specific action-oriented ones, you also input some fun “how-tos.” As they say, sometimes happiness is found in the little things. Will practice this technique. 😉

  19. Awesome post as always, Tim. I’ve never tried using the ring and pinky fingers as a vice for the bottom chopstick before – great idea!

    Also love the pen tricks. I learned the helicopter back in college in about 1 solid day of non-stop pen flicking. I just kept on going until I got it. I think I made quite a few people hate me forever that day.

  20. Dude, I’ve been striving to learn pen tricks since I was a kid and… I think the moment has finally come.

    Hands on I bet you 10$ I reach your level in 7 days, ha!

    Greets from Barcelona,

    Luis M (rendez)

  21. Awesome pen tricks!

    I’ve been spinning pens ever since junior high school (and that was over 15 years ago). In addition to what you call a “helicopter”, I do a variation I call the “velicopter”; it is the exact same motion except the pen spins in the vertical plane, hence the “v”. To up the ante, I combo the velicopter with pen-flip you demonstrate last.

    Another great post, keep em coming!

  22. ……..Oh, and yes it works : ) I have adopted that style since learning it that day. Thanks again Tim!



  23. Tim, great trips in general. And I do enjoy reading your blog.

    This time, I do not think you nailed it exactly. In Japan–and looks like people at your table–people use chopsticks this way: the bottom chopstick rests on your fourth (or ring) finger, not on the pinky. And the top chopstick is held the same way as you hold a pen, between second and third fingers. There are some variations from country to country, but pinky is never really used.



  24. Using chopsticks is a very useful skill, especially if you’re looking for an excuse to eat sushi more often. (Well, one *has* to practice one’s skills regularly, right?)

    It’s also fun to cook using the longer chopsticks popular with Asian chefs.

  25. Nice. I grew up eating Chinese and Japanese food pretty often, so I already had it down before I moved to Japan. What I wasn’t prepared for was Japanese people making a huge deal out of it. For example:

    Japanese coworker: Wow! Andy! Oh my god, I can’t believe you can use chopsticks – that’s amazing!

    Me: Really? I’ve used them all my life.

    JC: I can’t believe it! Hey, everyone look. Andy can use chopsticks. Isn’t that great?

    Me: Yeah, whatever. By the way, do you know how to use a fork?

    JC: Of course, what do you mean?

    Me: Wow! Great! etc…

    Older Japanese people learned a good bit of nihonjinron in school, so they may have a hard time when confronted with evidence that non-Asians can learn their language and manipulate their tools. Younger people, on the other hand, tend to expect foreigners to figure Japan out rather quickly (which isn’t all that unreasonable).

    Anyway, cool post.

  26. I thought “the helicopter” was called “the thumb around,” and “the drummer” was called “the charge.” But whatever the names, they look cool!

  27. I am asian and i learned how to use chopsticks just like every kids in asia. My grandparents told me the fastest way to teach a 2 years old to wield chopsticks was to give him/her no alternative at the table. Competition for foods at dinner with hungry and greedy siblings alone will prove to be the best teacher of all.

  28. This is the best tip ever – “Bring your rice bowl closer to the serving dish with your free hand to cut down on distance and potential for splatter disaster” I’ve been doing this for a long time and it really improves the way I handle the chopstick , and I guess it’s a trick.

  29. Years ago while stay in Asia for a few months at a time, I learned to eat with chopsticks left handed. There are very few people in the world who can do this. The reason is that the culture says “you eat right handed.” This has nothing to do with the toilet as many suppose. Some of these same cultures also say “you write right handed.”

    Try the left hand for a while to test your technique.

  30. My grandpa was always blaming me for sticking straight my chopstick in my rice as a place holder when I was very young.. That’s really not a good action in China.

  31. Cool! Nice to have some fun (maybe useless if we’re talking about the pen) info on stuff we know we all do.

  32. Hey – I know this sounds like a weird stalker post, but what pandora station were you listening to? I’m not even sure why I’m curious.

  33. There’s not “japanese” way of using a pair of chopsticks. The lady next to you were just doing it wrong. As for your method, you’re wrong about holding it between your pinky and ring finger. It should rest on top of your ring finger with your thumb pressing on it to hold it there.

    Many rural area-ed/young children in Asia tend to use incorrect methods of holding the chopsticks, as are Western countries with pencil holding.

  34. Fun post Tim.

    Informative chopstick video and instructions. Unfortunately, I’m left-handed and I’ve never been able to find any left-handed chopsticks!!! 😉

    Arrrrrr. Captain Rob

  35. Thank you so much for this – the use of chopsticks has alluded me for years! On a trip to our favorite sushi restaurant here in Baton Rouge, the server took one look at me and offered to tie the top of my chopsticks together to make it easier for me. Apparently my chopstick ineptitude was written all over my face. ^_^ Using them that way did teach me a few tricks, but I still wasn’t able to master the technique and felt I may never. Tonight I’m going to break out a pair of chopsticks from a sushi serving set I have and practice with this video ’til I look like an old pro. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge & helping others.

  36. Great tip.

    I hold my chopsticks in a different way and I only realised it recently when I saw a Thomas the Tank training chopsticks. Someone showed me which finger goes where. I still do my old way but will try to relearn the “correct” way soon.

    Chinese, Japanese and Korean food just doesn’t taste the same without chopsticks with the exception of soup of course. That’s not a normal spoon, but that’s another story.


  37. Chopstick is more convenient for me. While eating noodle in soup, if I use chopstick I can firmly hold them and put them into my mouth. if I use fork, when i lift the noodle, it may fall down and will spill the soup onto my clothes…. If you hold it correctly, you could just cut noodles with chopstick. And this looks so amazing that I learn the correct way to hold chopsticks.

  38. Good tips – as noted there are various techniques in chopstick manipulation. Who eats sushi with chopsticks? Use your fingers.

    When I was ten, a Chinese waiter promised me that he could teach me to use chopsticks by the end of the meal. Amazingly, he did. Perhaps his ploy of not serving another dish until I had used my chopsticks successfully, did the trick!

  39. Tim,

    Great chopstick video. Unfortunately I learned by having them around at a bank job when I was younger and just had them in my hand all day for a week.

    I was more curious what you guys had on your table there in Vietnam??

    It looks great!

  40. Tim,

    I learned using chopsticks, by not allowing myself to use a fork or spoon for 30 days, but that video is very helpful.

    You have crazy pen skills.

    Do you know how to “walk” a coin down your hand. I always wanted to know how to do that with a quarter.

    Love this stuff!


  41. With respect to the sticking chopsticks in rice, I was always told that it was because it resembled incense sticks in a bowl of stand, which is typically used in memorials and other rituals.

    Another no-no is for two people to take food from a single bowl at the same time, or someone holding down a piece of food as another pulls from it (say separating pieces from one another), again for the same reasons as why you shouldn’t pass food from chopstick to chopstick

    Great notes on etiquette though, you don’t see many people write about that enough.

  42. Best thing about chopsticks is that it tends to slow down the eating process. More appreciation for the cuisine that way.

  43. I hope this topic is not representative of this blog post. If you start giving shoelace tying tips I’ll unsubscribe!

  44. I carry my own food on flights as I’m celiac and must eat gluten-free food. I pack several slices of G.F. bread or crackers, mild smelling cheese, baggie of cut raw vegetables and some really good chocolate. Fruit is problematic on international flights. With cut-backs in in-flight food service and so many folk on special diets, wait persons and flight attendants are used to those who care their own grub.

  45. I’ve always tried to explain to my friends how to use chopsticks and I’ve always failed.

    Instead of placing the bottom chopstick between the little and ring finger, I place it on my ring finger. I think doing it your way is much easier for someone that is starting to learn.

    I’ll teach it your way from now on and hopefully it’ll work better.

    1. Before i coulden’t use chopsticks and it was so difficult but when i read that tutorial as you said, it became easy and i’m able to use it easily. I want to thank you for that..


  46. The way I learned to use them (after I learned the mechanics) was when I watched a movie, I would use chopsticks to eat my popcorn. Works great

  47. Well, last time i was in china at a restaurant with some of my Chinese friends, they teased me a lot and made fun of me for not knowing how to use chopsticks. After reading this article i can surely give them a little surprise.

  48. Thanks for this! I find using chopsticks very difficult and drop my ginger everywhere all the time.

    I hope I can use these tips to get better and hopefully not embarrass myself when out with friends.


    Dinuka Perera