For many Westerners, using a chopstick is extremely difficult and almost impossible to eat with. There are many reasons why many in Asia prefer to eat with chopsticks and not with western utensils.
Vietnam has been eating with chopsticks for thousands of years, so the Vietnamese prefer to eat with chopsticks. The Vietnamese food is cooked, prepared, and served to be eaten with chopsticks. Most Vietnamese food is prepared to be in bite-size pieces that can quickly be eaten with a set of chopsticks.
Why Vietnamese Prefer Chopsticks
Vietnamese food is cut, prepared, and cooked to be eaten with chopsticks. Most people in Vietnam will put their food in bowls on top of the rice in the bowl; this makes it easier to eat the food together with the rice.
It is considered polite in Vietnam to bring the bowl up towards your mouth as you’re eating; this is why if you ever go to Vietnam and you see people eating in a restaurant you may find that they have a small bowl and a plate; when they are eating they are putting the food on top of the rice that is in their bowl. Asian food, in particular Vietnamese food, is meant to be eaten that way.
We eat all our food on one plate in the West and eat off our plate. We do not bring our dish up to our mouth to put the food into our mouth.
You will notice that the dishes and plates they are using are smaller for Vietnamese food. In other words, there may be a small plate and a bowl and some chopsticks in front of you with the main courses placed on larger plates or bowls in the center of the table.
Food and sharing the food is a social experience in Vietnam. Food is usually about gathering together as a family or friends, sitting around a table, and sharing the food. Vietnamese like a meal to have a variety of dishes. The meal is more exciting and enticing with many foods and tastes.
We like to have our plate in the West, and we only eat off from our plate. In Vietnam, food is all about sharing and experiencing the food with everyone.
Some Vietnamese dishes are usually not shared, such as a bowl of Pho, Bun Cha, or Bun Ba Nam Bo. You will have just one bowl for those dishes, and you only eat from that bowl.
Vietnam, China, and Chopsticks
One of the first things you need to understand about Vietnam is that the Chinese ruled Vietnam for over 1000 years. The Chinese brought many things to Vietnam, including food and food utensils.
Chopsticks are the primary eating utensil in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Throughout most of Asia, Chopsticks are the primary eating utensil.
The Chinese started to use chopsticks in 1200 B.C. By 500 A.D, chopsticks were being used all over Asia, including in Vietnam. Asians, including the Vietnamese, have been using chopsticks for thousands of years.
Here are some practical reasons for chopsticks
- Cleaner Than Using Your Hands – Many parts of Asia people still use their hands to eat. They will put some rice in their hands and then pick up the rice or even bread to eat together with some meat or vegetables. In Vietnam and other parts of Asia, chopsticks are considered cleaner, especially as traditionally, many Vietnamese were farmers whose hands got dirty working on the farm all day.
- Confucious Believe in Chopsticks – The Chinese philosopher Confucius believed that sharp utensils like a knife would remind eaters of the gruesome way that meat came to be in the bowl. For most Asia dishes as the meat was already in bite-size pieces and the chopsticks were not sharp, users of chopsticks would then be spared the images from the slaughter.
- Chopsticks Are Easier Than Fork and Knife – For most Asians, including the Vietnamese, eating with chopsticks is a lot easier than using a fork and knife. If you give some Vietnamese forks and knives, they are unsure what to do with them or how to use them because they are so used to eating with chopsticks. Chopsticks are the preferred way of eating food.
Vietnamese Food and Chopsticks
There are many practical reasons why the Vietnamese and many Asians prefer to use chopsticks rather than western utensils. One of the countries in Asia that uses western utensils is Thailand.
But I know from first-hand experience, having lived in Thailand, they used a fork and a spoon; we rarely used a fork and a knife. Part of this is just the nature of Thai food in that it was usually easier to eat with a spoon and a fork. Many times, you found yourself using the spoon more than a fork.
Thai dishes as rice curry seem to do better when we use a spoon and a fork, but those dishes are easy to eat with a chopstick.
Here are some reasons why Vietnamese eat with chopsticks and not western utensils:
- Bite-size Pieces – Food in Vietnam and all Asia is usually in bite-size pieces. It is not like we eat in the west where you have a large steak you must cut up. The meat is pre cut or shredded into pieces for Vietnamese food before you ever serve it to anyone.
- Rice Is Wet – In many parts of Asia, including Vietnam, the rice is a wet rice. When you eat rice with chopsticks, you pick up the rice in a bite-size piece also; being a wet rice you can easily do this with Vietnamese rice. Most rice in Asia is in the short or medium-grain variety that works well with chopsticks.
- Salads Are Shredded – For many Vietnamese salads, the pieces are shredded in long and skinny pieces. It almost gives a noodle feel. The Vietnamese also eat the salads with chopsticks.
- Rice Noodles – Chopsticks work well with many Vietnamese dishes that include rice noodles. Even the Veitnamese soup dish known as Pho is eaten with a chopstick and manytimes a spoon. When you eat those dishes you will take some noodles, then some meat and some vegetables. The broth is often left behind and not entirely eaten as the central part is the meat, vegetable, and noodles.
- Used To Show Your Care – At the Vietnamese table, before the host starts to eat, the host will take their chopsticks and start to give you food in your bowl. Many times a host will reverse their chopsticks to give you food. This is considered to be polite in Asia and the host is showing you respect as they make sure you get the food first.
Using chopsticks for a Vietnamese meal is also a sign of politeness, or it shows that you care. This is why you will find chopsticks are used in Vietnam, especially for Vietnamese food. It is the way the Vietnamese have been eating food for thousands of years, and like most of Asia, it is a way they will continue to eat their food.
Anyone is planning to live, work, or travel to Asia will need to learn to eat with chopsticks. If you cannot use chopsticks in a restaurant, it is okay to ask for a fork, knife, and spoon.
Mastering chopsticks is a great way to eat Asian food. I’m not sure if the food tastes better with chopsticks, but it always seems chopsticks make the food seem more Asian.
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