This entry will try and answer that question.
Utensils Used to Eat Chinese
Chopsticks are obviously the most common utensil used to eat chinese food, as the chopstick was invented in China. Chopsticks are small, thin sticks that can be made of a number of different materials including wood, bamboo, ivory, gold, silver, pewter and plastic.
For people who cannot master the skills of using chopsticks, Chinese food can be consumed by using a fork. The fork is made up of a handle with a number of tines on the end. The fork can be used in a variety of ways, including as a scoop, or by stabbing with the prongs to pick up pieces of food.
The spoon is an essential item for eating Chinese food where neither the fork nor chopsticks are appropriate, such as for soup. Sometimes, a spoon is used with a fork when chopsticks are not used.
Utensils Not Used to Eat Chinese
This entry will not look at the knife, as it is rarely used when eating Chinese food. The knife is a frequently seen utensil in the West, but is not a common Chinese utensil, and would not be seen on a Chinese table. This is because the Chinese take their meals very seriously, and feel that the meal table should be a place of peace and harmony. The knife could be used as a weapon, and could disrupt the harmony of the table. Because of this, the knife, and anything else that could disrupt the harmony, is banned from the table.
There is some learned suggestion that Confucius, scholar and vegetarian of the 6th century BC, promoted the use of chopsticks over knives, as he believed knives would conjure up thoughts of the slaughterhouse for those using them.
Chopsticks do not disrupt the harmony of the table and most Chinese food is designed to be eaten with chopsticks. Chopsticks are not sharp and are not used to cut food, so the Chinese food is usually chopped into small pieces while it is being prepared, to make it easier to eat. It is also cut into small pieces to make it quicker to cook.
The shape of the utensil is very important. When you bite the food you feel the shape in your mouth, and the shape you feel can greatly affect the taste of the food. Chopsticks have the advantage that you only feel a small amount of the chopsticks in your mouth, just the small, thin ends.
By contrast, the fork takes up more space in the mouth. However, the scoop-like shape makes it easier to move more food into the mouth at once, as it has a much larger surface area.
When eating Chinese food, the method is just as important as the utensil.
On the whole, people find eating with chopsticks harder then eating with a fork. However, this is not always a bad thing, shown below by this comment from one Researcher:
If I use a fork, then I eat so fast that I am sick. Chopsticks are what I used to use to slow me down so that I could enjoy the food more.
There are two different ways of eating with chopsticks. Firstly, there is the 'ladylike' way. The 'ladylike' way is to keep your bowl on the table and eat very little with each mouthful.
Another Reseacher gives their opinion on the advantage of the 'ladylike' method of using chopsticks over using the fork:
You have to pick up a flavour at a time with chopsticks, whereas with a fork you tend to heap all you can onto it and loose the individual flavours 'in the crowd of tastes'.
The following Researcher also prefers eating Chinese using the 'ladylike' method:
Eating with chopsticks in the 'ladylike' way is better for you. It takes much longer to eat your food and you notice when you start to feel full and stop eating.
The second way to eat with chopsticks is where you hold your bowl very close to your mouth and shovel the food in.
Below, a Researcher comments on how they learnt to use chopsticks like this:
I was in a restaurant in Chinatown in London at around 5.30, and there were a lot of Chinese people obviously just finished at work and grabbing a meal before going home. I saw for the first time the way of shoveling the food with the bowl up to your mouth and secretly had a go myself. Instead of dropping half my food on the table as per usual, I actually managed to get proper mouthfuls of rice without dropping a grain! There's no holding me back now - no going back to the ten grains of rice at a time method - it's shovel it in every time now.
Of course, there are some people who prefer not to use a utensil at all - a habit common in India, Thailand, Malaysia and Central Asia:
I prefer to use my fingers, or scoop things up with a prawn cracker or something similar.