You know how when you go to a Chinese restaurant they inevitably give you chopsticks instead of a fork? Well when you live in China you pretty much get chopsticks everywhere.
Now I'm not one of those guys who has to grumble about this. I don't constantly make sarcastic comments about how this is the 21st century and how silverware ought to be upgraded. I try to understand that even though forks and spoons are generally easier to use, chopsticks have been used for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, and this makes them more culturally significant. I'm also realizing that if you grow up using chopsticks they are remarkably usable.
As I believe I have mentioned before, I was never much for Chinese food in the states. Don't like it, don't eat it. I'm learning to enjoy the food here, and I'm learning to use the utensils. I kind of pride myself in being able to eat most any food with the sticks now.
I think the initial thought for Westerners is to the sticks as tweezers and use them to pick up pieces of food individually. To use the two sticks as pressure points grabbing food items between them. This is ok for little pieces of meat or vegetables, but immensely difficult for slippery items, squishy items, or small things. Eggplant gets annihilated and squished. Glazed chicken slips right out, and rice is impossible.
This is where I have learned to use the sticks more like a shovel. I place the sticks close together (but not too close), then dig it into the rice and when I lift up there is a nice collection of rice sitting on top.
I've pretty much mastered the basics of chopstick-ery. I have now began more advanced techniques like biting into a dumpling and moving the sticks to a lower spot on the dumpling while my teeth are holding it steady in my mouth. Or using both the big spoon things in conjunction with my chopsticks. I am no where near an expert user with these methods, but I am learning.
I've been pretty confident with my techniques for some time and this is why I was so upset at lunch today. Amy and I were at the local Sichuan place for lunch. We ordered some pretty basic foods - honey glazed chicken, green beans, sliced pork, and bowls of rice. We were chatting and eating and everything was going fine.
Then a chef showed up. He said some things we didn't understand and pointed to one of my bowls. They always give us small bowls with these spoon like things to go with them. Usually I put some of my food into one of these bowls and use the spoon to scoop out foods that are difficult to take with chopsticks (I still eat those things with my sticks you understand, they just don't work that well when trying to get a sizable portion out of the communal bowl.) For today's meal, I was putting all my food into my little rice bowl.
I really had no idea what this guy was saying but started to assume he wanted me to use the bowl. After a moment he came back...with a fork!
I was crushed. Chinese guy didn't think I had the skills to use my chopsticks. I'm sure he was just trying to be helpful, but it was quite the bruise to my ego. Especially since it was but one fork, meant for me and not Amy. Now it is highly possible that they only have one fork in the whole place. It is also possible this fork is new and he was showing it off.
It still stings.