Crawl Across the Ocean

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Cultural Imperialism

Do you suppose that East Asians are eventually going to acknowledge the functional superiority of the knife and fork vs. chopsticks and switch over?

Most Asian restaurants in North America offer up at least a fork as an option for the chopstick-averse. Do Western restaurants in East Asia offer chopsticks as an option?

Just wondering.


  • You're making a cultural assumption, that being that knives and forks are superior. If you're skilled at using them Japanese style chopsticks (more pointed than Chinese) are pretty much the ideal eating tool as long as you are not trying to carve up meat. You can quickly and easily pick up a single grain of rice with them.

    By Anonymous Doug Alder, at 11:37 PM  

  • "You're making a cultural assumption, that being that knives and forks are superior."

    Hence the post title :)

    Still, if we break it down, I think it is clear that the knife and fork is easier to learn in the first place. I often hear Asian people say that some Westerner is 'good with chopsticks' but I almost never hear anyone be complimented for being 'good with a knife and fork', it is just assumed, because it so easy, that anyone can do it.

    Also, it's not just carving up meat, imagine going to Denny's and ordering pancakes, sausages, eggs and hash browns and having them bring you a pair of chopsticks. It's pretty much impossible to eat at a Western restaurant with chopsticks while the reverse is not true, a knife and fork work just fine at an Asian restaurant.

    That leaves other avenues for chopsticks to beat out the knife and fork. I'm not sure I see the value in picking up a single grain of rice, but perhaps there are some delicate tasks that can be done better with chopsticks?

    Which set of cutlery allows one to eat quicker, I wonder (no idea)?

    Which has the greater risk of spillage (I'd think chopsticks)?

    Other factors?

    Personally, I think the knife and fork is superior, but I'm open to conter-arguments.

    By Blogger Declan, at 1:37 PM  

  • I can't for the life of me imagine eating sushi with a knife and fork, or enjoying a dimsum without chopsticks. They are most appropriate for Asian cuisine - obviously.

    As for greater spillage, most westerners don't eat properly with chopsticks. If you watch Asians, they don't bring the food from the plate up to their mouth - they usually hold the bowl quite close to their mouth and literally scoop the food in - very little risk of spillage that way.

    By Anonymous Radical Centrist, at 4:17 PM  

  • Nothing tough about eating sushi with a fork. Dimsum I'm not so sure about.

    Yeah, I know the behavior you speak of (bowl held close to the mouth), but isn't needing to bring the bowl close to one's mouth in itself a concession to the inferiority of the cutlery?

    By Blogger Declan, at 4:29 PM  

  • When I was in Scotland, I ate the best chinese food I have ever had - a huge claim for someone from the West Coast - and I will say this: when the Significant Other and I rejected tableware for chopsticks, we got phenominal service, far better than the folks at other tables who stuck with what they knew.

    ***PEDANT ALERT!***

    "Cutlery" means sharp knives only, not the rest of the silverware.

    By Blogger Thursday, at 4:42 PM  

  • Just because cutlery snobs give better service to those willing to use the cutlery they grew up with, doesn't make that cutlery better :)

    Thanks for the pedantic heads-up, though. According to Wikipedia, the use of cutlery to means just knives or cutting tools is an American usage. Encarta backs up Wikipedia, specifically noting that in Canada, unlike the U.S., the term cutlery includes forks and spoons. And while Wikipedia's generic "any hand utensil used in preparing, serving, and especially eating food." definition would seem to include chopsticks, there is no mention of chopsticks in the entry.

    I guess since they can't cut, the word 'cutlery' is inappropriate (although if we can bring 'fork' and 'spoon' in under the banner...).

    I wonder what word would include knives, forks, spoons and chopsticks? - tableware? silverware? flatware? eating utensils? - now *those* sound pedantic.

    By Blogger Declan, at 5:47 PM  

  • A significant difference is that you use chopsticks with one hand, while a fork and knife is used with both hands (unless if you've quadruple-jointed which I would love to see).

    So a proper apples-to-apples comparison would be a solitary fork vs. chopsticks.

    Note in the medieval days that typically people used one hand and a knife.

    By Blogger Sacha, at 6:17 PM  

  • Good point, having a free hand is definitely an advantage. Although typically the knife is only held while cutting, which is something chopsticks can't do, so for the most part it is the fork versus the chopsticks.

    Although maybe chopsticks are better at scooping up those last stragglers without bringing in the knife to help pile studd on the fork.

    By Blogger Declan, at 9:54 PM  

  • Uh, stuff, not 'studd'.

    By Blogger Declan, at 9:55 PM  

  • On the meaning of "cutlery," count me as using the term for forks and spoons, as well as knives. And I'm not even Canadian.

    But then again my mother was from Minnesota--Duluth, to be presice, which is more Canadian than almost anything else this side of the border.

    By Blogger MSS, at 10:48 AM  

  • But surely to suggest that cutlery is simply knives, forks & spoons is crude to say the least. I mean should we confuse our knife with our steak knife or our fish knife; our fork with our dessert fork; likewise our spoon with our soup spoon? No, no, no, this North American utilitariarism is not acceptable.
    Speak not unless you can demolish a full rack of spare ribs, using only a knife and fork, while retaining your fingers in their prisine purity yet lining up the residual bones in symmetrical array along the bottom of your plate and the rejected chips and vegs similiarly along the top.
    With chopsticks - no way.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:47 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home