NOTE: This post had been read a lot, amazingly. Thus, I must point out that it was clearly written from the perspective of a chopstick novice. I've seen folks annihilate bowls of Phở with hyper-efficient scoops and slurps. In the intervening years since I wrote this, I've gotten a bit more adept with this utensil; I'm still slower than when using a fork, though.
If you didn't grow up using chopsticks at every meal, you may be just as slow at using them as I am. However, I'm realizing now that that's not such a bad thing. Anything that helps us slow down and appreciate life, in whatever way, must be a good thing (and no, that's not a Martha Stewart rip-off -- I'm simply stealing that phrase back for the rest of us!).
The clear truth is the more we hurry through life, the more we tend to miss. With chopsticks, and especially for the non-proficient operator, each and every bite is an individual process of combining ingredients (as the chef intended us to do) and then delicately but accurately delivering those items for tasting -- the best part!
How many times have you gotten that perfectly assembled mixture just millimeters from your mouth when - schlop! - the whole delicious thing plops back into your bowl or onto your plate? This is the crucial moment: If you sigh and let frustration dominant, then you've lost the battle with the noodle bowl, but if you concentrate and try again, you'll get it and all the careful picking with the chopsticks will have been a success!
Just imagine what this does for the ego of the eater; each bite that reaches the mouth is, in essence, a tiny "job well done" for the diner with its own built in reward. On the Western side, the fork is nothing short of forged, mechanical efficiency. There is nothing romantic about it and the task it helps the user to perform is completed with little grace or skill. Sure, the handhold is critical, as with the chopsticks, but even tiny toddlers can incorporate proper posture into this early expression of fine motor skills. For me, watching the same age kid handle chopsticks gracefully is a completely different, and thoroughly impressive accomplishment.
Even with the accompanying slurping and smacking, chopsticks and their efficient use help someone like me to slow down, taste and savor each bite for the world of flavors contained therein. If not for a little natural clumsiness, I might revert back to my primeval self and simply gorge without relish.
So, pass me the chopsticks, and I'll dive into the dish, even if it's only one grain of rice at a time! After all, I learned in third grade with a wonderful, patient teacher, Mrs. Fidler, and that was Cheerio by tiny Cheerio (yes, hooking through the center hole was considered cheating!).
NOTE: This post had been read a lot, amazingly. Thus, I must point out that it was clearly written from the perspective of a chopstick novice. I've seen folks annihilate bowls of Phở with hyper-efficient scoops and slurps. In the intervening years since I wrote this, I've gotten a bit more adept with this utensil; I'm still slower than when using a fork though. It's always wise to slow down--just a little--and savor things.