4 essential rules of chopstick etiquette

East Asian cuisine heralding from China, Japan, Korea or Vietnam is well-loved for its depth of flavour, use of spices, and mix of traditional fruits and vegetables. A big part of East Asian cuisine is their staple eating utensil of choice: the chopsticks.

Whether you have nailed the art of using these tricky utensils or not, it is important to understand the cultural significance and heritage of chopsticks.

Ying Son Asian Foods is an Asian grocer located in Kenilworth, Cape Town, that stocks Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Korean ingredients. The grocer was founded by second-generation Chinese owners the husband-and-wife duo Warren Ying and Lindi Pow Chong. On their journey to learning more about their culture and traditions, the owners are sharing their knowledge with their local food community.

In a social media post, the team behind Ying Son Asian Foods shared their vision for the establishment.

“When we started Ying Son, part of our vision was to create a space for people to enjoy and share Asian culture. A friendly neighbourhood store where you could come and pick up supplies, ask questions and get advice about how to cook things.”

Here are their four rules for using chopsticks

Rule number one

Do not stick chopsticks into food items as it resembles that of incense sticks. In Chinese culture, incense sticks are used to pay respect to those that have died.

Rule number two

Chopsticks are not an item to play with – it is important to respect these eating tools as you would silverware.

Rule number three

Do not place one’s chopsticks directly on the table. If you have finished eating, place them within the bowl or on the plate. Alternatively, you can place your chopsticks on a suitable rest if provided when dining.

Rule number four

Never place your chopsticks in the shape of an X. According to Chinese culture, the X crossing is associated with death.


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A post shared by Ying Son Asian Foods (@yingsoncpt)

A brief history of chopsticks

According to, chopsticks originate from China. Reports indicate that there is evidence that they have been used in Chinese culture from at least 1200 B.C. The use of chopsticks spread to other Asian countries such as Vietnam and Japan by A.D. 500.

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