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Is using a fork with sushi considered impolite?
February 7, 2007 12:14 PM   Subscribe

It is considered rude/wrong to ask for a fork with sushi or other Asian foods?

Mostly I get a little embarrassed when I go to a nice sushi restaurant and someone in my company asks for a fork. I am wondering if it is an insult to the chief or restaurant owner to ask for a fork or if I am just looking too much into it? Would it be more polite to use fingers than to use a fork?
posted by birdlips to Food & Drink (55 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't think asking for a fork is rude. It's ruder to try and use chop sticks and then dropping the food all over the place. It's even more rude to use your fingers!

It's natural to feel embarrased when someone else reveals their own shortcomings, such as the inability to use chopsticks.
posted by muddgirl at 12:19 PM on February 7, 2007


No. It's never rude to ask for the implement you prefer. All restaurants in the US are thoroughly used to it, and I suspect it's overcorrecting fellow Western diners who are embarrassed by such requests -- the chef certainly isn't. I suggest you just accept it, and be glad everyone in your company is able to enjoy their food. (Would you rather they sat there twiddling chopsticks they don't really know how to use?)
posted by languagehat at 12:19 PM on February 7, 2007


It is not rude to use your fingers when you eat sushi. Sushi was designed to be eaten with the fingers.
posted by mckenney at 12:20 PM on February 7, 2007


On nonpreview: the inability to use chopsticks is not a "shortcoming." It's a natural consequence of not having had much exposure to Asian manners. Is not being able to speak Japanese a shortcoming? Are you embarrassed for not being able to speak it? (Assuming you can't; if you can, substitute another language/cuisine.)
posted by languagehat at 12:22 PM on February 7, 2007


muddgirl has it dead wrong here, fingers are a valid way to eat sushi.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:23 PM on February 7, 2007


No complete answer, but here's a data point: in a Chinese restaurant, if your food is served on a plate, the appropriate eating utensils are a fork and a spoon. That's certainly how I've always seen the Chinese do it in Singapore, Malaysia, and Vancouver (all of which have huge Chinese populations), and I've had it explained to me that this is correct (after stupidly asking for chopsticks at a Chinese restaurant in Malaysia and getting confused looks from the staff before I knew this). I hear it is also this way in China. It's just a waste of time to use chopsticks to chase rice around on a plate.

If your food is in a bowl, then chopsticks are the appropriate utensil.
posted by Emanuel at 12:24 PM on February 7, 2007


Oh, also, since you mentioned Asian foods in general, food from South India is meant to be eaten with the fingers. The texture is part of the experience of eating it. But I'm sure nobody would be offended if you asked for a fork (but what fun is that?)
posted by Emanuel at 12:27 PM on February 7, 2007


Ditto.

Sushi is a finger food.

That is why they provide a warm, moist towel for you. (Japanese restaurants and/or sushi bars do provide towels.)
posted by cinemafiend at 12:29 PM on February 7, 2007


If your food is in a bowl, then chopsticks are the appropriate utensil.

Or a soup spoon.
posted by Caviar at 12:29 PM on February 7, 2007


I am wondering if it is an insult to the chief or restaurant owner to ask for a fork or if I am just looking too much into it?

Who cares, you're spending your money there. If they don't like it, they can ask you to spend your money elsewhere


Would it be more polite to use fingers than to use a fork?

Sushi is about the size of finger food. Knock yourself and don't worry too much about what people will think. It just tends to drag life down.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:30 PM on February 7, 2007


It is not rude to use your fingers when you eat sushi. Sushi was designed to be eaten with the fingers.

Hmmm, apparantly I'm wrong, according to the internet. However, I have never seen anyone eating sushi with their fingers, in California or Texas, and the waitress has always provided chopsticks without asking. Is this just a western custom?

On nonpreview: the inability to use chopsticks is not a "shortcoming."

A poor word choice. I'm two for two.
posted by muddgirl at 12:32 PM on February 7, 2007


nthing the finger food comment.

Also, though using a fork may be acceptable, it makes a (possibly psychosomatic, but I doubt it) difference in the way the fish tastes.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:32 PM on February 7, 2007


N+1th-ing sushi as okay to eat with fingers. See this for a tongue-in-cheek demonstration.

As for other restaurants, the staff shouldn't be offended if you ask for a fork/spoon instead of chopsticks. At some places, you'll even get offered cutlery without having to ask for it when they see that you aren't some sort of Asian.

I dislike the token Whitey fork, but it comes in handy for peskily slippery things that my chopstick-fu isn't capable of handling.
posted by CKmtl at 12:39 PM on February 7, 2007


It's not what you ask, it's how you ask. If one, like this very loud woman I overheard last year, asks, "Could you give me some real utensils?," yes, that's rude.

Besides, it's much neater to eat giant veggie sushi rolls with hands.
posted by cobaltnine at 12:39 PM on February 7, 2007


Be aware that the mistake Westerners generally make in Asian meal etiquette is to obsess about employing the "correct" methods of eating your food (chopsticks vs. forks, elbows off the table, etc). So long as you don't slurp or burp, you should be fine.

What's much more important is participating graciously in the communal rituals, i.e. deferring to elders / hosts, serving others before yourself, pouring tea for others, not taking too much food at a time, etc.
posted by randomstriker at 12:40 PM on February 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Here is the obligatory Alton Brown reference (every food-related thread must have one!):

"Oh, and remember, sushi was invented as finger food, so fingers are always permissible."

wait, I thought slurping was a GOOD thing, as it exhibits enjoyment of the food
posted by hsoltz at 12:44 PM on February 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Fingers are fine, chopsticks are fine, forks are fine. I use some combination of fingers and chopsticks when eating sushi.
posted by rtha at 12:44 PM on February 7, 2007


If you are paying for the food I don't think the owner will care how you put it in your mouth.
posted by bkeene12 at 12:46 PM on February 7, 2007


> So long as you don't slurp or burp, you should be fine.

Actually, slurping is totally fine in Japan, and most (if not all) of Asia. You're supposed to do it, to cool it a bit.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 12:49 PM on February 7, 2007


Sashimi: chopsticks

Rolls: fingers or chopsticks

Nigiri: conservative eaters will use chopsticks, although I've seen bar patrons in Asia eat it with their fingers. In a traditional sushi bar, especially a very conservative one, I would suggest chopsticks.
posted by luriete at 12:50 PM on February 7, 2007


addenda:

temaki - fingers always
inari - fingers or chopsticks
posted by luriete at 12:51 PM on February 7, 2007


However, I have never seen anyone eating sushi with their fingers, in California or Texas

I live in Vancouver, BC, which probably has the highest Asian population in the western world. I can count the number of times I've seen sushi eaten with chopsticks on the fingers of no hands.

It is typical, however, to use chopsticks to pass pieces of sushi from a communal plate to a place setting.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:52 PM on February 7, 2007 [2 favorites]


It is not rude to use your fingers when you eat sushi. Sushi was designed to be eaten with the fingers.

2nded.
posted by j-urb at 1:00 PM on February 7, 2007


I dislike the token Whitey fork, but it comes in handy for peskily slippery things that my chopstick-fu isn't capable of handling.

My wife and I call it simply "getting forked." And when I saw this thread, it was the first thing I thought of. Asking for a utensil you're comfortable with should not be a problem at all. Getting a utensil you don't need without asking, now that's rude.

(Heck, I know people picky about types of chopsticks, and when they get plastic or even fancy porcelain chopsticks, they'll ask for the 3-cent disposable wooden type -- better grip!)

The irony is, I'm mostly Japanese, and I prefer a fork. Meanwhile my wife, from Florida, has become handier with chopsticks than I am! So when she gets "forked," we just trade, and smirk.
posted by pzarquon at 1:01 PM on February 7, 2007


(On second thought, maybe not at a restaurant though.)
posted by j-urb at 1:02 PM on February 7, 2007


I should also mention that Thai food is generally eaten with a fork and spoon. It was quite hilarious when I was at a Thai restaurant once with a friend who didn't believe me and they got all smug and said it must be "Americanized" because they didn't give us chopsticks, but then was subsequently shot down when asking the server for chopsticks and got schooled on true Thai cuisine.
posted by atomly at 1:06 PM on February 7, 2007


I live in Vancouver, BC, which probably has the highest Asian population in the western world. I can count the number of times I've seen sushi eaten with chopsticks on the fingers of no hands.

I live in the suburbs of Vancouver, and I've never seen anyone eat it with their fingers. So if you're trying not to stand out, you probably want to look around the restaurant first.

But I'll nth the opinion that using a fork wouldn't insult the chef. Especially if it makes your coworker more comfortable to use a fork than their fingers.
posted by Gary at 1:16 PM on February 7, 2007


It's definitely okay to use your fingers. It's also definitely okay to slurp in Asian cultures. It is most certainly alright to ask for a fork, wherever you may be.

(And not to derail, but you should learn to use chopsticks, it's fun!!)
posted by dead_ at 1:28 PM on February 7, 2007


(Ah, I see now it's someone in your company asking for a fork. Nevermind the last comment!!)
posted by dead_ at 1:30 PM on February 7, 2007


I've lived in Japan. Sushi is probably eaten with fingers more commonly than with chopsticks there, though I've seen it done both ways. At least at Japanese restaurants, it's extremely unlikely that anyone would ever look askance at a non-Japanese person using a fork instead of chopsticks; if anything, they'll be impressed that you can use chopsticks. Since fingers are OK for sushi, I can't imagine wanting to use a fork.

Chopstick etiquette: Never pass a food item from your chopsticks to another person's chopsticks. This is considered unconscionably rude (it is evocative of part of a Buddhist cremation ceremony). If you want to be especially polite when passing something, flip your chopsticks around so you are holding the food with the unused end.

There's a fine art to noodle-slurping that I've never mastered. I always wind up splattering broth all over everything when I try it. This is my secret shame.
posted by adamrice at 1:50 PM on February 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Just a data point for future surfers on this topic question. Thais don't eat with Chopsticks. Their (mostly) Buddhist beliefs make it a taboo to put sharp things into their mouths. Thais eat with a spoon and fork for non-soup dishes. But they never put the fork into their mouths. They always eat with the spoon, reserving the fork for moving things around, leverage, etc. This is not the case with the pretty large minority ethnic-Chinese population in Thailand (and Malaysia). If you're eating Chinese food in Thailand or Malaysia, you will get chopsticks.

So when you are at a nice Thai restaurant, and you are given a knife and fork, it is not because the Thais think you are too stupid to eat with chopsticks. It's because they don't.
posted by zpousman at 2:09 PM on February 7, 2007


It is rude only in the sense that it is inappropriate and therefore a bit childish, in the same way that using a sippy cup is rude for kids beyond a certain age. (that sounds overly harsh; apologies)

I lived in Japan for 3 years; I can't recall anyone eating sushi with their hands except for, again, toddlers.

Perhaps a better analogy would be to any number of cultural practices. Taking your hat off in a church. Not wiping your mouth with your sleeve. Taking your shoes off in a temple. NOt blowing your nose in public. Even if they don't make sense to you, you do them because it is appropriate in the given situation.

Now, chopsticks require a little bit of skill to learn, and so are a bit different than the examples. However, since chopsticks can be mastered with little skill by anyone of any age, its incumbent on you to try.

I encourage you to learn for the same reason i encourage you to learn how to tie a tie rather than use a clip-on. In fact, that's my best analogy yet. Go with that one!
posted by modernnomad at 4:02 PM on February 7, 2007


.... other than temaki. my bad.
posted by modernnomad at 4:04 PM on February 7, 2007


Wow, must read original question closer! For everywhere suggested "you" do something, replace with "the perosn in your company" -- sorry, again!
posted by modernnomad at 4:09 PM on February 7, 2007


Just to add to the discussion:

In Southeast Asian countries (with the exception of Vietnam), it is most common to eat with a fork and a spoon. One uses the fork in their left hand to guide items around their plate, and to shovel the rice and other stuff onto the spoon in the right hand. The spoon is the primary utensil that goes into the mouth.

In Muslim, and Hindu cultures (India, Malaysia, Indonesia), it is eminently acceptable to consume food using your right hand. The left hand is considered unclean, and to eat using your left hand to touch your food is impolite.

For sushi, you should use chopsticks for sashimi (just fish slices) and you can use either chopsticks or your fingers for nigiri sushi (a small rectangle of rice with a slice of fish on top). I would think that in most sushi restaurants in the West (by which I mean the Americas, Europe, and Australia) they will probably have forks on hand, and will gladly provide them upon request.

That said, eating good food is an experience to be savored, and I think you should do what makes you most comfortable.
posted by Samantha at 4:50 PM on February 7, 2007


ruder to "spear" things with your chopsticks as if they were forks, i'd say. (and also i've never heard about what emanuel said & i've been to plenty of restaurants both here in and in asia)
posted by mittenedsex at 4:52 PM on February 7, 2007


If you put a fork in your mouth in Thailand they will stare at you.

Use a spoon. The fork is just to get the food pushed into the spoon.
posted by konolia at 4:55 PM on February 7, 2007


Although when in Asian countries, the traditions may differ ... but I'll assume that the sushi-eating is taking place somewhere in North America. If that's the case, they'll usually be more than happy to provide you with a fork. Most sushi restaurants are quite used to serving customers who are still in the chopstick-learning phase.

(The only exception is that if the fork-requester is Asian, in which case they'll still provide a fork, but they might think it's weird that the fork-requester don't know how to use chopsticks.)
posted by Xere at 5:25 PM on February 7, 2007


Expanding on Emanuel's comment: in Malaysian Chinese restaurants, you can request that your rice comes in a bowl or a plate before ordering the food, though the bowl of rice is the default. If you're fine with chopsticks, get the bowl; if you'd prefer a fork and spoon, ask for a plate. You can order both if you wish - I've done this a few times.
posted by divabat at 5:26 PM on February 7, 2007


If the restaurant has a problem with people using forks, they wouldn't have any in the place.
posted by JanetLand at 5:28 PM on February 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, talk about a pile-on.

Anyway, I'm chopstick-enabled, but using them makes my hand cramp and that's not fun.

But as already mentioned several times, it's perfectly ok to eat sushi with one's hands, and that's exactly what I do. I was embarrassed at first, but no one really cares. And even if they do, I don't. It's more important that I enjoy my meal than I show off my chopstick prowess. And kill my hand.

Just wash up first.
posted by SlyBevel at 5:35 PM on February 7, 2007 [1 favorite]



Dunno rude, just weird. Like if someone asian asked for a spoon when eating salad.

But then, they expect that from gaijins anyway :)
posted by lundman at 5:54 PM on February 7, 2007


I was just going to say that, SlyBevel. What's rude is making assumptions about others' choice of utensils. I can use chopsticks just fine, but choose not to do so anymore because they are quite painful for me, thanks to carpal tunnel and arthritis.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:01 PM on February 7, 2007


I have seen this happen the other way round in the U.S.

I am half Asian (Chinese) and hence when I go to a Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese restaurant with my parents and sisters, the waiter sees four people who do not look stereotypically Asian and brings us knives and forks.

We always say, "Chopsticks please!"
posted by bad grammar at 7:47 PM on February 7, 2007


I just wanted to second It's Raining Florence Henderson and caution anyone against assuming someone's rude when it comes to this area. Lots of people (myself included) have dexterity and motor skill issues that really make chopsticks an impossibility.

I am, however, delighted to learn that eating most sushi with your fingers is acceptable.
posted by aclevername at 8:57 PM on February 7, 2007


In the ten years since I first moved to Korea, to my recollection, I've never seen someone eat sushi or sashimi (to use the Japanese words, which some people, and most westerners, do here) with their fingers. I'm surprised -- almost shocked, in fact -- to hear that it is a common practice in Japan.

Seriously, never.

If someone did so, though nobody would say anything, I'm pretty sure people would be thinking 'whoa -- this guy's a bit of a barbarian!' here. I know I would, because it would just seem so outré.

I remember watching an episode of Upright Citizen's Brigade a while back, and there was a sushi-addicted character eating it with his hands, and I was cringing. Not being aware that people actually do this (a lot, apparently!), I thought it was deliberately done to make the character seem more unpleasant and over-the-top. So my mind is now a little blown.

All that said, I don't think it's either rude or wrong to ask for a fork, especially if you're outside Asia itself. Probably, if it is indeed such a normal thing outside of Korea to use your hands (seriously, I've gotten so Koreanized that it makes me horripilate a bit thinking about it), that'd be best, as so many suggest. Even here in Korea (although it confirms negative preconceptions about cultural myopia, which is never a good thing) asking for a fork is probably OK, for that matter, though I've never done it.

But I do think it's a little lame and lazy -- it's really not difficult at all for most people to learn how to use chopsticks if they are in possession of most of your fingers, and someone shows them the trick -- but again, neither rude nor wrong.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:24 PM on February 7, 2007


Thais don't eat with Chopsticks. Their (mostly) Buddhist beliefs make it a taboo to put sharp things into their mouths.

This is rubbish, Thais eat with chopsticks all the time. They use them for noodle soups like baa mee nam, and they do indeed put the chopsticks in their mouths.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:32 PM on February 7, 2007


...most of their fingers, I meant, of course.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:41 PM on February 7, 2007


I have to say, this is something I've always wondered about. I love eating sushi with my hands and have worried that it's rude. I've never asked for a fork and have never seen someone do it; but now, if it happens, I think I'll overlook. You're all correct, what's the big deal? (And oh the controversy!)

Curious about one other thing though. I've heard it said that American food portions are generally larger than their counterparts in other countries/cultures. I wonder if US sushi pieces are just bigger and that's why more people have trouble using traditional chopsticks. Anyone been between the US and Asia enough to weigh in on relative sushi-size?
posted by juliplease at 11:01 PM on February 7, 2007


.... other than temaki. my bad.

It's not like anyone's going to look at you funny for eating your sushi with hands, but it's bsaically only the stuff with nori wrapped around it that's meant to be eaten that way.
posted by juv3nal at 1:24 AM on February 8, 2007


As approximately 12 million people have already said, it's in general okay to eat sushi with your hands. Although to me it's a bit weird when it's just a slice of fish with no rice or anything. In fact, I don't think I have ever seen anyone eat sashimi with their hands. But with nigiri, either way is okay. However, getting nigiri into your mouth is admittedly difficult sometimes, even for Japanese people. There's a show on TV sometimes where they have some celebrities on, and sushi goes by on a conveyor belt, and the celebrities have to get it into their mouth using only chopsticks, inside their little delineated part of the conveyor belt. The game doesn't usually last that long.
posted by donkeymon at 3:27 AM on February 8, 2007


However, getting nigiri into your mouth is admittedly difficult sometimes, even for Japanese people

Thanks for that info, donkeymon. I am perfectly capable of managing plain rice, noodles, etc. with chopsticks, but can I master nigiri? Not without flipping it up and stuffing the whole piece in my mouth at once, which always kind of ruins it for me as I like to take a few bites and savour it. So I use my fingers. Good to be validated :)
posted by corvine at 5:11 AM on February 8, 2007


corvine: you've stumbled on exactly the way you're supposed to eat nigiri sushi: pick it up with fingers or chopsticks, turn it over, dip the fish - not the rice - in the soy sauce, and pop it into your mouth whole. American sushi is often bigger than it should be - you shouldn't have to "stuff" a piece of nigiri sushi into your mouth - the whole point of sushi is that it's bite-sized!
posted by nicwolff at 7:39 AM on February 8, 2007


This page might be of further help.
posted by sjvilla79 at 5:38 PM on February 8, 2007


i live in hiroshima. we never usu eat sushi with our fingers. however in the US i woudl think, as long as you are polite (not sloppy) there is no problem.
posted by edtut at 2:14 AM on February 10, 2007


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