Raquel C. Bagnol
I never got the chance to learn how to use chopsticks before and I often wondered why people would waste their time trying to learn how to eat using them. I thought trying to eat using chopsticks is silly because the spoon and fork is a much more advanced eating tool and I don't see why I have to bother learning something so useless to me. Or so I thought, until I had to feature a Japanese restaurant for last week’s issue of our newspaper.
My editor Maam Lei has already made reservations for us at Sushi Bar, an authentic Japanese restaurant right along the main street of Koror, Palau’s capital state ahead of time so when we got there, everything was almost cooked (or uncooked) to perfection.
After taking several photos of the various dishes prepared for us, we settled down to start eating. I shook my head at the whole lot spread before us: food with complicated Japanese names which in reality were mostly raw fish sliced and served in different styles and comes with different dips and paste, fish rolled in sticky rice and topped with some leaves, sushi, sashimi and other foods designed to produce tears to my pure Bisaya palate.
And then I noticed something lacking. Placed beside my table napkin is a pair of chopsticks, those two long thin sticks made of bamboo which translates loosely into the English as "speedy ones" or "speedy fingers". Chop sticks, I learned later, used to mean "fast stick" but it doesn't apply to me because how could one eat fast by picking food with it is still a wonder to me.
“Miss, pahingi naman ng kutsara at tinidor please,” I asked a passing waitress but before she could give me what I want, Maam Lei stopped her. She must have understood what I said and told us to practice using chopsticks because “it’s a must in this Republic”. Oh gosh.
Maam Lei demonstrated to the four of us (I was with officemates Celina, Au and Maam Lei’s daughter Bella) where and how to hold the two sticks together to be able to pick up food. We were so clumsy at first but towards the end of the meal, we were able to pick something using the chopsticks. I ended up still hungry though.
I was attending a press conference during my SunStar days last year at the Marco Polo hotel when a small table was laid and dainty bowls of food I only see in Chinese restaurants were set before us for “media sampling”. I was hungry and getting hungrier by the pleasant aroma rising from the food. Then we were handed chopsticks.
It was not my first time to touch chopsticks, mind you but I never did learn (or acquired the interest to learn) using them.
"Why would I spend more time trying to spoon food into my mouth using two thin pieces of wood when the realiable spoon and fork are doing a fairly good job of it?" I've always argued to myself.
I guess I would never be comfortable using them.
Everybody was having an easy time. I did try though but I did not enjoy the food despite my hunger. The little bits of food I successfully spooned into my mouth were even too little for birds. I had a hard time spooning rice into my mouth because it took more manual dexterity than I currently possess.
As there were only very few of us, I was unable to escape and was forced the join the 'food sampling'. Admittedly, I missed breakfast and was getting considerably hungrier but I did not fancy Chinese food, plus the use of chopsticks.
I joined the other media practitioners and spooned food into our small dishes and we were handed the chopsticks. The appetizing aroma of Chinese fried rice tempted by tastebuds but the futile attempts to spoon rice into my mouth using those chopsticks were getting on my patience.
I’m having rice and fried wahoo fish for lunch today. I’m using chopsticks and I’m slowly learning how to use it but I still consider my hands the most realiable alternative in the absence of spoons. I always get a different satisfaction from eating with my hand.