What Do I Do When They Give Me a Fork, Knife, and Chopsticks?

it's polite to keep buying coffee.

Fielding your questions about dining out in 21st-century Bay Area restaurants. Have one? Email me

San Francisco diners are expected to become practiced at a variety of eating implements in a seemingly infinite variety of combinations. So I wasn't surprised to get asked this question:

C.R.: So what do I do when I'm in a Chinese restaurant and the waiter brings me chopsticks and a fork and knife?

Well, C.R., a decade ago I would have answered something like “Use the chopsticks, duh, and ask for them if the waiter doesn't bring them to you.” But that all changed a few years back, after some friends and I got into an argument at a Thai restaurant.

One person had asked the server for chopsticks, and I mentioned that in Thailand, you'd only use chopsticks for noodles; for curries and stir-fries, you'd use a fork and a spoon (yeah, a little obnoxious, but these were good friends). A third member of our party said, “But why does it matter? It's not like we're in Thailand.”

The argument heated up from there, but it changed my entire approach to culturally sensitive utensil use. After all, Chinese restaurants don't do non-chopstick-users a favor by giving them chopsticks and a dinner plate — rice is far, far easier to eat Chinese style, from a small bowl that you hold up close to your mouth. As I've been eating my way around Chinatown, I've noticed half of the customers — of all ethnicities — use forks to demolish their lunchtime rice plates.

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