Knife and fork

From Okada Tetsu 岡田哲's Meiji yōshoku kotohajime 明治洋食事始め ("The dawn of Western food [culture in Japan] during the Meiji period") (Kōdansha 2012):

When eating Western cuisine, to use a knife and fork required truly death-defying courage. Ōno Tanizō 大野谷蔵 of the Kaiyōtei 開陽亭in Yokohama, recalls guests coming for Western food in the early days of that restaurant who cut the inside of their mouths terribly using the knives and forks that were supplied instead of chopsticks. Nor did they know how to deal with the soup. Some would pick up the soup dish and try to drink directly from it as if it were a miso soup bowl, only to drench themselves in hot soup from chest to lap. Others would spear chunks of meat on their knives, then withdraw the knives from their closed mouths and slice open their lips. Such mishaps were an almost daily occurence.

Chopsticks can be a challenge at first, but at least you can't cut yourself on them.

Popularity factor: 6


Wanna know how I got these scars?


^ You win the internet today, sir.


“In all these functions, in all the gestures they imply, chopsticks are the converse of our knife (and of its predatory substitute, the fork): they are the alimentary instrument which refuses to cut, to pierce, to mutilate, to trip (very limited gestures, relegated to the preparation of the food for cooking: the fish seller who skins the still-living eel for us exorcises once and for all, in a preliminary sacrifice, the murder of food); by chopsticks, food becomes no longer a prey to which one does violence (meat, flesh over which one does battle), but a substance harmoniously transferred; they transform the previously divided substance into bird food and rice into a flow of milk; maternal, they tirelessly perform the gesture which creates the mouthful, leaving to our alimentary manners, armed with pikes and knives, that of predation.” (Barthes, "Empire of Signs" – for those unfamiliar with it, he's being deliberately over-the-top.)

Also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlJUVwxAJ3k#t=10m50s (reference for people of the future: Rurouni Kenshin episode #64, 10:50)


In riposte to Barnes (who is always a bit ridiculous when waxing poetic, at least to me), I'll bring up Bee Wilson who, in Consider the Fork, points out that the chopping thus has to be done in the kitchen. With great violence. No carving here (tale in Zhuangzhi notwithstanding).

And then there's the whole rainforests for disposable chopsticks thing.

(How much of these stories about problems with western things making fun of yokels who don't pronounce Paris right, as it were, I wonder.)


In defense of Barthes, he does say from the very beginning that he’s talking fantasy; though I suppose only those of us who like this sort of thing will like this sort of thing. But he does mention the need of a preliminary sacrifice & cutting-up of the food (and, further, the symbiosis between cutting and chopsticking: “the foodstuffs are cut up so they can be grasped by the sticks, but also the chopsticks exist because the foodstuffs are cut into small pieces”); the point lies in the “preliminary”.


Empirically speaking, though, you just have to watch how people deal with tonkatsu or unagi (usually served whole) to see that a skilfully wielded pair of chopsticks is capable of a surprising amount of ripping and tearing.

(Also, Chris is totally right about Avery's comment.)

Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur

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