When you visit a Chinese restaurant for dim sum or dinner, you will usually find a basic place setting that consists of a small teacup, a plate with a small bowl holding a spoon, and of course, a set of chopsticks. The spoon is not the regular spoon we use in western dining. It is a flat bottom spoon with a pointed front end and a short handle. Some call it a Chinese spoon, a Chinese soup spoon, an Asian spoon or a duck spoon. Whatever you call it, the spoon is commonly used in three ways – to sip liquid like soup, to assist chopsticks when tackling an ingredient-packed noodle soup, and to discreetly get small bones from your mouth to a plate when eating food like chicken feet.
The flat bottom spoons are usually bigger than western spoons and can hold more liquid, which is handy for eating Asian soups which usually have noodles or large chunks of vegetables and meat in them. Using a western spoon, there’s too little room to fit in both the solid ingredients and the broth. But with a larger Chinese spoon, you can get some noodles, vegetables, and still plenty of broth on the spoon. Since Chinese spoons are usually made of ceramic, they tend to keep their handles cool when immersed in piping hot soup. And they are less likely to burn your mouth like a western metal spoon may.
Tips for Using a Chinese Spoon:
Unlike chopsticks, there’s no complicated guide on how to properly hold and eat with a Chinese spoon. You would use it as you would use a regular spoon, I’d say. But if you’re obsessed with a proper way to hold the Chinese spoon (i.e. to have the most secure grip), you can hold the spoon with your index finger in the groove of the handle and your middle finger and thumb underneath. For drinking just the broth, you can sip it from the side of your spoon. When your spoon is packed with goodies like noodles and broth, you don’t really need to stick the whole spoon in your mouth (that’s not the prettiest sight really) but can put just the rounded, tapered front portion of the spoon into your mouth and eat from it.
While at first glance using a Chinese spoon is not overly difficult, it is certainly a form of art to eat noodle soup by using the spoon in a slow tango with chopsticks. You would hold the chopsticks in your dominant hand and the Chinese spoon in the other hand. When eating the noodle soup, use the chopsticks to move your noodles and other solid goodies into the spoon and then pack some broth into the spoon before guiding the spoonful into your mouth. You can simply tip the tapered front of the spoon into your mouth, or use your chopsticks to help the noodles into your mouth. This way you can enjoy the broth and noodles simultaneously.
As the soup noodles are normally piping hot and sometimes slippery, it takes quite some practice and advanced chopsticks skills to deliver the noodles straight into your mouth with your chopsticks without slurping, which is a big no-no in the Chinese culture. But once you’ve mastered this skill, you can use the spoon to enjoy a big spoonful of broth. If you’d like to give your noodle soup a little kick, you can use the spoon as a chilli oil holder instead. You put some chilli oil into the spoon and hold it above the noodle soup, so you can occasionally dip the noodles or meat into the chilli oil. This way you won’t dilute the chilli oil in a big bowl of broth. This is the way to eat noodle soup like a local in Hong Kong.
Did You Know?
A Chinese spoon is not only useful for eating soup, it is also an essential tool for promoting qi in the traditional Chinese medicine through a treatment called guasha. Gua means scraping in Chinese. A professional literally takes a spoon and repeatedly scrape it on your skin, normally over sore areas like your neck, shoulder or upper back.
Here’s a quirky video of dancing Chinese spoons to show you some of the most common spoon patterns.