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Why chopstick economies prosper the most

So here I am midweek at possibly the best stand-alone Vietnamese restaurant in Bangkok, putting myself around the following: an omelette slow-cooked to thin, crunchy perfection with snips of sprouts, a tiny bowl of yellow rice with black raisins, fried spring rolls that I wrap one at a time in a lettuce leaf and spike with grated carrot relish and because the person I’m with insists, we end with a bowl of classic pho (clear Vietnamese soup with things in it), one-into-two, for it’s really been a bit much. Perhaps I should have had the fresh (unfried) spring rolls with yards of leaves inside but how much rabbit food can a person eat? Renuka Narayan writes.

art and culture Updated: Jan 21, 2012 22:01 IST
Renuka Narayan

So here I am midweek at possibly the best stand-alone Vietnamese restaurant in Bangkok, putting myself around the following: an omelette slow-cooked to thin, crunchy perfection with snips of sprouts, a tiny bowl of yellow rice with black raisins, fried spring rolls that I wrap one at a time in a lettuce leaf and spike with grated carrot relish and because the person I’m with insists, we end with a bowl of classic pho (clear Vietnamese soup with things in it), one-into-two, for it’s really been a bit much. Perhaps I should have had the fresh (unfried) spring rolls with yards of leaves inside but how much rabbit food can a person eat?

Over strong coffee afterwards, I laugh at how it startled people that I ate almost every morsel with chopsticks, just like I did ten years ago for two whole weeks in Japan. It was a struggle then and it was not entirely without incident this time, but I did it, except for in-between when I lifted spring rolls with my fingertips; after all we Indians are used to digital technology (haha) while the Thais are a fork-and-spoon culture. But Vietnam, Japan, China, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan are all committed chopstick cultures.

In fact, at an investment summit organised by The Economist at Hanoi some days ago, Truong Gia Binh, one of Vietnam’s richest businessmen, essentially declared that chopsticks were like Saraswati-Lakshmi.

Binh, who founded FPT, Vietnam’s biggest software company, reportedly said that the countries where chopsticks are the norm in the daily business of eating – China, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam – all share key cultural values which are the keys to economic success.

These values include the very things we Indians pride ourselves on: saving, respect for knowledge and hard work. So why do we lag behind these rich countries? Common sense says that many Indians are not in a position to save, many remain unexposed to knowledge, many have
information but don’t apply it so that it becomes knowledge and many are plain lazy. I say, let’s legislate to make chopsticks mandatory, perhaps for those with five and 30 years of public money to fund their tiffin and tuck.

Eating with chopsticks requires that you mine that motherlode of mind-and-body focus and effort, deliver or die and don’t care looking silly during klutzy moments. Character-building, kya? But I swear the pho was worth it.

Renuka Narayanan writes
on religion and culture
shebaba09@gmail.com