Meals Measured in Chopsticks

Here in China we often have our food delivered. There’s rarely a charge for it (well, as long as you’re ordering Chinese food, anyway). When your food comes, it normally arrives with napkins and chopsticks. This is all well and good and normal.

photo by Daddy’s Girl

But how do they know how many pairs of chopsticks to include with each delivery? Well, they don’t. Based on the amount of food ordered, they make a guess as to how many people are probably eating and include that many pairs of chopsticks. If it’s obviously food for only one person, you get one pair. The more you order, the more chopsticks you get.

Therein lies the challenge.

I guess it began with my first double-chopstick order. “Huh,” I thought. “I guess they imagined it was two people eating this food.” Then I proceeded to consume the whole lot, all by my lonesome. It’s no big deal, though… What I ate was probably the right amount if it were two girls. So I didn’t think anything of my double-chopstick orders.

…that is, until my first triple-chopstick order. I was about to devour a nice load of grub all by myself, and although no one would be there to witness the spectacle, at least my impressive gluttony was acknowledged by those two extra pairs of chopsticks.

I still remember my first quadruple-chopstick order. It was a big old mess of Xinjiang food. Those four pairs of chopsticks were an ill omen. I’m ashamed to admit that I did not “break the quadruple” on my first try. (It doesn’t count unless you finish all the food in one sitting.) That wasn’t meant to be until about a year later.

My metabolism finally slowed down a few years back. My waistline can actually grow now, so I don’t take “the chopstick challenge” much. But I always notice “how many chopsticks” my meals are, and think back to my several glorious “quadruple-chopstick meals” of days gone by.

How big of an eater are you? Just count the pairs of chopsticks.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. i wish i could get good chinese
    food delivered! =)
    do they have buffets in china?
    they don’t in the uk and my in-laws
    were all agoggle over the
    souplantation. it was their favorite
    place ever.

  2. That’s a great story.

    Reminds me of that scene in the Sandra Bullock movie, Two Weeks Notice (is that it?) where she is ordering a ton of Chinese food just for herself.

  3. Ehh, i thought they delivery one more for backup, no? -_-|||
    What if you carelessly drop your chopstick then?
    Aha, quadruple-chopstick is for two careless people… xD

  4. Matt Schiavenza Says: August 7, 2007 at 11:37 am

    The equivalent in the US to the “chopstick measure” is fortune cookies. My parents and I used to get Chinese delivered quite frequently and we always knew we overordered if they threw in five or six fortune cookies.

  5. When I buy foods at convenience stores or takeout restaurants in Japan, the salesclerk asks me, “How many chopsticks do you need?” (Ohashi wa nanzen goiriyou desuka) or “Do you want your lunchbox microwaved?” (Obentou wa atatamemasuka). Asking your customer is always a good idea, rather than just guessing and often leading to a wrong result.

  6. Excellent story.
    I never had chinese food delivered and didn’t know about this measurement with chopsticks.

  7. No no no John, the extra chopsticks are just for the different dishes! At least that’s the version of the world I’m sticking with. Now what to do with my drawer full of chopsticks and little plastic forks?

  8. Yeah, including extra chopsticks just in case is not such a bad idea… The other day I was rubbing them against one another, you know, to rub off the splinters, and one chopstick broke off, straight in two pieces. Had to get a new pair.

  9. I don’t know if you’ve covered this in a ChinesePod entry or a previous Sinosplice entry, but could you please review the vocab or standard dialogue for ordering delivery in China?? In a restaurant i’m fine, but over the phone i have no clue.


  10. pharmine Says: August 8, 2007 at 1:15 pm


    Why not try ChinesePod’s powerful search engine?
    Here are one of the results I obtained:

    Elementary – Having Food Delivered

  11. pharmine Says: August 8, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    For conversations over the phone, I think the following VideoHotpot helps a lot:

    VideoHotpot – Episode 3 – Making A Reservation

  12. why can’t i see the pic in the post?

  13. @Kevin – do a google search for “Access Flickr”

    @John, I’m going to agree with Lantian in that I think it’s more related to the number of dishes ordered. I often get two orders of dumplings and a bowl of wonton soup – always get three sets of chopsticks, though it’s clearly not enough for three people to eat.

    The bigger question is, why do they include chopsticks at all? What Chinese home is unequipped with chopsticks that they need to use the cheap and bleached brand from the restaurant?

    I’ve a drawer full of (apparently, not so) disposable chopsticks and tiny rough-edged soup spoons.

  14. I hate how they always include those cheap chopsticks. Don’t people have nice reusable chopsticks in their homes? It’s such a waste, but I never remember to tell them not to include the chopsticks.

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