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Double-dipping - explain it to me

Anyone who's traveled in Asia knows double-dipping is a very common occurrence. People will double-dip a piece of fish cake (or whatever) in a dish of soy sauce that twenty other strangers have double-dipped. So that's what I grew up with until I was in early teens.

I'll never forget the day I learned what double-dipping means in this country - I was at a friend's birthday party. We were served apple wedges with caramel dip. I took a wedge, dipped it in caramel, took a bite, and dipped it again. The entire room looked at me with absolute horror. It was like if I had blown my nose really loudly, maybe worse. Since then, of course, I have learned not to double-dip unless I'm with my husband or very close friends who I know don't mind. It's always fascinated me though why people are so sensitive about double-dipping. I mean, I don't think Asian people are any sicker than Americans for doing it, right?

Anybody want to throw their two cents? Whether it bothers you or not, why it bothers you, etc.

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  1. Well, here are my 2 cents. First of all I don't remember "Asian" people double dipping. Even if they do, what you mentioned is a restaurant meal situation, so we are not talking about strangers. I am thinking this would be a little different from party situation. In a restaurant you are eating with 9 other friends. At a party there are many more people, and some of them are indeed strangers.

    And then again here in the US we are much much more cleanliness conscious. So that may also explain it.

    43 Replies
    1. re: PeterL

      Not sure why you put "Asian" in quotes - did you mean you don't remember it from your travels in Asia?

      It's not so much about being "cleanliness conscious" (whatever that means) - it's about different concepts of "clean." For instance - most East Asians would be horrified at the sight of most American home floors and the idea that you would wear same shoes inside and outside.

      1. re: uwsister

        I won't presume to speak for PeterL, but one good reason to put "Asian" in quotes is that there isn't a monolithic "Asian" culture. Customs in Armenia are different from those in Bhutan. Omanis have different table manners than Thais. And Bangladeshis would find dining in a Korean home an exotic experience. The notion that four billion people spread over 17 million square miles would all find double-dipping acceptable (or abhorrent) is faintly silly.

        1. re: alanbarnes

          Ah - I meant "Far East Asia" to be precise. I do tend to make that mistake often, saying/writing Asia when I really meant Far East Asia. My bad - didn't mean to offend any Southern Asians, Western Asians, etc.

          I have a friend who has traveled extensively in India though, and he told me double-dipping is most certainly accepted there from his experience - I remember this because he told me that he was appalled when he was served a dip which was recycled in plain view of customers at a restaurant, even though customers were definitely double-dipping.

          1. re: uwsister

            Well, my family is from 'Far East Asia' and while I was born here, my parents were born there and didn't seem to have that custom. Nor did I see double-dipping as any widespread or common practice while traveling there for seven months.

              1. re: uwsister

                Throughout a good part of China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Don't think it's a widespread "Chinese" or "Far East Asian" thing.

                  1. re: uwsister

                    We must have traveled in different circles then, because this is something I would have noticed.

                    1. re: iyc_nyc

                      Oh, it must be because I was raised by wolves. Chinese wolves, I mean ;)

                      No need for snark. Certainly you've seen people eating off communal plates with their own chopsticks.

                      1. re: uwsister

                        Hey sister anyone up for snark fin soup....;-)
                        I was smelling some, "since I didn't see it, can't be real" aroma in the air myself.

                        1. re: Quine

                          Quine, never said that (responding to your 'since I didn't see it, can't be real..') and didn't intend to be snarky -- to be candid, your tone actually strikes me that way but no biggie. If you look back at my posts, I was clear about saying that uwsister and I must have traveled in different circles because I didn't see (meaning, experience) the doubledipping among the many people I dined with in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong and in growing up with parents born and raised in China -- in suggesting that we must have traveled in different circles, I was implicitly acknowledging that uwister did/might have experienced the doubledipping herself (in fact, she herself did it) -- otherwise how could we have experienced such different practices?

                          I also said I did not see it as a 'widespread' practice and did not 'think' it was widespread -- always qualified it and did not deny that uwister might have had a different experience.

                          To be fair, I did feel that uwister was over-generalizing (and re: a culture I'm pretty familiar with) so that's why I felt it appropriate to offer my counter-examples. When one makes such sweeping generalizations, it's appropriate in my mind to point out a very different experience (i.e., the experience of never having seen it among the culture in question) -- and when one doesn't see it enough, the generalization itself does reasonably get called into question to the extent of the generalization not being 'real.' That doesn't mean uwister hasn't EVER seen/experienced doubledipping in China or that she is making things up - it just means she might be over-generalizing based on her own, necessarily limited experience.

                          This is starting to remind me of the 'chicken bones' thread so if I don't respond further it's because I'm starting to feel the exchange might be becoming counterproductive (or I might have stopped following this thread). No offense meant.

                          1. re: iyc_nyc

                            I have no idea what "chicken bones" was about, but I think you're taking it way too seriously. Relax. Perhaps I did over-generalize, but I didn't feel like being all politically correct and putting a disclaimer and all that. Of course I didn't mean that every single Chinese person does that nor did I mean it's proper manners there. I meant it's commonly seen and not considered as "wrong" as it is in the U.S. If you disagree, that's okay. It happens.

                            1. re: uwsister

                              Didn't imply you were indicating 'every single Chinese person' did xyz and now you're taking my point to an extreme.

                              And I am relaxed! It's you who have posted numerous responses here, mostly defensive.

                              I'm done posting on this thread - this is becoming counterproductive (and silly, even if entertaining to some extent).

                              1. re: iyc_nyc

                                Yeah, I don't have much to do today so this thread is entertaining me. I'm glad you find this thread entertaining. I think this thread is inherently silly - I mean, it's about double-dipping! Now let's get back to the topic :)

                            2. re: iyc_nyc

                              None taken, I honestly think you and uwsister have tons in common but the way you both give values to the outrider experiences, seems to set you at odds, I honestly do not think that how you say your experiences were different were meant to give the idea of "didn't see it didn't happen.". But it did seem to have that nuance.

                              "my parents were born there and didn't seem to have that custom. "
                              "Nor did I see double-dipping as any widespread or common practice while traveling there for seven months"
                              These come across as more deny of the other view, than wow, I had different experiences.

                              Personally I am excited to get to know two very talented, enthusiastic folks who love to eat and share all the great they love about it. And who want to learn more, understand more explore more! All three of us live in such close get together do up a great eat and meet, It would be a shame not to try.

                              1. re: Quine

                                >Personally I am excited to get to know two very talented, enthusiastic folks who love to eat and share all the great they love about it. And who want to learn more, understand more explore more!

                                Exactly! That's what Chowhound is all about, no?

                              2. re: iyc_nyc

                                I believe uwsister is of Korean heritage (and gets upset if people don't love Korean food) - I wonder if perhaps her experience and terminology differences from yours in this sense may have a bearing.

                                1. re: huiray

                                  Ha, didn't read this until now. Yes, I am 3/4 Korean but no, I don't get upset if people don't love Korean food - I'm one of those rare Koreans who don't really eat kimchi. I like Korean food fine but I can't handle spicy so it's not my favorite. Would be kinda hypocritical if I got mad at other people for not liking it, no? Where the heck did this come from anyway? Hahaha.

                            3. re: uwsister

                              Eating off communal platters using chopsticks and dipping an item of food into a sauce, taking a bite, and dipping it again strike me as two different things.

                              1. re: ChristinaMason

                                Double-dipping food, double-dipping chopsticks - I consider both to be double-dipping. YMMV.

                                1. re: uwsister

                                  I have never been to anywhere in Asia (a defficiency which I hope to rectify soon), was not raised in one of the many, many Asian cultures, and am not at all an expert on eating customs on that continent. That said, the first time I went to a Chinese banquet I was gently reprimanded by someone of Chinese descent for using the 'eating' end of the chopsticks for taking an item from a communical platter. I was instructed to instead use the other end of the chopsticks (ie the usually wider end that that doesn't go in one's mouth) for moving food from the communal platter to my plate or bowl, if a spoon was not provided (and that if a spoon or other serving utensil was provided, one would, of course, use it).

                                  Without expressing an opinion on cultural differences, I would suggest based on my experience, which has since been confirmed in other similar instances, that you might want to take a closer look at that 'double-dipping with chopsticks' behavior: it could be that you are missing that the dipping is from the other end of the sticks.

                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                    A few of us split some appetizers at a restaurant 2 weeks ago and i mentioned this method to them. Each of them smiled and used both ends of the sticks, one to serve, the other to eat. The circle in the pond is slowly expanding to proper manners.

                                    1. re: susancinsf

                                      I am aware of the practice. Some people do it, some don't. Personally I don't like it 'cause I don't like to get food on my hands. Even if I wipe it it often leaves oily residue on my chopsticks. Personal preference.

                                      1. re: uwsister

                                        When dining with others and sharing food, I think the concern here is about not getting our saliva etc on their food, which in my opinion (no 'snark' meant) should trump concerns about oily residue from our own food on our own chopsticks.

                                        That said, I agree with another poster's comment that one's hands can (in some cases) bring more contaminants to food than one's mouth -- especially in the case where one isn't particularly deft with the chopsticks and one is not particularly hygienic with one's hands.

                                      2. re: susancinsf

                                        and it again ignored the fact that one's mouth generally has fewer germs than ones hands

                                        1. re: thew

                                          I wasn't commenting on whether it was effective or not, just that it is, at least in my limited experience, a not uncommon practice. That said, I don't understand why this would necessarily get food on one's hands, or vice versa, any more than eating and taking the food with the same end of the chopsticks would do. I mean, can't you just twist the chopsticks around in a similar way to how you would twist a baton? (Indeed, I just went and tried it with my own home chopsticks to be certain. Sure enough, the position of my hand on the stick didn't change from when I was using one end to when I used the other. all I did was twist the stick around. So I guess I have to say 'huh?' to the two comments about hands. They aren't involved either way, as far as I can tell.)

                                          1. re: susancinsf

                                            You must be more talented with chopsticks than I am.

                                            I didn't say it was an uncommon practice - I simply stated my preference. Hey - that sort of rhymes.

                                            1. re: uwsister

                                              the more I think about it, the more I think, 'huh?'. Even if I am more talented with chopsticks than some, even the biggest klutz out there should be able to touch the chopsticks in the same part (ie the middle) regardless of which end they pick food up with and which end they eat with. Assuming you pick up the chopsticks at all, there will be some contact between hands and sticks, but it doesn't explain to me why one method would involve more risk of hand contamination than the other.

                                              Indeed, if the concern is hands around food, then it seems to me that any type of utensil that you have to pick up with your hand is as problematic as any other, but that they are all less problematic than picking up the food with your hand.

                                              1. re: susancinsf

                                                Don't think too hard. I don't hold my chopsticks in the middle. I hold it close to the end. I'm not concerned about "hand contamination" either - I simply don't like my hands getting oily, sticky, etc. thew was the one who mentioned germs on hands. Perhaps you were replying to him.

                                              2. re: uwsister

                                                Uwister, no need for sarcasm/defensiveness in your replies (to susancinsf most recently).Just saying - thought susan posted with the best of intentions.

                                                1. re: iyc_nyc

                                                  Look, I don't think any of us posts with malicious intentions. Why would we? It happens that I don't take internet very seriously, but that doesn't mean I'm trying to belittle anyone. I hold my chopsticks close to the end, she holds her chopsticks in the middle. We all have differences and personal preferences.

                                                  With that said - I think we're getting wildly off-topic. I didn't mean to start the debate on whether certain Asians double-dip or not - and I think most everything that needed to be said has been said :)

                                          2. re: susancinsf

                                            Re: chopstick etiquette, my understanding was that one was not supposed to put the chopsticks in contact with your mouth if/since one was taking food from a shared dish. You use the chopsticks to pick up and hold the food and take the food to your mouth.

                                            According to one website re: Chinese culture and chopsticks etiquette:

                                            "Do not lick or touch your lip with the chopsticks while eating, because most of the time you will be eating a "family style" meal. This means that everyone will be eating from the same bowl." (http://www.culture-4-travel.com/chops...

                                            )

                                            And from the same website, on Vietnamese culture:

                                            "The chopsticks should not touch your lips, teeth, or tongue since it might also be used to pick food off a dish that everyone shares. Onto the next point, do not let the end of your chopsticks that you use to pick up food cross with another person's." (http://www.culture-4-travel.com/vietn...

                                            )

                                            And this, from another website (http://www.worldfoodieguide.com/index...

                                            )

                                            "When transferring food from the shared dishes to your personal bowl, use the spoon or chopsticks for general use provided with each dish. Many Chinese people use spoons for serving, so it’s really common and you make less mess this way. It’s frowned upon to suck or lick your chopsticks, then help yourself to more food from the shared dishes. This is unhygienic and will put fellow diners off their food. Chinese people are really particular about food hygiene."

                                            Re: Susan's point re: using both ends of the chopsticks for different purposes, from the same website:

                                            "Some Vietnamese people believe in an ancient superstition that if you hold the chopsticks halfway down it is an omen of a family death. Nonetheless, nowadays you can hold your chopsticks halfway because it allows the chopsticks to have multiple uses. The blunt end of the chopsticks can be use to pick up food and place it into the individual's bowl, while the tapering end can be used for putting food into the mouth."

                                            And from another website re: Japanese chopstick etiquette (http://www.justhungry.com/your-guide-...

                                            )

                                            "Do not take food from a communal plate with your own chopsticks.
                                            If you are served family-style, don’t use your own chopsticks if at all possible to pick up food directly from it. This is considered to be unsanitary. You should use the supplied serving utensils. If there are no serving utensils though, you should turn your chopsticks the other way and use the fat or unused ends to pick up the food. (Though I don’t know about the sanitary-ness of touching the used business end of the chopsticks in your grubby hands…)"

                                            I can't vouch that my understanding is correct or that these are definitive sources, but they are consistent with my experiences. Based on these sources, from different websites, I don't think we can say or even imply that Chinese or other Far East Asian people must be fine with double-dipping because they are fine with doing similar with their chopsticks.

                                            1. re: iyc_nyc

                                              I'm glad you are still participating in the discussion :)

                                              Bottom line, we're not discussing formal manners, and at informal meals, people tend to do things differently.

                                              I would rather not have the mods lock the thread for being so off-topic though - perhaps we can discuss chopstick etiquette on another thread?

                                              I'll confess, I didn't even grow up using chopsticks, and to this day I don't like to use them. I'm a terrible, terrible Asian.

                                              1. re: uwsister

                                                You're right, I succumbed and re-engaged re: chopsticks b/c I was curious given my own experience. I thought this was about propriety/manners so sorry I misinterpreted.

                                                I don't think this is off topic -- can't remember who brought up the chopsticks analogy but it seems entirely relevant to me as it adds context to the discussion.

                                                Also, I appreciate your conciliatory tone -- really!

                                                (BTW, I also emailed my sis and brother in law who are China experts who have lived there for many years and will let you know if I hear back).

                                                1. re: iyc_nyc

                                                  Hey, I'm all about peace and love :) And food, of course.
                                                  As a kid it always made me sad when other kids would take their toys and leave ;)

                                                  My original question was whether double-dipping bothers you (general you) and if so why - the whole Asian thing was sort of a backstory. No need to apologize though - some really interesting opinions and information came out from that backstory, so I'm certainly not complaining.

                                                2. re: uwsister

                                                  if thats the definition of a terrible asian there are a billion terrible asians in india alone......

                                                  1. re: thew

                                                    Oh, of course that's not the whole definition - I also suck at math.

                                          3. re: ChristinaMason

                                            This is by no means correct but I figure I would ask. My father was taught that one end of you chopsticks is for the communal bowl/plate and the other you put in your mouth. Were the Chinese having a bit of fun with the American businessman? Or is this legit?

                            4. re: alanbarnes

                              You're a bit pedantic here. In America "asian" refers to east asia, specifically to countries where the majority of the people have the mongoloid phenotype.

                              In England it refers to South Asia.

                              It's stupid, but that's the way it is. Same way "anti semetic" refers to Jew-haters,, but not Arab haters.

                              1. re: tigercrane

                                I believe "mongoloid phenotype" is a definition no longer used, no?

                                Btw, this is a reply to a post from February.

                                1. re: linguafood

                                  Just checked wikipedia. Appparently the term is still used by forensic anthropologists, but "outside of forensic anthropology the term mongoloid is now often considered derogatory, and racist."

                                  No offence was intended, I'm sorry.

                        2. I have been to several kushiage (an Osaka specialty of fried things on a stick) joints where people dip it into a sauce before eating. Almost every one has had a sign prohibiting double dipping.
                          This is in Tokyo, by the way.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Tripeler

                            Yeah - Japanese are definitely more conscious of it than other East Asian countries. I've seen people do it without social consequences (for the lack of better term) though, and my relatives never seem to mind, but then again it could be because I'm family, not a stranger.

                            1. re: Tripeler

                              this reminds me of the No Reservations Osaka episode where these two young guys take Bourdain to one of those joints and tell him how double dipping is just. not. done.

                              1. re: pinkprimp

                                Well, it's certainly not polite but it's not nearly as big of a faux-pas as it is in the U.S. I've had many meals in Japan where everyone used his/her own chopsticks to eat from a same pot. I don't even think there's a word for "double dipping" in Japanese (other than adopting the English term in katakana) but then again I only speak conversational Japanese so maybe someone will correct me.

                                1. re: uwsister

                                  The time I was most strongly admonished against double-dipping was in an Osaka-style Kushiage restaurant in Japan. I hadn't yet double-dipped, and I wouldn't have anyway, but I guess just being an American was enough to scare the proprietress into preemptively telling me the system. Given the Japanese aversion to conflict, she must have had her reasons based on past customers.

                            2. I think it is more about etiquette than science. I remember show de -bunking the myth that "double dipping" grows more bacteria than not. If you hug and/or kiss your guests as they arrive for dinner- you probably "contaminated" yourself more than double dipping. It is just one of those ridiculous custom things.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: sedimental

                                Here's a summary of results from a Mythbusters episode
                                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MythBust...
                                DD added a negligible amount of bacteria compared to the quantity already present (in unsterilized dip).

                                1. re: paulj

                                  They may have proven their specific point. Salsa may not have been the best dip to use because it has a higher acid content: tomatoes and possibly vinegar and/or citrus. I am making the assumption that acid might repel some of these bacteria.

                                  What if they had done this with a dairy-based dip, let's say sour cream or yogurt? Then measure at 15 minute intervals up to several hours and see what the results are. I believe the final results would be different.

                              2. I am not sure where the mystery lies here. I dont know where their mouths/hands have been or what viruses/diseases/bacteria they may carry....and Im sure as hell not willing to find out.

                                1. No mystery here. If you bite a piece of bread or apple or chip, then dip it again, you're putting your saliva in the dip for others to eat. And yes, this bothers me. It's not necessary to eat this way and is more hygienic not to do so. Unless I kiss you, I'm disgusted by the thought of your saliva in my food. It's not so much the danger of infection, which is probably miniscule, as the thought of eating a stranger's spit.

                                  With my immediate (myself, husband, two kids) family, we will occasionally mutually consent to double-dipping, but everyone has to agree. Oddly enough, no one ever says yes to dairy double dips, but salsa is often okay.

                                  As with a lot of these posts, I think people mistake other's squeamishness for fear of infection when it's really more about the gross-out factor. It's not always rational--I know of no one who has gotten sick from a lot of the things that gross me out--but it's still valid. Food is supposed to be enjoyable, so why hinder it?

                                  16 Replies
                                  1. re: Isolda

                                    Even if you know someone / kiss them, that's kind of different too from putting that same saliva in food, where it can break things down, make stuff separate etc.

                                    1. re: im_nomad

                                      Reminds me of the old "Pre-Chew Charlie's" sketch from SNL.

                                      1. re: im_nomad

                                        What, are you trying to wreck my immediate-family-only salsa double-dip parties?

                                        1. re: uwsister

                                          Which leads me to ask what I have always wondered do vegetarians/vegans " (enter what you think is appropriate.)"

                                          1. re: Quine

                                            Ha, ha, ha... I think we're treading a thin line there. Things are getting a little hairy. Technically they're not swallowing meat, are they?
                                            (I better stop before Chowhound police steps in.)

                                            1. re: uwsister

                                              "Things are getting a little hairy."

                                              not as hairy as it would have been in the 70's

                                                1. re: uwsister

                                                  you failed.
                                                  luckily i wasn't trying,a s i would not have succeeded

                                                2. re: thew

                                                  I just lost my Chianti out my nose....

                                                  1. re: gryphonskeeper

                                                    Isn't a strange place to keep Chianti?

                                                    1. re: Quine

                                                      Especially one this good. My poor pajamas were stained beyond saving, but it was sort of worth it to get such a good chuckle.

                                                3. re: uwsister

                                                  But surely an animal product, which butter and milk are, right? (wide-eyed innocent look)

                                                  1. re: Quine

                                                    True. I suppose it could be problematic for vegans.
                                                    (same look)

                                              1. re: im_nomad

                                                Actually when ya swap spit, it starts to break down and make all that separate etc, right then in your mouth. Even more efficient. I am not sure what you think someone else saliva breaks things down , make all that separate stuff etc that your own saliva doesn't do. Saliva compromised? Oh I can see that now as the new "in" food allergy, thingie. Sorry, I can't eat that I am saliva disadvantaged?

                                              2. re: Isolda

                                                No, it's not a mystery -but like you said in your post, I didn't know if it was because people really believed that there was a scientific basis to it or if it was a simple matter of etiquette/gross-out factor. Former or latter, I don't think it's any less valid to be bothered by it, BTW. I certainly have my share of germaphobic pet-peeves (I won't open public restroom door without a paper towel, etc.)

                                                1. re: Isolda

                                                  "If you bite a piece of bread or apple or chip, then dip it again, you're putting your saliva in the dip for others to eat."

                                                  No you're not, that's why you reverse the food in your grip.