This week, the restaurant chain hinted at a fork-chopstick hybrid that could be coming soon to takeout bag near you.
I have consumed a sushi burrito, and lived to tweet about it. I have knowingly overpaid to eat at Sichuan-inspired Manhattan hotspots my dead grandmother surely sneers at from the heavens. I have done so eagerly; happily, even, because I believe unsophisticated culinary cultural appropriation is simply a sign of progress—that we’re more comfortable being mediocre around each other, apologies to the Oberlin student straw man, and that Asian fusion—a loaded shorthand for “Asian food that’s conceptually fucked up, but more or less edible”—is a prime example of this gloriously democratic future. Perhaps this makes me a (heavily exaggerated air quotes) “philistine” or a (even more heavily exaggerated air quotes) “race traitor” but there are only so many wars to be won, and the fight against cream cheese in your sushi roll is bound to be a losing one.
So let’s talk about the chork. Earlier this week, it was reported that Panda Express might soon debut the chopstick/fork hybrid, a version of the “trainer” chopsticks in which the sticks are connected by a joint allowing them to stay in your hands more easily, except the joint is a fork. The chork is aimed at easing the fork-to-chopstick transition, solving all those anxieties about which instrument to request at the check-out line. Not everyone is a wizard at manipulating wooden sticks to pick up single grains of rice, guiding them ever so delicately from bowl to mouth, leading diners to feel like lofan interlopers when they wave down their waitress to ask for something easier.
Okay, you say: Then just use a fork, and be done with this. But rarely do I meet people who love Asian food but can’t use chopsticks at all. It’s more likely they use chopsticks poorly, while recognizing that it’s still the more authentic and preferred choice, forcing them to toggle between tools depending on what’s in front of them. The chork, then, would be a convenient tool to cut down on the space and waste of using two separate utensils. In this world, you’d use the chopsticks for the less complicated items (a dumpling, a fat piece of chicken) and flip it upside-down at first sight of a particularly long noodle.
There are mechanical concerns about the functionality of the chork. It’ll require some spatial adjustment to hold a two-handled fork, and surely some food residue from either end will accidentally rub off on your hand, necessitating the use of many, many napkins. It’s entirely possible bi-wielding diners will just prefer to have separate forks and chopsticks at their place, rather than suffer the indignity of having to ask for something called a chork. “Excuse me, do you have any spare chorks?” Horrible. Plus the fact that the chork, being a Panda Express invention, will likely remain a niche delivery system because only so many people eat at Panda Express. When they start selling lovingly carved and detailed artisan chorks in Chinatown, that’s when we’ll really need to talk about the invention.
But the chork is something I would use, because one of my deeper Asian embarrassment is that my chopstick mastery is sort of half-assed. Some foods evade me when I try to tweeze them from my plate, requiring the pronged factotum so I can greedily shovel food into my mouth. I’ve come to peace with this, because it’s only human to admit you’ve failed your ancestors, but also because I think it’s asinine, and a little rigid, to expect everyone to eat the same way. Some people use knives and forks to eat pizza; some people get burrito bowls. It’s weird to some, and inauthentic to others, but it’s honest about the desire to get the food off your plate and into your mouth.
(N.B. I was once dining at an Asian fusion restaurant with a friend, a white woman, who expressed profound misgivings about needing to use a fork, afraid that it would make her seem ignorant. “Well, I’m half-Chinese, and I need to use a fork sometimes,” I said. “Not everyone is an expert at their race; I wouldn’t assume you knew all the words to ‘Sweet Caroline’ just because you’re a white woman.” She didn’t find that funny, but she still asked for a fork.)
Which means I see this as part of that culturally integrated progress we’re all swimming toward. Food from one culture was introduced to another culture; the means of eating that food were then adjusted to the needs of this new generation of gourmands, whose Asian grannies didn’t teach them how to pick up lo bak go without tearing it to pieces. This is okay, I think; it’s a little gauche, but so is most of American culture in 2016. We have the upbringings we have, and as we go into the future, we speak honestly about what those upbringings gave us, and what we need to advance. I see the chork as a bridge between two cultures, an admission that chopstick mastery is for some, but rice should be for everyone.