All About Chopsticks
Chopsticks: Their History, Use & Types Available
Chopsticks are a simple concept... a pair of short tapered sticks used as eating utensils in many Asian countries, including China, Japan and Korea. In fact, more than a quarter of the world's population uses them.
They are usually made of bamboo, wood or plastic, but stainless steel, bone, ivory, jade, gold and silver are also available. Silver-tipped chopsticks are a luxury, but have also been used as a safety measure for the wealthy, as people believed that any poison in the food would blacken the silver.
The word "chopstick" is believed to come from Chinese Pidgin English, where the words "chop chop" meant "quickly". The Oxford English Dictionary, gives the earliest published reference as William Dampier's 1699 book Voyages and descriptions : "They are called by the English seamen Chopsticks". The Chinese term is kuaizi, meaning quick little bamboo fellow, while in Japanese, they are usually called hashi.
Traditionally used in the right hand, they may now be used in either hand, but left-handed use is still considered improper, as it can lead to accidental elbowing of a right-handed table companion. I know this problem to be true... It is also considered a breach of etiquette to impale your food. Guilty again...
The photo shows a carved centrepiece at our banquet table. I took it on a recent trip to Beijing. Please note that this, and the other photos on this page, and copyright to me, and should not be used without my written consent.
My interpretation of Peking Duck...
The earliest pair were made of bronze. They were excavated from Yinxu, (literally the "Yin Ruins") one of the major, ancient historical capitals of China, near Anyang, Henan. They have been dated to about 1200 BC, in the Shang Dynasty.
These early chopsticks were most probably used for stirring the fire, and for cooking and serving bits of food, rather than as eating utensils. It was much later, during the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) that they began to be used as eating utensils. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), chopsticks came into normal everyday use for both serving and eating. At this time, they acquired the name kuaizi and their present shape.
Chopsticks With Case
If you like to take your own utensils to restaurants, or away on a trip, it's nice to have a travel case. Here are some really nice sets.
This set has a very nice Japanese style with lacquer coating for easy cleaning. Finely decorated with dragonflies, these have a matching travel case.
A hand-crafted set, decorated with cherry blossom, with a matching case. They are approximately 9" in length.
A Chinese Banquet : Art on a Plate
Can you use chopsticks?
Another Beautiful Banquet Dish
What You Never Knew... - by Patricia Lauber, and illustrated by John Manders
A humorous, illustrated look at the history of eating and the dinner table, from primitive people, just beginning to use fire, through to modern times. Did you know that Stone Age people invented knives and spoons? Or that during the feasts of the Middles Ages, it was considered polite to wipe your greasy fingers on the tablecloth. And for lovers of French culture, that King Louis 14th, fed up dinner table stabbings, ordered that knives should have rounded ends.
In What You Never Knew About Fingers, Forks, & Chopsticks, you will experience a fun and fascinating tour of the ways eating and manners have changed through history.
Different Types of Chopsticks You May Come Across
Chopsticks are often made of bamboo or wood, as these materials are inexpensive, have a low temperature conduction, and give a good grip for holding food. Painting or lacquering can be used for decoration and waterproofing.
Disposable unlacquered pairs are used in many restaurants, and often come wrapped and as one piece that must be split into two chopsticks by the user, so demonstrating that they are clean and unused.
Plastic utensils are also inexpensive, resistant to wear and are low in temperature conduction, but they are not as effective as wood or bamboo for picking up food as they tend to be slippery. Plastic chopsticks should not be used for cooking as high temperatures may release toxic compounds.
Metal versions, such as stainless steel, are durable and easy to clean. They are sometimes roughened or scribed to make them less slippery to use.
Wealthy families may use silver, silver-tipped wooden or bone chopsticks. The most luxurious are made from jade, porcelain, ivory, or gold. Expensive metal chopstick pairs can be connected by a short chain at the untapered end to prevent separation.
Chinese style utensils are about 10 inches long and bluntly tapered, while Japanese style are shorter at 7 to 8 inches, and more pointed. Very long chopsticks, of about 30 or 40 centimetres, are used for cooking, and particularly for frying.
Lacquered chopsticks are easy to wipe clean, they can also be quite beautifully decorated. The lacquered set for children has the added advantage that the different colors help everyone to remember which ones they are using.
If you don't like the cheapies found in a lot of restaurants, these are a great option. Well-balanced in the hand, and coming with their own carrycase, they are a pleasure to use.
The key is to success is having the correct hold:
- the lower chopstick rests at the base of the thumb, and between the ring finger and middle finger, and is stationary.
- the second chopstick is held with the tips of the thumb, index finger, and middle finger, and is moved while eating, to pick up food.
Incorrect use reflects badly on a child's parents, who have the responsibility of teaching their children proper table manners.
It is normal to hold a rice bowl up to one's mouth and use chopsticks to push the rice directly into the mouth. However, it is considered impolite to spear food. Something that is too difficult to be handled correctly should be eaten with a spoon.
Traditionally, each person at the table would use their chopsticks to take food from the communal dishes to their own bowl, or to pass food from the dishes to the elders' or guests' bowls. Now, special serving utensils are often used to take food directly from serving dishes, which are then returned to the dishes after use. If there are no serving chopsticks, it is "acceptable" to use your chopsticks 'backwards' to stir or transfer the food.
It is considered acceptable to use your chopsticks to transfer food to your grandparents, parents, spouse or children, if they are having difficulty picking up the food. Don't "dive in" until the elders have had a chance to take up their chopsticks. Passing food to the elderly before the dinner starts is a sign of respect.
Between uses, chopsticks should be laid parallel on the edge of the plate or on a special chopstick rest, if one is available. However, resting chopsticks at the top of the bowl shows that you have finished eating. It is poor etiquette to rest chopsticks pointing towards others seated at the table.
Wooden chopsticks range in price, depending on the type of wood, and whether they are designed to be disposable or to be kept.
Burnished bamboo, very nice quality, with a stylish twist at the end. They have a durable protective finish which will be preserved better by hand washing.
10 lacquered hardwood pairs, decorated with shou symbols, for good fortune and longevity, presented in a colored hard paper cyclinder
These stainless steel chopsticks, with textured tips, screw apart for storage in a lacquered travel case, making them both stylish and travel-friendly. They are dishwasher-safe.
Tapping chopsticks on the edge of your bowl or plate is a bad idea, as beggars make this sort of noise to attract attention.
Pointing or waving with chopsticks, playing with chopsticks, crossing chopsticks on the table, dropping chopsticks, using chopsticks to stab food, licking the tips of your chopsticks, and "fishing around" for the best pieces of food on a serving dish are also breaches of etiquette.
Holding both chopsticks together in one hand like a spear may cause alarm as it may appear to be an action of attack.
Searching through one's food for something in particular is very bad form, and is sometimes referred to as "digging one's grave" or "grave-digging".
Buddhist funeral rituals of passing bone fragments from chopsticks to chopsticks, incense burning, and offering bowls of uncooked rice at the altar also reflect on chopstick etiquette, so do not use your chopsticks to pass food directly to another person's chopsticks or stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice.
Disposables can be useful for parties or large gatherings, as their use can reduce the amount of washing up after.
Very economical and great for parties. 70 pairs of disposables. Made of bamboo, and wrapped.
The average use of disposable chopsticks in Japan is 200 pairs per person, this equates to 24 billion pairs per year. In China, approximately 45 billion disposable pairs are produced each year - that's 25 million fully grown trees. The People's Republic of China introduced a tax on disposables, in 2006, to reduce waste of natural resources by over-consumption.
Yes, this is a sea cucumber. No, it is not a plant. And, no, I couldn't eat all of it...
Utility Of Utensils
Are chopsticks more versatile than knives and forks?
For Kids - Training beginners
As these chopsticks are joined at the end, it takes less coordination to use them, so they are very suitable for children and for adults who are beginning their chopstick adventure.
Thomas design for training right-handed children. Soft, washable and food-safe.
Of course, some of us are left-handed, so these are specially designed for left-handers.
Keep your chopsticks hygienic and your tablecloth clean with these cute Chopstick rests.