How to Use Chopsticks

The Chinese use chopsticks as easily and as naturally as Europeans use forks. They are like an extension of a man’s fingers, practical adaptations that evolved from the days when man indeed ate with his fingers.

There are different styles of chopsticks. The Chinese variety is blunt on the “eating end,”, while the Japanese prefer those with pointed tips. There are even short lengths for children for use. Chopsticks are made of many materials – ivory, plastic, silver, and even jade – but the most common ones are of wood or bamboo. For everyday use, wood, bamboo, or ivory is best. Plastic chopsticks are not satisfactory, since they tend to warp after repeated immersion in hot washing water.

All Chinese food is prepared so that it may be easily handled with chopsticks. In fact, many older-generation Chinese households have no forks at all. Fingers really have to work in order to use these implements adeptly, however, and our fingers have become lazy from eating with forks. Practice is the key to success with these centuries-old tools.

Chopsticks are used for cooking as well as eating. They are good for serving noodles, retrieving deep-fried foods, beating eggs, and stir-frying. One can even buy extra-long “cooking chopsticks,” which make these kitchen tasks even easier.

 

1.   Place the first chopstick in the hollow between thumb and index finger and rest its lower end below the first joint of the third finger. This chopstick remains stationary.

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2.   Hold the other chopstick between the tips of the index and middle fingers, steady its upper half against the base of the index finger, and use the tips of the thumb to keep it in place.

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3.  To pick up things, move the upper chopstick with index and middle fingers.

4.  After a little practice, you will be able to use chopsticks like an expert.

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“Chopstick” is the pidgin-English and English name for the tools. “Chop” is pidgin-English for “quick”, which remains in the English word “chop-chop”. The Standard Chinese word for chopsticks is kuàizi or kuài’er, literally meaning “the bamboo-objects for eating quickly”, but actually is a radical-phonetic compound: “?” is the phonetic part, which does not mean quick here. However, originally in Classical Chinese and some dialects, like Min Nan, the word (Pinyin:zhù, Min Nan: ti), was used, possibly just a phonetic character that merely indicates that the object is made of bamboo, (zhu). Since the word is similar in sound as the word for stop (? ?) or to rot, the word is considered a taboo on ships, because it would imply delay or misfortune on the voyage. As such, the Chinese began to refer to chopsticks as “?” which has the same root and sound as meaning fast.

  • In Japanese chopsticks are called hashi, written ?. They are also known as otemoto, a phrase commonly printed on the wrappers of disposable chopsticks.
  • In Korea, ? (jeo) is used in the compound jeotgarak which is composed of jeo (chopsticks) and garak (stick). Jeo cannot be used alone.
  • The Vietnamese language uses the word dua.
  • The Thai language uses the word (roughly pronounced dta-gee-yap).

 

History of Chopsticks

Chopsticks were developed in China about 3,000 to 5,000 years ago, although the exact date is unknown.

Tools resembling chopsticks were unearthed in the archeological site Meggido in Israel, belonging to Scythian invaders of Canaan. This discovery may reveal the existence of a trade relationship between the Middle East and the Far East in early antiquity, or may be an independent parallel development. Chopsticks were also common household items of civilized Uyghurs on the Mongolian Steppes during the 6-8th centuries. [1]

Usage

Held between the thumb and fingers of the right hand, they are used as tongs to take up portions of the food, which is brought to the table cut up into small and convenient pieces, or (except in Korea) as means for sweeping the rice and small particles of food into the mouth from the bowl. Many rules of etiquette govern the proper conduct of the chopsticks.

Chopsticks are traditionally held in the right hand only, even by the left-handed. Biases against left-handed eating are becoming less severe. Chopsticks may now be found in either hand, although some still consider left-handed chopstick use as improper etiquette.

Chopsticks are simple in design: merely two thin rods (top and bottom area smaller than one square centimeter, length varies), each slightly tapered. The smaller, round ends come in contact with the food. Mastery requires some practice. In chopstick-using cultures, food is generally made into small pieces. Also, rice in East Asia is often prepared to be sticky, which leads to “clumping” of the rice conducive to eating with chopsticks, while rice prepared using Western methods tend to be “fluffy”, and is particularly difficult to eat with chopsticks. The stickyness also depends on the cultivar of rice; the cultivar used in the chopstick countries tends to be japonica, which is stickier than indica, which is used in curries.

In some cultures, children learn to use chopsticks as their first utensil. In China, a child has usually gained the ability to eat all the rice in a ricebowl by the age of three.

Types of Chopsticks

Wood and plastic chopsticks: There are several styles of chopsticks that vary in respect to:

Length: Very long chopsticks, sometimes upwards of a meter in length, but usually about thirty or forty centimeters, tend to be used for cooking, especially for deep frying foods. In Japan they are called saibashi (??). Shorter chopsticks are generally used as eating utensils but are nevertheless used in the kitchen for cooking.

Tapering: The end of the chopsticks for picking up food are tapered to a blunt or a pointed end. Blunt tapered chopsticks provide more surface area for holding food and for shoveling rice. Pointed tapered chopsticks allow for easier manipulation of food and for picking out bones from whole cooked fish.

Material: Chopsticks can be made from a variety of materials:bamboo, plastic, wood, bone, metal, jade, and ivory.

Bamboo and wood chopsticks are cheap, low in temperature conduction and provide good grip for holding food due to their matte surfaces. However, they can warp and deteriorate with continued use, and can harbor bacteria if not properly cleaned. Almost all cooking and disposable chopsticks are made of either bamboo or wood. Disposable unlacquered chopsticks are used especially in restaurants. These come as a piece of wood which is partially cut, and then must be broken into two chopsticks by the user.

Plastic chopsticks are cheap and low in temperature conduction. Furthemore they do not harbor bacteria or deteriorate much with continued use. Plastic chopsticks however, cannot be used for cooking since high temperatures may damage the chopsticks and produce toxic compounds. Metal chopsticks are durable and are easy to clean. However, due to their smooth surfaces, metal chopsticks do not hold food as well as wood, plastic or bone chopsticks, and furthermore they tend to be more expensive. Their higher heat conduction also means that they are not as comfortable to use in cooking.

Materials such as ivory, jade, gold, and silver are typically chosen for luxury reasons.

Embellishments: Wooden or bamboo chopsticks can be painted or lacquered to decorate them and make them waterproof. Metal chopsticks are sometimes roughened or scribed on the tapered end in order to make them less slippery when picking up foods. High-end metal chopstick pairs are sometimes connected by a short chain at the untapered end to prevent their separation.

Styles of chopstick used in different cultures

Chinese: longer sticks made of different materials that taper to a blunt end.

Japanese: short to medium length sticks that taper to a pointed end. This may be attributed to the fact that the Japanese diet consists of large amounts of whole bony fish. Japanese chopsticks are traditionally made of wood and are lacquered.

Korean: medium length stainless steel rods that taper to a square blunted end, traditionally made of brass or silver. Many Korean metal chopsticks are ornately decorated in the untapered end.

Vietnamese: long sticks that taper to a blunted end; traditionally wooden, but now made of plastic as well. A dua c? is a large, flat chopstick that is used to serve rice from a pot.

General Etiquette

Chopstick etiquette is similar to general Western etiquette regarding eating utensils.

Never wave your chopsticks around as if it was an extension of your hand gestures, bang them like drumsticks, or use them to move bowls or plates.

Decide what to pick up before reaching with chopsticks (do not hover around or poke looking for special ingredients). After you have picked up an item, do not put it back in the dish.

When picking up a piece of food, never use the tips of your chopsticks to poke through the food as if you were using a fork. However, this kind of stabbing maneuver is common in informal use for hard to pick up items like cherry tomatoes or tearing apart larger things like kimchi. Never erect chopsticks point-first into a bowl of rice or a dish of entrée. This is reminiscent of ancestral offerings and can be seen as disrespectful.

Chopsticks can be rested on one’s plate or bowl to keep them off the table entirely. A chopstick stand can also be used to keep the points off the table.

In Chinese culture, it is normal to have your lips touching the edge of the rice bowl and using chopsticks to push rice directly into the mouth. In Korean culture, it is rude to pick the rice bowl off of the table and eat from it.

In Chinese and Japanese etiquette, the blunt end is sometimes used to transfer food from a common dish to your own plate or bowl (never your mouth). In Korea, the blunt handle end is not considered sanitary.

Chinese Etiquette
While using chopsticks to pick up food, the back of your hand should face the ceiling at all times. Twisting your chopsticks-holding wrist in such a way so that everyone can see your palm is considered “unrefined” in Chinese culture.

Chinese traditionally eat rice from a bowl. The rice bowl is raised to the mouth and the rice pushed into the mouth using the chopsticks. If rice is served on a plate, as is more common in the West, it is acceptable and more practical to eat it with a fork or spoon.

A set of chopsticks are one of the wedding gifts normally presented to Chinese newlyweds as the Chinese words for “chopsticks” and “soon son” are near-homophones.

It is acceptable to transfer food to people who have a close relation with you (e.g. parents, grandparents, children or significant others) if you noticed they are having difficulty picking up the food. Also it is a sign of respect to pass food to the elderly first before the dinner starts (part of the Confucian tradition of respecting seniors).

Japanese Etiquette
Never use chopsticks to transfer something to someone else’s chopsticks or someone else’s plate or bowl. This is how bones are passed as part of funeral rites

Always place the pointed ends of the chopsticks on a chopstick rest when the chopsticks are not being used.

Korean etiquette
Unlike other chopstick cultures, Koreans use a spoon (traditionally, relatively flat, circular head with straight stick handle, unlike the Chinese soup spoon and similar to the Western spoon) for their rice and soup, and chopsticks for most other things at the table. Do not pick up the rice or food bowls and eat from them. Unlike Chinese rice, Korean steamed rice can be easily picked up with chopsticks, although eating rice with a spoon is more acceptable .

Vietnamese etiquette
As with Chinese etiquette, the rice bowl is raised to the mouth and the rice is shoveled into the mouth using the chopsticks. Unlike with Chinese dishes, it is also practical to use chopsticks to pick up rice in plates, such as fried rice, because Vietnamese rice is typically sticky.

It is proper to always be using two chopsticks at once, even when used for stirring.

Environmental impact
In China alone, an estimated 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks are used and thrown away annually. This adds up to 1.7 million cubic metres of timber or 25 million fully grown trees every year. To encourage that people use and throw away less, as of April 2006 a five percent tax is added to the price of chopsticks. This measure is part of the first tax package in 12 years.

Trivia
In many Asian IC and LCD fabs, being capable of picking up small beads quickly with a pair of chopsticks is a requirement of employment. This is a very simple test of eye-hand coordination. Another test is needlework.

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