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A Beginners Guide: History, Types, and How To Use Chopsticks

A Beginners Guide: History, Types, and How To Use Chopsticks

Food is best enjoyed with the right ingredients and utensils. For East Asian cuisine, chopsticks is the primary choice for cutlery. Some, especially beginners, may find it difficult and intimidating to use, but it's never too late to learn!

In this blog, I'll be teaching you how to use chopsticks correctly and respectfully, so you don't have to fear embarrassment or offending anybody. I'll also be sharing types of chopsticks across Asia and how form follows function in each country's cuisines.

The more you know, the better appreciation you can have for your food!

Chopsticks History

Chopsticks have been around since 1200 BC, but it was only in 500 AD when the popularity of these wooden utensils swept the east. The Chinese originally used chopsticks for cooking. Back then, they were long and made of bronze–capable of reaching into boiling pots of water or oil. It was only in 400 AD when chopsticks were used as utensils. The Chinese wanted to be more cost-efficient and began cutting their food into smaller bits, making chopsticks more suitable for the job.

Confucius also championed the use of the chopsticks as knives and sharp utensils would remind the eaters of violence and death. According to him, this would defeat the purpose of having a pleasant and peaceful meal. Because of Confucius’ teachings, chopsticks became widely used in Asia.

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Chopsticks Guide: Differences between Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese Chopsticks

While some beginners might think all chopsticks are the same, there are actually different types of chopsticks based on the country of origin. Differences may range from the material used, the shape and length of the body, to the style of the points and their purpose. Let me introduce them to you one by one with this chopsticks guide.

Chinese Chopsticks

The difference between Chinese chopsticks from Korean or Japanese is that they are usually longer and thicker. The length is usually 25cm with blunt, wide, or flat tips. Chinese cuisines are often placed on top of a lazy Susan in the middle of the table, thus the chopsticks are thought to be an extension of the hand to get food servings.

Chopsticks from China can be made from bamboo, plastic, wood, bone, metal, or even jade. The tips of the sticks sometimes depend on the material it’s made of. Blunt tips are more common in plastic ones while pointed tips are more often seen in wooden chopsticks. Sticks made in China have earned quite a reputation and are seen as a sign of their heritage.

Japanese Chopsticks

The distinct feature of Japanese chopsticks is that they taper to a point. This is because a Japanese diet largely consists of fish and pointed chopsticks can help remove the fish bones.

Chopsticks from Japan are also generally shorter than Chinese ones as it was general practice for the Japanese to hold their bowls of food closer to their mouth when taking a bite. 

They are made from lacquered wood or bamboo and give off a shiny finish. Japanese chopsticks also have grooves near their point, so the food won’t slip when you’re eating.

Korean Chopsticks

Korean chopsticks are medium-length with flat, rectangular tips. They are usually made from silver, Korean metal, or brass. Koreans use metal chopsticks because they are designed to survive daily wear and tear and minimize stains from marinated food, especially soups and stews. They are durable and easier to maintain versus bamboo-made chopsticks, as food colorings and odor easily cling to the latter.

Korean chopsticks are also heavier than Chinese and Japanese ones, that’s why parents train their children how to use chopsticks Korean style.

Vietnamese Chopsticks

Vietnamese chopsticks closely resemble Chinese chopsticks. They are both long, have flat ends, and are typically made from bamboo or coconut wood.

The length of the chopsticks is advantageous because instead of eating straight from the plate, the Vietnamese use chopsticks to put food into individual bowls first. Plus, the blunt ends make it super easy to pick up rice, which is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine.

How to Use Chopsticks Like a Pro

You might think it impossible to get full after a meal while using chopsticks, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be asking for these every chance you get! Here’s a three-step procedure on how to hold chopsticks for beginners.

3-Step Guide on How To Use Chopsticks

Step 1: With a loose hand, place the first chopstick on the valley between your index finger and thumb, then use your ring finger for balance.

Step 2: Place the second chopstick also on the valley between your index finger and thumb, but use your middle finger for its balance instead. Grasp it tightly by using your thumb, index, and middle finger.

Step 3: Use your index and middle fingers to move your chopsticks up and down. Ideally, the bottom chopstick is stationary while the upper chopstick moves to open and close in on the food. Remember: don't clench, but control! Once you’re able to find the perfect grip, you can practice picking up small bits of food and going bigger until you become more comfortable with it!

Food to Practice Chopstick Skills With

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Basic Chopstick Etiquette

Our parents always say that it’s rude to play with our food. But did you know that when using chopsticks, some actions might also be considered bad manners? Chopsticks are considered as important as the food itself. That’s why it’s necessary to use it with reverence and respect. I listed two basic chopstick rules per chopstick-using country to better guide you on the do's and don'ts:

China

Don’t pierce your food with the chopsticks
Stabbing your food with chopsticks is considered bad luck. Chinese traditions see this as a taboo and believe it brings bad luck. Chopsticks standing upright remind them of incense that is used in funerals, that's why spearing your food is considered bad manners.

Avoid tapping your chopsticks on the bowl
Tapping your bowl with chopsticks is believed to be akin to being a beggar. The homeless would tap their chopsticks in empty bowls to ask for food. Chinese children who do this are scolded by their elders because they are considered rude.

Vietnam

Wipe your chopsticks before eating
Before they start eating, it is common to wipe the chopsticks with a paper napkin or lime juice to remove the dust and clean the sticks. This manner can also be done in other cutlery like a soup spoon.

Don’t use the chopsticks if they are uneven
Uneven chopsticks are considered bad luck as they are thought to resemble a coffin. Coffins are formed with uneven planks, some are short and some are long, that’s why using uneven chopsticks is believed to bring death.

Japan

Passing food from one chopstick to another is a taboo
It’s not the same as passing food from one spoon to another because in Japanese culture, passing food from one chopstick to another is similar to passing the bones of the deceased during funeral rituals. If you want to share your food with another person, simply place the food on their plate, so they can pick it up.

Don’t rub your chopsticks together
While in some countries doing this is acceptable because this is a way of removing splinters, Japanese culture would say otherwise. Rubbing your chopsticks together implies that you don’t trust the quality of the restaurant's cutlery.

Korean

Don’t hold your chopsticks and spoon at the same time
Koreans use both chopsticks and spoons during their meals. Spoons are used to scoop the rice and soup, while the chopsticks are used to pick up meat, vegetables, and everything else on the table. Holding both utensils at the same time is considered bad table manners, so you will see Koreans change from one utensil to another when eating.

Put your chopsticks on the table when you’re done
Never put your chopsticks in the bowl or plate when you’re done eating. Most especially, don’t stick it in your rice as this resembles the act of lighting incense for the dead. Once you’re done eating, you can place your utensils on the table beside your bowl.

Whether it is about how to use chopsticks Japanese style or knowing the correct way of holding a chopstick, it is important to note that you're not just merely eating your food, but you're also experiencing the culture of a country. Always be mindful of these etiquettes to show respect to their culture.

It may seem hard to use chopsticks, but just like learning a new skill, you become better with practice and perseverance. You can always come back to this chopsticks guide to feel less confused and more confident about your skills!

For all your Asian grocery needs and more culture tidbits, visit Karman Foods!

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