How to Use Chopsticks: With a Bit of History on the Side

Chopsticks are two smooth sticks, usually eight to ten inches long, that may be used as eating implements. They are thought to be the primary eating tool of one-quarter of the world's population, mostly in Asia. No one knows how they originated, but there is a myth that about 3000 B.C. two poor Chinese farmers stole a chicken from a storehouse. They hid out in a forest and cooked it over an open fire. They were so hungry that they could not wait for the meat to cool and pulled off the done portions with a pair of sticks so that they would not be burned.

Chopsticks on table

In China chopsticks are called 'kuaizi', which is Mandarin for quick little fellows. In American vernacular chop-chop is a kind of sinofication of 'hurry-hurry' and might come from "chopsticks".

Widespread use of chopsticks in China can be dated from about 400 B.C. and is largely attributed to their championship by Confucius. He was a vegetarian and disliked knives at the table because they reminded him of death. Use of chopsticks soon spread to Korea (200 B.C.), Viet Nam (100 B.C.) and Japan (500 A.D.).

The Japanese love their chopsticks and call them 'hashi', which means bridge and is thought to illustrate the fact that chopsticks are the connection between the plate and the mouth.

The first known Western reference to chopsticks is by Francesco Carletti who travelled through Japan as an Italian Merchant.

There is some etiquette associated with chopsticks. Chopsticks should not be used to stab food. Do not rest them directly on the table or push them into a mound of rice and leave them there (this is only done at funerals). Don't pass food using chopsticks. Don't lick your chopsticks. Don't rub chopsticks together (as this is an insult to the host indicating that the chopsticks are cheap).1

The preferred way to use chopsticks is to cradle the first one near the widest end in the crook where the index finger meets the hand and wedge it further down between the second and third fingers. This stick is generally held steady while the second stick is held like a pencil on top of the first stick and is maneuvered by the index finger and the thumb. Both sticks should be even at the business end.

  1. Saveur Magazine Dec 2006, p37-38


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