Chopsticks 101: Know the Difference
There is a reason why certain chopsticks differ to others. Get ready to impress by becoming a chopsticks historian.
Difference between Japanese, Chinese and Korean chopsticks.
Whether it’s stumbling into dumpling restaurants at ungodly hours or planning a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, we’ve created a guide to knowing the differences between various types of chopsticks.. because you don’t want to be that guy.
Where did they originate from?
Chopsticks were invented in China more than 5000 years ago. The first known evidence of chopsticks were made of bronze and were not used for dining purposes. Traditionally, they were used for cooking and retrieving food cooked in pots or straight from the fire.
When times were tough and cooking resources were scarce due to the population boom, there was a need to cut food into smaller portions so that it could cook quickly. Due to the lack of need to use knives at the table, chopsticks were then introduced as an eating utensil.
What added to the decline of the table knife’s popularity was also the teachings of Confucius. He strongly felt that knives were not appropriate to eat with, as they represented notions of violence and war. He believed this did not combine well with the feeling of delight and satisfaction that should be present at every meal.
When the Chinese finally set sail to Japan via Korea, they brought their chopsticks with them. By 500 AD, chopsticks had spread like wildfire all throughout Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Since each country’s diets were all different depending on what resources were available, chopsticks were modified to fit their use.
The OG Chopstick
Let’s discuss the Chinese style chopstick. The first excavated chopsticks were about 26cm long and 1.1 to 1.3 cm wide, making it one of the more longer and thicker styles of chopsticks available. What makes the Chinese chopstick unique is the squared or rounded sides, which end in blunt or flat tips.
Back in the day chopsticks were made from unfinished wood, bamboo or bronze. Since bronze is a commodity that is used for other purposes in the modern age, most Chinese sticks are made of melamine plastic or lacquered bamboo because of its durability.
Fact: Did you know that Chinese chopsticks are longer so that people can reach dishes that were far away? This is attributed to the Chinese way of sharing dishes during meal times.
Anyone can relate to visiting Daiso with the sole purpose of picking up affordable chopsticks, only to be rendered dumbfounded by the vast amount of chopsticks available. Originally chopsticks were only used for cooking, eating specific meals, picking up sweets, and during funerals. The early contraption was made from bamboo, bone, metal, jade, porcelain or even ivory.
The Japanese then modified their chopsticks to serve different purposes. “Ryoribashi” chopsticks were made for preparing food and cooking them. They have a length of 30cm and are made from either bamboo or metal. “Saibashi” on the other hand are used to transfer cooked food to dishes in which they will be served in.
Compared to Chinese chopsticks, Japanese chopsticks are short at 23 cm tapered to a pointed end. The length is attributed to their fish based diet, and the fact that the Japanese don’t generally share their food.
Fact: The Japanese believe in having their own personal pair of chopsticks. This is because they believed that once your lips touched the chopsticks your spirit would be attached to them.
Korean chopsticks have made a comeback recently due to the K-wave and the rise in popularity of Korean BBQ. The chopsticks are medium length and have a flat rectangular shape.
Fact: Many years ago, the King of Korea used pure silver chopsticks as they changed color if anyone attempted to poison his food. This lore probably led to a few deaths, as it’s known that silver has zero reaction to arsenic or cyanide. It does however change in color when it comes into contact with produce that release hydrogen sulfide.
Nowadays, the Korean chopstick is made of stainless steel, and due to metal being slippery, the chopsticks are made rough at the ends. Unlike their Japanese and Chinese counterpart, the Korean chopstick has a better half - the spoon. This pairing is called sujeo.
The One We Hold Close To Our Heart (But probably shouldn’t.)
The first pair of disposable chopsticks were made in 1878 in Japan. In recent years, we have seen the impact of disposable chopsticks on the environment, such as deforestation. This phenomenon has pushed more Japanese stall owners to advertise “BYO chopsticks’ policies, and the extra cost added to your takeaway if you request utensils.
Although the chopsticks differ in these countries, the one thing that ties them all together is the similar chopstick etiquette that is practiced. If you want to impress people with your chopstick knowledge, don’t start with sticking your chopsticks vertically in your rice - as this is a funeral practice.
Keep reading. Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.
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