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Chopsticks, a pair of small even-length tapered sticks, are the traditional eating utensils of East Asia (China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, the four "chopstick countries") as well as Thailand, where they are now restricted to just soup and noodles since the introduction of Western utensils by King Rama V in the 19th century. Chopsticks are commonly made of wood, bamboo, metal, bone, ivory, and in modern times, plastic as

Chopsticks made of Japanese Yew wood, resting on chopstick rests  

well. It is believed that silver chopsticks were used in the Chinese imperial palace to detect poison (possibly metallic oxides) in the Emperor's meals; if poison was present, the chopsticks would become blackened owing to displacement reactions on the silver.

Chopsticks were invented and 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.

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. Although chopsticks may now be found in either hand, 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. Some designs have rings carved around the tips, which aid in grabbing 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, a rice used in curries.

In East Asian cultures, children learn to use chopsticks as their first utensils. In China, a child has usually gained the ability to eat every grain of rice in a ricebowl with chopsticks by the age of three

Wood and plastic chopsticksThere 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.

Wood and plastic chopsticks
  • 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 often 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. Furthermore 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 đũa cả is a large, flat chopstick that is used to serve rice from a pot.

How to use:

1. Put one chopstick between the palm and the base of the thumb, using the ring finger (the fourth finger) to support the lower part of the stick. With the thumb, squeeze the stick down while the ring finger pushes it up. The stick should be stationary and very stable. Diagrams on how to hold chopsticks  

2. Use the tips of the thumb, index and middle fingers to hold the other stick like a pen. Make sure the tips of the two sticks line up.


Diagrams on how to hold chopsticks  

3. Pivot the upper stick up and down towards the stationary lower stick. With this motion one can pick up food of surprising size.


Diagrams on how to hold chopsticks  

4. With enough practice, the two sticks function like a pair of pincers.


Diagrams on how to hold chopsticks  

Tip: For easier handling in the beginning, hold the sticks at the midpoint. As proficiency increases, hold the sticks at the upper ends for a farther reach and greater carrying capacity. Make sure you handle both sticks at least 3½ inches away from the tip and 1¾ of an inch spaced away from both sticks.

If the tips fail to line up, it will be difficult to hold things. Hold the chopsticks upright with one of the tips lightly touching the table, and gently push the chopsticks down or gently loosen your grip for a moment to let both tips become equal in length. You can also adjust your grip or holding position this way.

With practice, it is possible to perform step one and two simultaneously, on picking up the chopsticks with one hand, with a single fluid and seamless motion. Adjust your grip if necessary.

General etiquette
It is important to note that the chopsticks are used in a large geographic area. While principles of etiquette are similar, the finer points may differ from region to region, and there is no single standard for the use of chopsticks. Generally, chopsticks 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. Exceptions include tearing larger items apart such as vegetables and kimchi. In informal use, small, difficult to pick-up items such as cherry tomatoes or fishballs may be stabbed but this use is frowned upon by traditionalists.
  • Chopsticks can be rested horizontally on one's plate or bowl to keep them off the table entirely. A chopstick rest 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.
  • Never stab chopsticks into a bowl of rice, leaving them standing upwards. Any stick-like object facing upward resembles the incense sticks that some Asians use as offerings to deceased family members.

Chinese etiquette

  • While using chopsticks to pick up food, the palm of your hand should face down at all times. Twisting your chopsticks — holding the wrist in such a way 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. Some Chinese find it offensive to scoop rice from the bowl using a spoon. 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 "to bear a son soon" sound the same.
  • 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).
  • When communal chopsticks are supplied with shared plates of food, it is considered impolite to use your own chopsticks to pick up the food from the shared plate or eat using the communal chopsticks.

Japanese etiquette

  • Never transfer food directly from your own chopsticks to someone elses chopsticks. Japanese people will always offer their plate to transfer it directly, or pass a persons plate along if the distance is great. Transferring directly is how bones are passed as part of funeral rites (see Japanese funeral).
  • Always place the pointed ends of the chopsticks on a chopstick rest when the chopsticks are not being used.
  • It is considered polite when eating food buffet-style to reverse your chopsticks and use the opposite clean end to move food from a communal plate to your own.
  • Never leave chopsticks crossed on a table, as this symbolizes death.

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 the rice eaten in many parts of China, 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 pushed 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 use two chopsticks at once, even when using them 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.

Medical problems
A 2003 study found that regular use of chopsticks may slightly increase the risk of osteoarthritis, a condition where cartilage gets worn off, leading to pain in the hand joints, particularly among the elderly. There have also been concerns regarding the use of certain white disposable chopsticks that may pose a health risk, causing coughing or even leading to asthma.




This entry is from Wikipedia, the leading user-contributed encyclopedia. It may not have been reviewed by professional editors (see full disclaimer)

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