The original Chinese character for "chopsticks"
|Alternative Chinese name|
Chopsticks are shaped pairs of equal-length sticks that have been used as kitchen and eating utensils in virtually all of East Asia for over two millennia. First invented and used by the Chinese during the Zhou Dynasty, chopsticks later spread to other countries across East, South, and Southeast Asia including Japan, Korea, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.[A] Chopsticks are smoothed and frequently tapered and are commonly made of bamboo, plastic, wood, or stainless steel. They are less commonly made from titanium, gold, silver, porcelain, jade, or ivory. Chopsticks are held in the dominant hand, between the thumb and fingers, and used to pick up pieces of food.
The English word "chopstick" may have derived from Chinese Pidgin English, in which "chop chop" meant "quickly". According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest published use of the word is in the 1699 book Voyages and Descriptions by William Dampier: "they are called by the English seamen Chopsticks". Another possibility, is that the term is derived from chow (chow chow) which is also a pidgin word stemming from Southeast Asia meaning food, thus chopsticks would simply mean 'food sticks'.
The Standard Chinese term for chopsticks is kuàizi (Chinese: 筷子). The first character (筷) is a semantic-phonetic compound with a phonetic part meaning "quick" (快), and a semantic part meaning "bamboo" (竹).
In ancient written Chinese, the character for chopsticks was zhu (箸; Middle Chinese reconstruction: d̪jwo-). Although it may have been widely used in ancient spoken Chinese, its use was eventually replaced by the pronunciation for the character kuài (快), meaning "quick". The original character, though still used in writing, is rarely used in modern spoken Chinese. It, however, is preserved in Chinese dialects such as Hokkien and Teochew.
In Japanese, chopsticks are called hashi (箸). They are also known as otemoto (おてもと), a phrase commonly printed on the wrappers of disposable chopsticks. Te means hand and moto means the area under or around something. The preceding o is used for politeness.
In Korean, 저 (箸, jeo) is used in the compound jeotgarak (Hangul: 젓가락), which is composed of jeo "chopsticks" and garak "stick". Jeo cannot be used alone, but can be found in other compounds such as sujeo (Hangul: 수저), meaning "spoon and chopsticks".
In Vietnamese, chopsticks are called "đũa", which is written as 𥮊 with 竹 trúc (bamboo) as the semantic, and 杜 đỗ as the phonetic part. It is an archaic borrowing of the older Chinese term for chopsticks, 箸.
Chopsticks were invented in neolithic China before the Shang dynasty (1766–1122 BCE) and most likely much earlier prior to establishment of the Xia dynasty sometime around 9000 years ago. The earliest evidence were six chopsticks, made of bronze, 26 cm (10 inches) long and 1.1 to 1.3 cm (0.43 to 0.51 inches) wide, excavated from the Ruins of Yin near Anyang (Henan) and dated roughly to 1200 BCE; those were supposed to be used for cooking. The earliest known extant textual reference to the use of chopsticks comes from the Han Feizi, a philosophical text written by Han Fei (c. 280–233 BCE) in the 3rd century BCE.
The first chopsticks were probably used for cooking, stirring the fire, serving or seizing bits of food, and not as eating utensils. Chopsticks began to be used as eating utensils during the Han dynasty. Chopsticks were considered more lacquerware-friendly than other sharp eating utensils. It was not until the Ming dynasty that chopsticks came into normal use for both serving and eating. They then acquired the name kuaizi and the present shape.
Chopsticks, spoon, and bowl of the Shang dynasty
A painting of a Japanese woman using chopsticks, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi
To use chopsticks, the lower chopstick is stationary, and rests at the base of the thumb, and between the ring finger and middle finger. The second chopstick is held like a pencil, using the tips of the thumb, index finger, and middle finger, and it is moved while eating, to pull food into the grasp of the chopsticks. Chopsticks, when not in use, are placed either to the right or below one's plate in a Chinese table setting.
Saibashi (菜箸; さいばし) are Japanese kitchen chopsticks used in Japanese cuisine. They are used in the preparation of Japanese food, and are not designed for eating. These chopsticks allow handling of hot food with one hand, and are used like regular chopsticks. These chopsticks have a length of 30 cm (12 in) or more, and may be looped together with a string at the top. They are made from bamboo, but for deep frying, metal chopsticks with bamboo handles are preferred, as the tips of regular bamboo chopsticks discolor and get greasy after repeated use in hot oil. The bamboo handles protect against heat.
Similalry, Vietnamese cooks use the oversized đũa cả or "grand chopsticks" in cooking, serving rice from the pot.
Longer than most other styles at about 27 centimetres (11 in), thicker, with squared or rounded sides and ending in either wide, blunt, flat tips or tapered pointed tips. Blunt tips are more common with plastic or melamine varieties whereas pointed tips are more common in wood and bamboo varieties. Chinese sticks may be composed of almost any material but the most common in modern-day restaurants is melamine plastic for its durability and ease of sanitation. The most common type of material in regular households is lacquered bamboo.
- Length: Very long, large chopsticks, usually about 30 or 40 centimetres (12 or 16 inches), are used for cooking, especially for deep frying foods. In Japan they are called ryoribashi when used for cooking and saibashi when used to transfer cooked food to the dishes it will be served in. Shorter length sticks of about 23 centimetres (9.1 in) tapering to a finely pointed end.[clarification needed] It is common for Japanese sticks to be of shorter length for women, and children's chopsticks in smaller sizes are common. Many Japanese chopsticks have circumferential grooves at the eating end, which helps prevent food from slipping.
- Taper: Chopsticks are usually tapered, either China's blunt or Japan's sharp and pointed style.
- Material: Japanese chopsticks are traditionally made of wood or bamboo, and are lacquered. A variety of other materials is available, including plastic, bone, metal, jade, porcelain, and ivory.
- Bamboo and wood chopsticks are relatively inexpensive, low in temperature conduction, and provide good grip for holding food. They can warp and deteriorate with continued use if they are of the unvarnished or unlacquered variety. Almost all cooking and disposable chopsticks are made of bamboo or wood. Disposable unlacquered chopsticks are used especially in restaurants. These often come as a piece of wood that is partially cut and must be split into two chopsticks by the user (serving as proof that they have not been previously used). In Japanese, these disposable implements are known as waribashi (割り箸)
- Plastic chopsticks are relatively inexpensive, low in temperature conduction, and resistant to wear. Plastic chopsticks are not as effective as wood and bamboo for picking up food, because they tend to be slippery. Also, plastic chopsticks cannot be used for cooking, since high temperatures may damage the chopsticks and produce toxic compounds.
- Metal (commonly stainless steel) chopsticks are durable and easy to clean, but metal is slippery. Silver is still common among wealthy families, as are silver-tipped wooden or bone chopsticks.
- Other materials such as ivory, jade, gold, and silver are typically chosen for luxury. Silver-tipped chopsticks were often used as a precaution by wealthy people, as it was believed that the silver would turn black upon contact with poison.
- Embellishments: Wooden or bamboo chopsticks can be painted or lacquered for decoration and waterproofing. Metal chopsticks are sometimes roughened or scribed to make them less slippery. Higher-priced metal chopstick pairs are sometimes connected by a short chain at the untapered end to prevent their separation.
In North and South Korea, chopsticks of medium-length with a small, flat rectangular shape are paired with a spoon made of the same, usually metal, material. The set is called sujeo. Also, Spoon and chopstick rest, which is the piece to rest sujeo without touching the table, is used in traditional eating. Many Korean metal chopsticks are ornately decorated at the grip.
In the past, materials for sujeo varied with social class: Sujeo used in the court were made with gold, silver, cloisonné and so on, while commoners usually used brass or wooden sujeo. Nowadays, sujeo is usually made with stainless steel, although bangjja is also popular in more traditional setting.
Native cuisine uses a fork and spoon, adopted from the West. Ethnic Chinese immigrants introduced the use of chopsticks for foods that require them. Restaurants serving other Asian cuisines that utilize chopsticks use the style of chopstick, if any, appropriate for that cuisine.
Long sticks that taper to a blunt point; traditionally lacquered wood or bamboo. A đũa cả (𥮊奇) is a large pair of flat chopsticks that is used to serve rice from a pot.
Chopsticks are used in many parts of the world. While principles of etiquette are similar, finer points can differ from region to region.
In Cambodia, a fork and spoon are the typical utensils used in Cambodian dining and etiquette. Spoons are used to scoop up food or water and the fork is there to help guide the food onto the spoon. Chopsticks are normally used in noodle dishes such as the Kuy Tiev and soup dishes. When eating soup the chopsticks will typically be paired with the spoon, where the chopsticks will pick up the food and the spoon will be used to drink the broth. Forks are never to touch the mouth, it is thought as rude, thus it is not used to eat such dishes.
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- When eating rice from a bowl, it is normal to hold the rice bowl up to one's mouth and use chopsticks to push or shovel the rice directly into the mouth.
- It is acceptable to transfer food to closely related people (e.g. grandparents, parents, spouse, children, or significant others) if 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. Often, family members will transfer a choice piece of food from a dish to a relative's bowl as a sign of caring. A variation of this is to transfer the food whilst using one's own bowl as a support, underneath the food and chopsticks to keep food from falling or dripping, then transferring from there to a relative's bowl.
- It is poor etiquette to tap chopsticks on the edge of one's bowl; beggars make this sort of noise to attract attention.
- Holding chopsticks incorrectly will reflect badly on a child's parents, who have the responsibility of teaching their children.
- It is impolite to spear food with a chopstick. Anything too difficult to be handled with chopsticks is traditionally eaten with a spoon.
- It is considered poor etiquette to point rested chopsticks towards others seated at the table.
- Chopsticks should not be left vertically stuck into a bowl of rice because it resembles the ritual of incense-burning that symbolizes "feeding" the dead and death in general. It is also in South Korea and Japan.
- Traditionally, everyone would use their own chopsticks to take food from the dishes to their own bowl, or to pass food from the dishes to the elders' or guests' bowls. Today usually only in restaurants or gatherings with non-family guests present, serving chopsticks (公筷, "community-use chopsticks") are used. These are used to take food directly from serving dishes; they are returned to the dishes after one has served oneself. Due to better education regarding sanitary eating practices, many families are adopting this practice at private meals as well. Alternately, they can be left stationary on the table, especially in front of the host at the head of the table, so that the host can politely serve his honored guests on his left and right (and so they can serve him in return) without using their eating chopsticks.
- When seated for a meal, it is common custom to allow elders to take up their chopsticks before anyone else.
- Chopsticks should not be used upside-down; it is considered acceptable to use them inverted to stir or transfer the food from another plate (which the person does not intend to consume completely). This method is used only if there are no serving chopsticks.
- One should not "dig" or "search" through food for something in particular. This is sometimes known as "digging one's grave" or "grave-digging" and is extremely poor form.
- Resting chopsticks at the top of the bowl means "I've finished". Resting chopsticks on the side of one's bowl or on a chopstick stand signifies one is merely taking a break from eating.
- When taking food from a communal serving dish, one's chopsticks should not pass over someone else's chopsticks, hand, or arm; the diner should either take food to the side or wait.
- When taking food from a communal serving dish, it is done with the palm uppermost, as it is considered rude to show one's knuckles to dining companions.
- The pointed ends of the chopsticks should be placed on a chopstick rest when the chopsticks are not being used. However, when a chopstick rest is not available as is often the case in restaurants using waribashi (disposable chopsticks), a person may make a chopstick rest by folding the paper case that contained the chopsticks.
- Reversing chopsticks to use the opposite clean end is commonly used to move food from a communal plate, and is acceptable if there are no communal chopsticks (for example, if the meal is hosted at someone's home).
- Chopsticks should not be crossed on a table, as this symbolizes death, or vertically stuck in the rice, which is done during a funeral.
- Chopsticks should be placed right-left direction; the tips should be on the left.
- In formal use, disposable chopsticks (waribashi) should be replaced into the wrapper at the end of a meal.
In Korea, chopsticks are paired with a spoon (the set is called sujeo).
- Sujeo are placed on the right side and parallel to bap (rice) and guk (soup). Chopsticks are laid on the right side of the paired spoon. One must never put the chopsticks to the left of the spoon. Chopsticks are only laid to the left during the food preparation for the funeral or the memorial service for the deceased family members, known as jesa.
- Spoon is used for bap (rice) and soupy dishes, while most other banchan (side dishes) are eaten with chopsticks.
- It is considered uncultured and rude to pick up a plate or a bowl to bring it closer to one's mouth, and eat its content with chopsticks. If the food lifted "drips", a spoon is used under the lifted food to catch the dripping juices. Otherwise however, holding both a spoon and chopsticks in one hand simultaneously or in both hands is usually frowned upon.
Historically, Thai people used bare hands to eat and occasionally used a spoon and fork for curries or soup, an impact from the west. Many Thai noodle dishes, such as pad thai, are eaten with chopsticks.
- Using chopsticks and spoon only for specific dishes, such as noodles.
- When a diner finishes their dish, they put their chopsticks on the bottom of the bowl.[clarification needed]
- Chopsticks should not be left stuck into a bowl with food, as this symbolises "feeding for dead people".
- It is considered impolite to make a sound with chopsticks.
- It is poor etiquette to rest or hold chopsticks pointing towards others, as pointing is considered disrespectful.
- Chopsticks should not be used with a bowl of rice.
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- Unlike with Chinese dishes, it is also permitted to use chopsticks to pick up rice from plates, such as fried rice.
- One should not pick up food from the table and place it directly in the mouth; food must be placed into one's own bowl first.
- Chopsticks should not be placed in the mouth while choosing food.
- Chopsticks should never be placed in a "V" shape when done eating; this is interpreted as a bad omen.
- The individual's chopsticks should not be dipped into a communal soup bowl (for example, when eating canh).
- Reversing the ends of the individual's chopsticks to the "clean ends" is preferred if communal serving utensils are not provided.
The most widespread use of disposable chopsticks is in Japan, where around a total of 24 billion pairs are used each year, which is equivalent to almost 200 pairs per person yearly. In China, an estimated 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks are produced yearly. This adds up to 1.66 million cubic metres (59×106 cu ft) of timber or 25 million fully grown trees every year.
In April 2006, China imposed a 5% tax on disposable chopsticks to reduce waste of natural resources by overconsumption. This measure had the most effect in Japan as many of its disposable chopsticks are imported from China, which account for over 90% of the Japanese market.
American manufacturers have begun exporting American-made chopsticks to China, using sweet gum and poplar wood as these materials do not need to be artificially lightened with chemicals or bleach, and have been seen as appealing to Chinese and other East Asian consumers.
The American-born Taiwanese singer Wang Leehom has publicly advocated the use of reusable chopsticks made from sustainable materials. In Japan, reusable chopsticks are known as maihashi or maibashi (マイ箸, meaning "my chopsticks").
A 2003 study found that regular use of chopsticks by the elderly may slightly increase the risk of osteoarthritis in the hand, a condition in which cartilage is worn out, leading to pain and swelling in the hand joints. There have also been concerns regarding the use of certain disposable chopsticks made from dark wood bleached white that may pose a health risk, causing coughing or leading to asthma.
A 2006 Hong Kong Department of Health survey found that the proportion of people using distinctly separate serving chopsticks, spoons, or other utensils for serving food from a common dish has increased from 46% to 65% since the SARS outbreak in 2003.
- In Singapore and Malaysia, the ethnic Chinese community traditionally consume all food with chopsticks while the ethnic Indians and Malays (especially in Singapore) use chopsticks only to consume noodle dishes – the use of a spoon or fork however is more common. In Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Nepal chopsticks are generally used only to consume noodles.
- Still widely used across East Asia, but in China has become archaic in most Chinese dialects except Min Chinese.
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