Everyone knows that chopsticks go with Chinese food. You have probably used or seen the disposable pairs that come with Chinese take away, or perhaps even have some in your own home! Chopsticks are the traditional eating utensils in many Asian countries and are still widely used, but they originated in China and have been used there for about 3,000 years.
Chopsticks, or kuaizi in Chinese, are two long, tapered sticks that are generally made of wood – usually bamboo – or sometimes metal or plastic. In ancient times, ivory and bone were also common materials for making chopsticks. The earliest pair of chopsticks that have been found were made of bronze and date to around 1200 B.C., during the Shang Dynasty. The sticks were excavated from a tomb in China’s Henan Province.
Confucius (551 – 479 B.C.) can be credited with passing down the tradition of chopstick use to modern times. He was a vegetarian and held a firm philosophy of non-violence, believing that having knives at a dining table was uncivilized because it reminded people of slaughterhouses.
The word “chopsticks” originated from Chinese Pidgin English (CPE), where the phrase “chop chop” meant to eat quickly. CPE was mostly spoken in the southern Cantonese areas of China, where there was heavy foreign trade during the 17th and 18th centuries. The pidgin developed as a common language for foreign sailors who could not understand the local Chinese merchants and dock workers.
Chopsticks are used by clasping the two sticks between your fingers and pinching or scooping the food to your mouth. There are many rules of etiquette for using chopsticks. They should never be used to move plates around on a table, nor should they be used individually to “spear” food. Chopsticks should also never be left standing upright in a bowl of rice because it resembles the ritual incense burning at a funeral.
There are many types and classifications of chopsticks, depending on their size, shape an what material they are made of. Chinese style chopsticks tend to taper from a square-shaped top to a round-shaped tip, with flat, blunt ends. Other types of chopsticks are used in other Asian countries, such as in Japan, where the sticks tend to be short or medium length and have a pointed tip.
Much like western cutlery, chopsticks can either be very artistic or very plain. Most Chinese households have a simple set of bamboo chopsticks that are utilitarian and unadorned. They may also have short, children’s chopsticks that feature fun designs. Other chopsticks are painted with ornate designs and may be used as decoration or even ornamental hair accessories.