About Chopsticks

All About ChopsticksAbstract image of modern chopsticks and a rice bowl

What is a Chopstick ?

Chopsticks are eating utensils consisting of  a set of two tapered sticks, often made of wood, metal or plastic. The Japanese word for chopstick is hashi. Hashi also means bridge, and illustrates how the chopsticks bridges the gap between the food and the mouth.. Kuaizi is the Chinese word for chopsticks (it  means quick little fellows). Chopstick History
Chopsticks were probably invented in China around 5000 years ago although the exact date is uncertain.
Sometime in the past, people began cooking their food in large pots. The food was chopped up into bits so that it would cook faster. Rather than reaching their fingers into the pots (and thus burning them), folks began to fish for their food with sticks or twigs.  It became easier to get the food using a pair of sticks, hence the chopstick was born!  Another influence in chopstick history was Confucius (551 to 479 B.C.). He was a vegetarian that held that knives did not belong at the dinner table, as they were for use at a slaughterhouse. Confucius taught that if a moral person heard the screaming of animals at the slaughterhouse, that person would prefer to keep the animal alive and unharmed. Confucius promoted peace and non violence, including the humane treatment of animals. So he was not big on knives but did like chopsticks :-) 
In the middle ages (around the 5th century) chopstick use migrated from China to Vietnam, Korea and Japan. The Japanese started out using chopsticks in religious occasions and ceremonies, then progressed to using them for common eating.  

In modern times, chopsticks are used in most parts of Asia, including Japan, Malasia, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as China, making them the one of the world's most popular method of eating. Chopsticks are not used universally in Asia. In Thailand, Mongolia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and parts central Asia residents have also traditionally eaten with their hands or other eating utensils.

Chopstick Materials and Design

Chopsticks materials include wood, bamboo, plastic, metal, porcelain, animal bone, ivory, jade, agate, jade, gold, brass  or even coral. Bamboo is a also a common chopstick material as it resists cracking, is strong, heat resistant and abundant in many Asian countries. In times long ago, silver chopsticks were used because they were thought to turn a black color when they touched poison (not true however). They are used for eating but also as decorative objects and gifts. Especially in Japan, they are made of lacquered wood and are sometimes elaborately painted and personalized for their owners.  Chopsticks are often mini art in themselves, being covered with various designs and paintings. In Japan especially, chopsticks are covered with lacquer and often then have additional designs, writing and art applied. In China, an elaborate pair of  chopsticks might be made of silver or gold and printed with Chinese calligraphy using one of the 2 metals. It is also possible to mix different hardwoods together and create unique and pleasing designs. In modern times, the laser engraved, personalized wedding favor chopstick has become quite fashionable for parties, anniversaries and weddings.
Chopstick design is quite basic; two small, hand sized rods varying from 7 to 11 inches in length. Each rod is tapered so that one end comes to a point, some more blunt than others depending on the culture. Food is picked up with the small end of the two chopsticks which are pinched together around a bite sized piece of food. It actually takes a bit of practice before westerners can get the hang of using chopsticks. As mentioned, Asian food is often bite sized (prepared this way deliberately knowing that it will be eaten with chopsticks). As an example, Asians often eat "sticky rice" which clumps together conveniently when picked up with a chopstick set, as opposed to long grain or non sticky rice eaten in the west, which is better eaten with a fork.

Chopsticks are often lacquered and made of combinations of exquisite hardwood and adorned with beautiful calligraphy.  Chopsticks can have round or square ends,  and the tips can be either sharp or dull; they are most typically not sharp.
There are four main styles of chopstick in use:
Chinese have the longer, wood sets that come to a rounded thicker end.
Japanese use short, wooden chopsticks that come to a sharper pointy end.
Koreans use shorter, metallic, wood or plastic chopsticks that are often blunt at the end.
Vietnamese have lengthier chopsticks  that also come to a thicker end as in China.

Chopsticks for Every Occasion

There are many styles and types of chopsticks for different occasions and uses. One type is for eating normal meals. Chopsticks for the kitchen are longer and often plain or “leftover” chopsticks, made of wood. Each family member has their own chopstick, with a different design or mark, starting at bout 2-3 years of age.
On New Year's Day, special fancy chopsticks are used, sometimes made willow wood or other special woods.
Disposable chopsticks (called warisbashi) are common now even in the U.S. This consists of a pair that needs to be removed from the paper wrapper and split apart. These chopsticks are most common at restaurants because they are disposable.