Chopsticks: a quick history and how to use-guide
History: the evolution of food-eating
The word “chopsticks” stems from a Chinese term, kuàizi, which roughly translates as “quick bamboo” – in other words: bamboo implements for quick eating!
Today, chopsticks are the primary eating-tool across China, Korea, Japan and many parts of South-East Asia, however this was not always the case. In fact, this rise of chopsticks tells a fascinating story of social and technological transformation.
Historians suggest that chopsticks go back as far as 7000 years. The first concrete evidence comes from several bronze chopsticks that were discovered at the Ruins of Yin near Anyang (Henan), which were dated to 1200 BCE. These were not used for eating, but as versatile cooking implements – for stirring pots, checking food and stoking fires.
The first evidence of their use as an eating tool is in a text from Han China, around 220 CE. As meals were primarily based around grain of some kind, it played a major role in how meals were eaten. During this time, everyone – from kings to peasants – ate geng (stew) and fan (grain). While chopsticks were used for eating stew, the centre of the meal was millet, a small grain which was cooked into a dense porridge, best eaten with a spoon.
Chopsticks were not the main eating utensil but this all began to change with the millstone’s invention in the 1st century CE China. Wheat could be milled into flower, which could then be made into a wide variety of foods that are still popular today, particularly noodles and dumplings. Grain could now be combined with other foods and eaten as a single dish. From around the 3rd century, millstones were also used to press vegetable seeds into oil, which spurred many new cooking techniques. One of these was stir-frying, in which food is chopped into small pieces and cooked rapidly in a wok. Finally, in the 11th century, short-grain rice was introduced in Vietnam. Unlike long-grain rice more common in the West, this type of rice is stickier and clumps together – making it easy to transport to the mouth with chopsticks!
These innovations were not isolated to their countries of origin but spread throughout various parts of Asia. Sticky rice formed the basis of many dishes in Korea and Japan, oodles of noodles were eaten in Vietnam and Thailand, and so on. As these dishes became more and more popular throughout much of Asia, chopsticks became the obvious choice. Bite-sized food makes a knife and fork unnecessary, and chopsticks allow for precise selection from dishes that often contain a wide-variety of food.
The story of chopsticks is a story of technological invention, social change, and perhaps most importantly, cultural cross-pollination – a story that is still on-going! As the world becomes increasingly connected, and mouth-watering Asian foods like dumplings, phad thai, sushi and pho become ever more popular across the globe, so too does the use of chopsticks.
Chop Chop! How to use chopsticks
Armed with the knowledge of why we use chopsticks, it’s time to cover how to use them. While many Western people struggle to use them at first, this is often simply due to bad technique. Not to
worry! We all need a little guidance when learning something new! Follow our easy-to-master steps and you’ll be able to enjoy any Simply Asia dish, with even greater enthusiasm and delight.
- Step one: put the chopsticks next to each other so that they line up, facing the same direction.
- Step two: hold the upper chopstick with the top of your thumb, index finger and middle finger – almost exactly how you would hold a pen.
- Step three: hold the lower chopstick with the end of your ring finger and the base of your thumb (in the groove where it meets your hand).
Finally – and this is the most important part – many people struggle because they try to move both chopsticks towards each other. It’s this mistake that makes the technique seem much more challenging than it really is.
- Step four: keep the lower chopstick still, while you move the upper chopstick towards it. The movement is a very similar action to writing with a pen, and rather intuitive, when you get the hang of it!
Ready to give it a try? Put your new skills to the test order your favourite Simply Asia dish and enjoy.
Do let us know how you go.