Chopsticks are used by billions of people around the world, and these simple yet effective utensils have a truly ancient past. The Chinese have been eating using chopsticks since at least 1200 B.C., and by around 500 A.D the eating implements could be found all over the Asian continent from Vietnam to Japan.
They began merely as cooking utensils but something about them has stuck and they are now used right around the world. The first known set of chopsticks was found at the ruins of Yin, in Henan province. They were bronze, capable of reaching deep into boiling pots of water or oil.
It wasn’t until much later, around A.D. 400 that people began eating with these two slender batons. In essence the method of eating reflected changes in the cuisine. There was a population boom across China and cooks were forced to prepare food, which had been chopped into smaller pieces because it required less cooking fuel that way.
Food became bite-sized and knives became an obsolete and expensive extravagance. The chopstick’s rise to glory was heightened also by Confucius, a vegetarian, who believed that sharp utensils at the dinner table would remind eaters of the slaughterhouse, and evoke violence and warfare in his dining companions during meals. Thanks in part to his teachings; chopstick use quickly became widespread throughout Asia.
In 1878 the Japanese became the first to create a disposable set, typically made of bamboo or wood, which is of course now ubiquitous in today’s modern world.
A few things you may not have known about chopsticks:
It is popular in China among lovers and newlyweds to give each other chopsticks as a gift. The sticks, equal in length and needing to work together in order to function symbolise a couple’s collaboration and love.
In many Asian cultures, it’s considered rude to allow your chopsticks to stand upright in a mound of rice.
Chopsticks should not be used to root around in the bottom of your bowl for food. Let it go.
Don’t ask for chopsticks in the Philippines. Filipinos eat with forks and spoons.
Similarly you will not find chopsticks served with most meals in Thailand. Thai’s eat their food (unless it’s noodles like Pad Thai) with a spoon and fork.
Chopstick length ranges from region to region. In China, Vietnam, and Korea chopsticks are longer than the ones used in Japan. This is because the Japanese tend to eat food individually as opposed to communally, so the necessity for reaching over and plucking something from a dish in the middle of a table is lessened.
Most of the world’s disposable chopstick supply comes from China, however for a few years in the late 2000’s it was in fact a factory in the small town of Americus, Georgia, which was producing the most wooden chopsticks in the world, exporting to China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.