An estimated 33% of the world’s population (give or take) use chopsticks on a daily basis. For the hungry first time user, guzzling down your meal with two small wooden sticks can be a real challenge! Chopsticks might seem tricky to master and somewhat unnecessary for those of us that grew up with a knife and fork in hand, so why have they come to dominate the culinary habits of much of Asia?
Chopsticks are over 5000 years old! Long sticks of bamboo were first used in China to retrieve morsels of food from cooking pots on the fire. Later, evidence of chopsticks used as table utensils emerged as far back as 500-400 AD. It’s said the spread of popular chopstick use across China was down to population boom and fuel shortages; food was chopped into smaller pieces in an attempt to make the meagre rations go further (thus eliminating the need for knives at the table). Whatever the reason, people in Vietnam, Japan and Korea soon followed the trend not far behind!
Different types of chopsticks
Made of lacquered wood or bamboo, lightweighted but not giving the impression of fragility. Typically 9 inches long with a blunt, slightly tapered tip. A đũa cả is a large pair of flat chopsticks that is used to serve rice from a pot.
Typically unfinished wood, slightly rectangular top with a cylindrical blunt end. Doesn’t roll off the table so easily and more surface area means you’ve got a higher chance or transferring those tasty morsels all the way from the middle of the table right to your bowl!
Traditionally lacquered wood or bamboo, with a rounded top and a pointy end that’s perfect for de-boning fish. They’re a little bit smaller than the Chinese equivalent and you often find red pairs for the ladies and black ones for the gents.
The shortest model of the three, Korean chopsticks are usually stainless steel and flat or rectangular shaped. Potentially more hygienic but it definitely makes it harder to get a grip on your food!
FUN FACT: The king used pure silver chopsticks which would change colour if they came in contact with certain poisons. The people started using metal chopsticks to emulate him.
The behaviour etiquiette in a Vietnamese restaurant is not that strict as in Western countries, but there are some rules when using chopsticks that must be followed!
1) Don’t dig in the food on a plate, just get the piece which you want to eat.
2) Don’t pick one piece, then drop it back on the plate and change to another piece.
3) Don’t let your chopsticks be covered with oil, just try to keep them as clean as possible. If it happens your chopstics are very dirty and there are no communal untensils provided to pick up food, it is allowed to reverse them into the clean side.
4) Don’t use your chopsticks to make noise (like pretending to be a drummer using the bowls on the table!)
5) Don’t wave your chopsticks.
6) Don’t use chopsticks like a fork.
7) Don’t use your chopsticks as toothpicks.
8) Don’t lick or suck on your chopsticks.
9) Don’t put chopsticks vertically in any rice bowl ,since it resembles the incense sticks for the dead.
10) Don’t put the food directly from shared plate to your mouth, first put it in your bowl.
11) Don’t put chopsticks in a “V” shape after finishing your meal, it’s interpreted as a bad omen.
12) Don’t put your chopsticks in shared soup bowl.
Remember these guidelines and you will never have any problems in a Vietnamese restaurant!