- "Chopsticks" is also the name of a simple piece of music for piano. See Chopsticks (music).
Chopsticks, a pair of small even-length tapered sticks, are the traditional eating utensils of East Asia (China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, the four "chopstick countries") as well as Thailand, where they are now restricted to just soup and noodles since the introduction of Western utensils by King Rama V in the 19th century. Chopsticks are commonly made of wood, bamboo, metal, bone, ivory, and in modern times, plastic as well. It was believed that silver chopsticks were used in Chinese royal palace to detect poison in the royalty's meals.
"Chopstick" is the pidgin-English and English name for the tools. "Chop" is pidgin-English for "quick", the Mandarin word for chopsticks being kuàizi (筷子) or kuài'er (筷兒), meaning "the bamboo-objects for eating quickly". However, originally in Classical Chinese and some dialect like Min Nan, they use the word 箸(Pinyin:zhù ,Min Nan:di8), possibly just a phonetic character that merely indicates that the object is made of bamboo. "箸" (zhu), having the same sound as "住 or 駐" (lit. "stop"), is a taboo on ships because it would imply to stop the voyage. Because of this, the Chinese began to refer chopsticks as "筷" (kuai), which has the same root and sound as "快" (kuai), meaning "fast," which is the speed one would want the ship to travel.
In Japanese chopsticks are pronounced hashi and rendered as 箸. In Korea, 箸 (jeo) is used in the compound jeotgarak (젓가락) which is composed of jeo (chopstick) and garak (stick). Jeo is not used alone.
The Vietnamese language uses the word đũa.
The Thai language uses the word "ตะเกียบ".
Held between the thumb and fingers of the right hand, they are used as tongs to take up portions of the food, which is brought to the table cut up into small and convenient pieces, or as means for sweeping the rice and small particles of food into the mouth from the bowl. Many rules of etiquette govern the proper conduct of the chopsticks.
Chopsticks are traditionally held in the right hand only, even by the left-handed. (In Muslim nations, the left hand is used in the toilet, the right hand used for eating.) In modern times, biases against left-handed eating are becoming less severe, and so chopsticks might be held with either hand.
Chopsticks are simple in design - merely two thin rods (top and bottom area smaller than one square centimeter, length varies), each with one end slightly smaller than the other. The smaller, round ends come in contact with the food. In practice, their use is an acquired skill that can take some mastery. In addition, East Asian food, which is usually made into small pieces more suitable for clawing than cutting or scraping, is generally geared to be eaten with chopsticks. For example, rice in East Asia is often prepared to be sticky, while rice prepared using Western methods tend to be "fluffy", and is particularly difficult to eat with chopsticks.
There are several main styles of chopsticks:
Chinese: long, wooden sticks that taper to a rounded end
Japanese: short, wooden sticks that taper to a pointed end
Korean: medium, usually flat metal sticks that taper to a blunted end; wooden versions are also used
Vietnamese: long sticks that taper to a blunted end; traditionally wooden, but now made of plastic as well
- Đũa cả is a large, flat chopstick that is used to serve rice from a pot 
There are also chopsticks used especially for cooking or for serving food, these are much longer. In Japan they are called saibashi (菜箸).
How to use
- Put one chopstick between the palm and the base of the thumb, using the ring finger (the fourth finger) to support the lower part of the stick. With the thumb, squeeze the stick down while the ring finger pushes it up. The stick should be stationary and very stable.
- Use the tips of the thumb, index and middle fingers to hold the other stick like an ink pen. Make sure the tips of the two sticks line up.
- Pivot the upper stick up and down towards the stationary lower stick. With this motion one can pick up food of surprising size.
- With enough practice, the two sticks function like a pair of pincers.
Tip: For easier handling in the beginning, hold the sticks at the midpoint as a child would do. With proficiency, hold the sticks at the upper ends for a farther reach and a more mature look.
If the tips fail to line up, it will be difficult to hold things. Hold the chopsticks upright with one of the tips lightly touching the table, and gently push the chopsticks down or gently loosen your grip for a moment to let both tips become equal in length. You can also adjust your grip or holding position this way.
With practice, it is possible to perform step one and two simultaneously, on picking up the chopsticks with one hand, with a single fluid and seamless motion. Readjust your grip if necessary.
- The chopsticks should have minimal contact with the mouth. It is poor table manners to suck on the tip of the chopsticks.
- If there are serving spoons or communal chopsticks with the serving dish, use those to get the food to your own plate/bowl before using your own set. In China, however, it is not unusual to use one's own chopsticks to obtain food from the serving plates. This can often be alarming to those not familiar with the custom.
- After you have picked up an item, it is yours. You should not put it back in the dish. (So set your aim before raising your chopsticks.)
- It may be a polite gesture to serve the best piece of food and send it to your guests' bowl. (Use caution in this practice; many people observe some kind of special diet and picking food for your guests may not be appropriate to each person's tastes.) Furthermore, it is usually preferred, due to hygienic concern, to use the serving utensil instead of your own chopsticks to do this.
- Never rest chopsticks by sticking them point-first into a bowl of rice. This is reminiscent of ancestral offerings and can be seen as disrespectful.
- Chopsticks should not be rested on the table when not in use. They can be rested on one's plate or bow to keep them off the table entirely. A chopstick stand can also be used to keep the points off the table. A stand may be provided, or it can be made by folding the wrapper.
- Dishes are usually prepared in such a way that each piece is bite-sized so if the item is too small or too big to be picked up by the chopsticks, then it is not designed to be eaten with the chopsticks.
- Chinese traditionally eat rice from a bowl. The rice bowl is raised to the mouth and the rice is shoveled into the mouth using the chopsticks. (Note that this Chinese etiquette is the exact opposite from the Japanese custom.) If Chinese rice is served on a plate, as is more common in the West, it is acceptable and more practical to eat it with a fork or spoon. It is quite tedious to try to pick up the rice, grain by grain, but some people will attempt to do this if they do not know that they are not expected to utilise the chopsticks in this manner.
- Do not stand chopsticks in a bowl of rice or anything else because the act resembles part of a traditional funeral rite.
- For the sake of hygiene, when obtaining food from the serving dish, the chopsticks may be inverted to the other ends to pick up the food.
- A set of chopsticks are one of the wedding gifts normally presented to Chinese newlyweds as the Chinese words for "chopsticks" and "soon son" are homophones.
In general, chopsticks should be used for eating and no other purpose. Do not point or gesture with chopsticks, and do not bang them on an object to catch the attention of someone or use them like drumsticks.
- Do not dig around in dishes for choice bits of food. Eat from the top and choose what is to be eaten before reaching with chopsticks (do not hover around or poke looking for special ingredients).
- Never stab or pierce food with chopsticks.
- Never stand chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice (or anything else, for that matter, but rice especially because the act resembles part of a funeral rite)
- Do not move dishes around with chopsticks.
- Do not lick or suck the ends of chopsticks.
- Do not let food drop off ends of chopsticks.
- Do not shovel food into your mouth with chopsticks. Soup bowls, but no other dishes or bowls are brought to the mouth in Japan. While the rice bowl is raised when eating, it is not brought to the mouth.
- Never touch food in a common dish with the pointed (eating) end of chopsticks, for hygienic reasons. Use the blunt end to transfer food from a common dish to your own plate or bowl (never your mouth).
- Never use chopsticks to transfer something to someone else's chopsticks or someone else's plate or bowl. (see Japanese funeral)
- Place pointed ends of the chopsticks on a chopstick rest when chopsticks are not being used.
- It is clear that the small (and sometimes slippery) surface area of the metal chopsticks commonly used in Korea makes rapid eating less efficient than with a larger implement. Therefore, unlike most East Asian countries, Koreans tend to use a spoon for a lot of the things chopsticks are used for. Koreans use a spoon for their rice and soup, and chopsticks for everything else at the table.
- As with Chinese etiquette, the rice bowl is raised to the mouth and the rice is shoveled into the mouth using the chopsticks.
- Unlike with Chinese dishes, it is also practical to use chopsticks to pick up rice in plates, such as fried rice, because Vietnamese rice is typically sticky.
Chopsticks were developed about 3000 to 5000 years ago in China (the exact date is unknown).
Tools resembling chopsticks were unearthed in the archeological site Megiddo, Israel belonging to Scythian invaders of Canaan before and contemporary to Moses and Joshua. This discovery reveals the extent of trade between the Middle East and the Far East in early antiquity.  Chopsticks were also common household items of civilized Uyghurs on the Mongolian Steppes during the 6-8th centuries. 
Last updated: 08-19-2005 04:15:06