Let's Talk Chopsticks

Top to bottom: Chinese Restaurant Quality Melamine Resin Chopsticks, Chinese Bamboo Chopsticks, Korean 18-10 Stainless Steel Chopsticks & Spoon, Japanese Yew Wood Chopsticks, Japanese Red Lacquered Chopsticks (standard and shorter lengths; 2 sets), Children’s size Lacquered Bamboo Chopsticks, Japanese Bamboo Cooking Chopsticks (long), Japanese Double-Tiped Bamboo Cooking Chopsticks, High Quality Decorative Pine Waribashi (disposable) Chopsticks, Bamboo Waribashi (disposable) Chopsticks (wrapped with Zippy’s logo) and standard pine Waribashi (disposable) Chopsticks (wrapped with Yummy’s Korean B-B-Q logo). Also pictured is a square Japanese ceramic tan/brown chopsticks rest and a Chinese white/blue porcelain chopsticks rest.

Back in January of last year, I did a post on Tonkatsu sauces, where reader Michelle made a note about me sticking chopsticks in my rice bowl in one of the photos, pointing that out as being forbidden in Japanese culture. It actually turns out being forbidden by ALL chopstick-using asian cultures, as that symbolizes death in the form of an offering for the deceased, as it portrays incense placed into ashes.

Not only did I stick the chopsticks in the rice for that photo, I also crisscrossed them, which is another no-no. To top that off, I also poured shoyu on the rice, which, especially to Japanese elite, is considered “low class”.

Ack! Goes to show how long it’s been since I’ve been to Japan. I’ve been there so many times while growing up, but have now forgotten all the those important table manners our family used to respect and obey when visiting there.

I don’t have any asian ancestry myself, so whatever of those cultural influences I’ve been exposed to were through travel and friends, classmates and coworkers I grew up with here in Hawaii; not passed on from elders. Yet the asian people and traditions are those I’m so fond of and hold with high regard and respect.

Of course there’s a lot more rules than that when it comes to chopstick etiquette, not just in Japan, but all the asian countries that use them, including the motherland of chopsticks, China, as well as Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam.

The question is, how have these traditions of strict chopstick etiquette from your particular homeland carried itself as either you, your parents, great-grandparents or ancestors beyond that immigrated to the United States or other western country? Do you observe them all yourself, all the time? Or only when sitting down with immediate family, or in a formal restaurant?

Issei and nisei (first and second generation) Japanese-Americans surely must be much more strict in practice than, say sansei and yonsei (third and fourth generation Japanese-Americans). I asked a few of my local sansei and yonsei Japanese friends and coworkers if they practice strict chopsticks etiquette and most of them said they do for the most basic ones (like standing chopsticks in rice), but the more obscure or meticulous ones hardly if at all.

There’s quite a few websites out there now that cover this subject, with most of them pretty much in accord with each other on the same set of rules and guidelines.

There’s a whopping 40 forbidden acts listed regarding the use of chopsticks (and a few on general table manners) from a Japanese perspective on this web page.

This Wikipedia article on Chopsticks gives a good general overview on the history and etiquette practices from each country, and is an ideal place to start your own personal research. I’m not about to attempt to retype the whole list here. You can read them at those links yourself.

If you read the rules, many of them are common sense, while others — like the chopsticks stuck vertically in the rice — have more symbolism, superstition, and/or pure tradition behind them.

Such as for the Japanese, when chopsticks are placed on their rest on the table, they should always point to the LEFT; if they point to the right it is a symbol of bad luck. ZOINKS!

What’s just as interesting as the history and various cultural etiquette practices behind chopsticks, are the variations in materials, finishes, size and design profiles that they’re made from one region or country to another.

The most intriguing one I discovered rather recently are the Korean STAINLESS STEEL chopsticks, which come as a set including a matching SPOON…

Korean 18/10 stainless steel chopsticks and spoon set

This Korean Chopsticks measures 8″ length x 1/8″width x 1/16″ thick at the tip x 1/4″ width x 1/16″ thick at the handle end. The spoon measures 8-5/16″ length x 1-5/8″ width at the spoon end x 3/8″ width x 1/16″ thick at the handle end.

Notice the ornately-decorated, matching handles and satin-matte finish in that area for better hand grip. On the back of the spoon it says 18-10, which must be indicating it’s made of 18/10 (18% chromium/10% nickel) stainless steel.

Also notice I placed the chopsticks to the RIGHT of the spoon in accordance to Korean tradition; putting them to the left of the spoon is forbidden.

There’s a few reasons I found on why Korean chopsticks are made of stainless steel. The most practical one being that the South Korean government prohibits the sale and consumption of disposable products, including chopsticks. So stainless steel was chosen as the most durable reusable (easy to wash and care) material to make this utensil out of, just as western forks, spoons and knives are made of.

Another reason mentioned is that after World War II, Korea had a shortage of wood resources and a surplus of scrap metal.

The most radical reason I’ve read is that they were distributed to the masses during World War II to serve dual purpose as throw dart weapons in case enemy forces invaded their country. Which is credible, as if you feel it in your hand, the front point end is heavier than the back handle end, making it ideal for throwing with the point spearheading into its target. Filing the blunt tip into a sharp point would be easy to do as well.

Here’s another Korean Stainless Steel Chopsticks & Spoon set…

As for using them to eat, the spoon is intended to be used for soups and RICE only. Yes, rice. You don’t use the chopsticks, you use the spoon. And, according to Korean etiquette, NEVER pick the rice bowl off the table. Unlike the Japanese and Chinese who lift their rice bowl to eat, the Koreans leave the bowl planted on the table, strictly using the spoon to transport the rice to the mouth. Also, both spoon and chopsticks are not to be used simultaneously. Nope. You only use one or the other at a time. So you would leave the steel chopsticks on their rest whenever using the spoon to eat soup or rice. Then when it’s time to grab something like say a piece of Kal Bi or Kim Chee, you would first rest the spoon, then grab the chopsticks. Man, that sounds kinda a hassle.

Whatever the case, the Koreans truly have a unique chopstick design and etiquette.

I bought this set at Kapalama Market’s Makaloa street location (next to Don Quijote) for $4.99. Interestingly, they had them hidden underneath the counter at the cash register. What’s up with that? Maybe they don’t want outsiders “in” on their “good stuff”. lol Well, when I asked one of the stock clerks if they had them, he gladly pointed me to the cashier for them. Cool.

Notice the ends of the Korean chopsticks are blunt, and the profile is FLAT…

Here’s the handle side of these…

We’ll get to using these rather unusual chopsticks (and spoon!) later, but next let’s look at the all-time classic Chinese chopsticks…

Chinese restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks (with spoon)

This Chinese melamine resin chopsticks measure 10-3/4″ length x 3/16″ diameter at the round profile tip x 1/4″ square at the handle end.

The Chinese bamboo chopsticks (shown in top photo with red Chinese characters on it) have are unfinished, yet sanded very smooth. They measure 10-3/8″ length x 1/8″ diameter at the round profile tip x 1/4″ square at the handle end.

I included a soup spoon with it, as that’s what usually accompanies them at most Chinese restaurants. I’m just wondering whether my placement of the spoon on the RIGHT of the chopsticks here symbolizes anything good or BAD in Chinese? I couldn’t find the answer online (didn’t search THAT deep). Maybe you know or can find the answer.

What many of you might fondly (or not so fondly) make note of is these Chinese restaurant style melamine chopsticks’ non-tapered blunt tips and slippery-smooth finish at the business end…

Chinese style restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks and unfinished smooth-sanded bamboo chopsticks tips

Dang, to try and pick up loose Chinese style long-grain rice with this? Forget it! That’s why the Chinese method to eating rice is to bring the bowl right to the mouth and use the chopsticks to “shovel” the rice in your mouth. Not pick the rice up like Japanese do from the bowl held at chest level.

Here you see the profile at the handle end of the Chinese chopsticks are square…

I purchased these from a Chinese grocery store on Maunakea street in Chinatown. This is how the packages look…

These were incredibly cheap at just $1.75 for the package of 10 pairs (20 total) of restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks on the left, and a recession-busting 75 cents for the package of 10 pairs (20 total) of unfinished, smooth-sanded bamboo chopsticks on the right… and I didn’t even need to bargain! lol

Next under the microscope we have several varieties of Japanese chopsticks…

Japanese chopsticks in various materials, finishes and sizes

The brown-stained oil-rubbed yew wood chopsticks on top measures 8-7/8″ length x less than 1/16″ diameter round profile at the tip x 5/16″ square at the handle end.

The longer red lacquered wood chopsticks beneath that measures 8-7/8″ length x 1/16″ diameter at the round profile tip x 5/16″ at the rounded-square handle end.

The shorter red lacquered wood chopsticks measures 7/5/8″ length x 1/16″ diameter at the round profile tip x 5/16″ at the rounded-square handle end.

The children’s lacquered bamboo chopsticks with the cute widdle bunny wabbit cartoon character on it measures 6-7/16″ length x 1/8″ diameter at the round profile tip x 1/4″ at the rounded-square handle end.

Notice how they’re all distinctively tapered gradually from the handle all the way to the tip, sort of like a really stretched out cone.

Japanese Chopsticks’ handle ends

I especially like when the tips have these ribbed grooves that really improve grip…

The only drawback to the ribbed tips is they take a bit more effort to wash thoroughly, unlike the smooth finish tips that just take a quick swipe of the soaped sponge and they’re clean. I’m sure most restaurants are aware of that and only offer the smooth type. Or not this type at all, and just give Waribashi (disposable chopsticks).

Which brings us to exactly that, the waribashi (disposable) variety…

Waribashi disposable chopsticks

The fancy unfinished smooth-sanded pine waribashi chopsticks on top measures 9-1/4″ length x 3/16″ width x 1/8″ thick at the oval-profile tip x 3/16″ width x 1/4″ thick at the beveled angle handle end.

The unfinished bamboo (Zippy’s logo) waribashi chopsticks measures 8-1/4″ length x 1/8″ diameter round profile at the tip x 1/4″ width x 3/16″ thickness at the rectangle profile handle end.

The bare-bones basic unfinished smooth-sanded pine waribashi (Yummy’s logo) chopsticks measures 8″ length x 1/8″ diameter at the rounded hexagon profile tip x 1/4″ width x 1/8″ thickness at the ractangular hexagon profile handle end.

Various waribashi tip profiles…

Various waribashi handle end profiles…

My favorite of the three is the bamboo in the middle. In fact, in some ways, I prefer the bamboo waribashi more than even the fancier lacquered Japanese styles. It’s tapered angle at the tip affords good grip on even the most slippery foods (as you’ll soon see), and the unfinished surface helps that out. While it’s also denser by nature and less prone to splinters. It also has good rigidity. They’re typically twice the price of the bare-bones basic chopsticks, but for home-use, I always spring the extra cost for the bamboo waribashi. And I appreciate the restaurants (such as Zippy’s) who go the extra mile to offer bamboo waribashi to their customers.

Finally we have those cooking chopsticks, that in the next photo will require a little exercise using your mouse’ scroll wheel lol…

Cooking chopsticks

And that’s a reduced size. These buggahz are LOOOOONNNNNGGGG! Most likely longer than the computer monitor you’re looking at is, tall.

The unfinished smooth bamboo with the red handle cooking chopsticks on the left measures a 12″ ruler-beating 14-1/8″ length x 1/8″ diameter at the round profile tip x 1/4″ diameter at the rounded-square profile handle end.

The brown-stained, unfinished, smooth-sanded bamboo DOUBLE-TIPPED! cooking chopsticks on the right also measures a 12″ ruler-beating 13″ length x 1/8″ diameter round profile at BOTH TIPS. How cool is that. A double-tipped chopstick!

Obviously the reason cooking chopsticks are long are to keep your hands as far away as possible from the searing wok, boiling water and/or hot oil. Notice they’re both made of unfinished bamboo which is durable and sturdy enough for the task, and also doesn’t conduct heat. Besides, under high heat, the plastic type resin would melt, a lacquered finish could discharge unwanted chemicals into the food and metal would conduct the heat right to your hand, which wouldn’t be good.

Then if you looked closely at the first photo showing all the different chopsticks, notice there’s a couple styles of chopstick rests in there. Here’s better look…

Ceramic chopstick rests

Porcelain chopsticks rest

Did you know you can fabricate your own chopstick rest, origami style, using the sleeve that wraps the waribashi disposable chopsticks? Check it out…

Waribashi disposable chopsticks rests folded origami style out of the paper wrapper they come in

Here’s a closer look…

• Learn how to fold the origami crane/bird chopstick rest here.
• Learn how to fold the standard origami chopstick rest (center) here.
• Learn how to fold the “inverted hat” origami chopstick rest here.

Or if that’s too cute ‘n fancy or hassles for you, just fold the wrapper into a simple knot.

You know what was interesting as far as buying the chopsticks for this presentation was, unless I didn’t look good enough (which I did I think), the Japanese stores (Marukai and Don Quijote) only carried Japanese chopsticks, Palama (Korean) Market only carried Korean chopsticks and the Chinese grocery store on Maunakea street in Chinatown only carried Chinese chopsticks.

I didn’t have the time to go treasure hunting in Chinatown for Taiwanese chopsticks (which are a little longer than Chinese chopsticks according to Wikipedia) or Vietnamese style Palmwood chopsticks. So my apologies for not including you folks in here.

I think the varieties I have here cover the most distinctive differences for most styles of chopsticks, unless you wanna’ talk maybe “training chopsticks” and other modern stick-like eating contraptions on the market.

Now let’s talk how you HOLD your chopsticks. Left-handed or right-handed?

Whether it’s a fork, spoon or chopsticks, I’m a lefty…

Using chopsticks: Stationary lower chopstick rested between base of thumb and index finger at the top and ring finger at the bottom, with the “actuator” chopstick above operated by the pointer and middle finger, using the tip of the thumb as a fulcrum point.

Notice I grip the stationary chopstick between the base of my thumb and the bottom part against my ring finger (which is where most instructions say to).

What I found interesting was that several people I asked said they don’t rest the stationary chopstick on their ring finger, but rest it on their middle finger, like this….

Lower stationary chopstick rested at the bottom by the middle finger. The upper “actuator” chopstick is operated by the pointer finger and thumb

While I’m still able to work them like this, I find there’s less grip, travel and leverage on the “actuator” chopstick holding it like this. I’m sure if I did this for years it wouldn’t be awkward, but as it is now, I’ll stick to my more traditional method.

Now let’s put the various chopstick styles here to the task they were designed for, which is to EAT!

When I thought of challenging foods to pick up using chopsticks, the very first dish that came to mind was none other than that good old Luau favorite, Chicken Long Rice!

A bowl of Chicken Long Rice (made by yours truly) and store-bought Won Bok Kim Chee, surrounded by a variety of Korean, Chinese and Japanese chopsticks.

You know you’ve been there before. Sitting on the table at da’ baby luau or wedding with da’ aunties and uncles next to you, as you struggle to get da’ slippery clear chicken long rice noodles to stay put on your flimsy, cheap disposable fork or chopsticks as you raise it to your mouth, only to have them evade your attempt and slip right back onto the partitioned luau plate. To make matters worse, sometimes back into the wrong section, like right into the pile of fresh Ahi Poke you were about to dig into next. Darned it! I hate when that happens! lol Da’ good kine luaus provide those rectangle brown tapa-printed “bowls” for serving liquid stuffs like ‘dis. Da’ cheap ‘kine luaus no moah… you jus’ gotta’ rough it wit’ da’ sectional luau plate fo’ every’ting. lol

The Kim Chee is thrown in for good measure to contrast the difficult with the easy as far as picking things up with chopsticks are concerned.

And how can you not have RICE in any chopsticks demonstration, and not just any rice, but chinese style (loose) long-grain white rice…

I also put a local style fried rice bento to the test…

Finally to add some real solid food to the table, I also threw in a vegetable tempura bento…

Broccoli, String Bean and Sweet Potato Vegetable Tempura Bento

Before seeing how each one handles the food, we’ll look at their tips profiles and how they meet each other and how that might affect its ability to grip and pick things up…

Chinese restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks

Now let’s try and pick up some of that loose long-grain white rice with it…

Chinese restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks picks up long-grain white rice

As you can kinda’ tell, I struggled to keep the loose grains from falling through the open “V” of the slippery-smooth resin, non-tapered, blunt-end tips of the Chinese chopsticks. But alas! The Chinese don’t eat their rice with the bowl planted on the table. No, they PICK UP the bowl and bring it to their mouth and use the chopsticks to help shovel the rice into the mouth. Right? If you’re Chinese, do you or your parents or grandparents still eat rice like that? The question is, how can you do that if the rice doesn’t have it’s own bowl? Then you’ll stuck struggling with these relatively cumbersome chopsticks trying to pick the loose long-grain rice. Been there, done that.

Now let’s try an even MORE difficult task and use the Chinese resin chopsticks to eat some Chicken Long Rice noodles….

Chinese restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks grabbing some Chicken Long Rice noodles

Good Lord, the long rice keeps slipping through and falling back into the bowl! Thankfully my chopstick skills are pretty good (at least I think so) and I was eventually able to clasp the two together tight enough to hold the slippery-slimy-wet clear bean thread rice noodles long enough to get it from the bowl on the table to my mouth. Darned, I gotta’ say, that’s a great batch of Chicken Long Rice I made for this demo’!

Now let’s try picking up some Kim Chee…

Chinese restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks picking up Won Bok Kim Chee

and also a piece of broccoli tempura…

No sweat. Actually here’s where the blunt ended (flat) tips have an advantage, offering a nice “pinch” if you will.

To sum this pair up, the Chinese restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks are actually quite comfortable to hold as an adult. But when I was a kid and my hands were smaller and chopsticks skills not as refined, I hated them. In fact, often back then I’d actually ask for a fork vs. struggle with them. Now I kinda’ like them though. The smooth plastic resin finish feels good in the hands and the extra length offers more leverage for heavier food items like that big piece of brocolli tempura to pick up.

Now let’s check out the bamboo Chinese style chopsticks….

Chinese unfinished bamboo chopsticks

Notice its trademark square profile at the handle then tapers into a much more tapered round profile that goes into a point at the tip, versus the blunt thick ends on the melamine resin type. As you can immediately see, there a much longer gripping surface area where the two chopstick meet each other.

Now let’s try pick up some food with it, this time going for the local style fried rice…

Chinese unfinished, smooth-sanded bamboo chopsticks picking up local style fried rice

Works great. See how much rice it can scoop up thanks to that long tapered tip.

Let’s go back and try some of that loose Chinese style long-grain rice now…

Chinese unfinished smooth-sanded bamboo chopsticks picking up long-grain white rice

Still difficult due to the nature of the rice being loose, but much better than those non-tapered resin ones, that’s for sure. Now I’m just waiting for Popo to whack me on the head and scold me for not picking up the rice bowl and puting it to my mouth like that. Ouch! Ouch! OK, OK Popo, I going pick da’ bowl up. Ouch! Gunfunnit. Keedz. Ouch!

I really like the Chinese unfinished smooth-sanded bamboo chopsticks. They’re lightweight, yet rigid, and the extra length is an advantage, which also affords them a dual-purpose roll as a cooking chopstick AND eating chipstick. Adding to that advantage, the tips are perfectly tapered and afford great grip on food. The sanded-smooth finish feels great in the hands, which also allows you to use it for cooking. The red Chinese characters inscripted on it (whatever that says) gives it a cool look too. I’d say of all the ones showcased here, this one is by far the best all-purpose chopstick. Again, you can buy a package of 10 pairs for a Beijing-bustin’ 79 cents in supermarkets in Honolulu’s Chinatown district. I’m really glad I now have them in my cooking and eating arsenal.

Now let’s get to the most unique set of the bunch, the Korean stainless steel chopsticks and spoon…

Korean 18/10 stainless steel chopsticks

To further illustrate how difficult these can be, look at the tips from this angle…

Korean stainless steel chopsticks

Not only are they relatively short, but they have a flat, thin profile to them. Top that off, you have that polished-to-a-slippery-smooth, who needs grip? finish of the stainless steel. Thankfully the end is blunt which helps give it some pinch, not to mention being safer than if it were a point, potentially impaling its poor user’s tongue, lip, or worse yet, eye or skull! Ack! lol

Let’s start with the most difficult and try to pick up some of those evasive chicken long rice noodles…

Korean stainless steel chopsticks attempting to pick up Chicken Long Rice noodles

While attempting to do this, I began singing the song “Slip Sliding Away” by Paul Simon. For all the obvious reasons, it was even more challenging than the Chinese melamine chopsticks. With a bit of manipulating the angle of the tips together, I was eventually able to fetch some from the bowl on the table and raise it to my mouth, but if you gave me a choice, these Korean style stainless steel chopsticks would be my LAST pick to eat chicken long rice, that’s for sure!

Since my Chicken Long Rice had plenty of ginger-infused chicken broth in it, I could also consider this dish a soup, which by Korean tradition, you’re supposed to use the spoon…

Korean stainless steel spoon scooping up some Chicken Long Rice broth

Notice the chopsticks are placed on the rest while I use the spoon, which I read is how you’re supposed to use these. If you pick up the spoon, you put down the chopstick, and vice versa… but don’t ask me why.

I like how much leverage the spoon’s handle affords, yet I prefer the deeper rim design of the chinese style porcelain (or plastic) spoon, which allows you to scoop and retain more broth in it.

THIS is where the Koreans have a big advantage…

Korean stainless steel spoon scooping up some white long-grain rice

Aha! You loosey-goosey long-grain rice granules can’t fall out of the SPOON! I got you now, suckahz!

Let’s see how the Korean chopsticks do gettin’ some..

Korean stainless steel chopsticks picking white long-grain rice

Almost a losing proposition. No way, Jose. I’ll go back to the spoon, thank you very much. Besides, that’s how this set was designed, anyway. You’re not supposed to eat rice with the chopsticks according to Korean tradition. You use the spoon. Now if we can only convince the conservatives to allow us to use both the chopstick AND spoon simultaneously!

Now this is proper…

Korean stainless steel chopstick picking up a piece of Won Bok Kim Chee

Now THIS is where the Korean stainless steel chopstick is truly in its element, doing exactly the task it was designed for. This very act has probably been performed billions, if not trillions or even teragazillions (is that a word? lol) of times throughout history in Korea. I just added a few more to that ever-growing count.

Let’s try the Korean stainless steel spoon on the fried rice…

Korean stainless steel spoon scooping up some local style fried rice

It actually feels kinda’ weird eating rice with a spoon. Like I’m being fed like a baby. lol For realz though! *Crying like a baby—> “whahhhh, whaahhhh! gimmmeeee wice! gimmeee wice! whaaaahhhh!*

Let’s try grabbing the stickier short-grain fried rice with the Korean Chopsticks…

Korean stainless steel chopsticks picking up some local style fried rice

Now that feels much better and much more natural, for me at least. It’s still challenging to pick rice up using these due their thin and flat profile, but it works. The question is, is this OK to use according to Korean tradition? See, the fried rice has solid bits and pieces of meat and veggies in it as well, but it’s still rice, so am I supposed to use the spoon and cry like a baby afterward? Dunno.

After a little practice with the flat-profiled stainless steel chopsticks, I got better at it. Here I was easily able to fish out a piece of chicken from the long rice bowl…

Korean stainless steel chopsticks picking up a piece of chicken from a bowl of chicken long rice

Picking up a more substantial piece of food like this Broccoli Tempura was even easier…

Korean stainless steel chopsticks picking up a piece of Broccoli Tempura

This is where the rigidity of the stainless steel it’s made of shined (no pun intended).

Rounding my use of the Korean stainless steel chopsticks, I’ll just say they’re very “interesting”. The durability of the stainless steel will certainly make these outlast any other chopsticks here, provided I don’t end up losing them in my kitchen drawers somewhere. What I’d like to do is tote these along with me to a local Korean restaurant and ask the mama sans who work/own the place to show me all the ropes on using these and what’s the REAL proper way of using these according to their own Korean traditions. When I do that, I’ll get back to you on it.

Now let’s jump on a plane and head over to Japan and check out their style…

Japanese Yew Wood Chopsticks (one of my personal favorites)

This one has a really nice angle at the tip, almost resembling a caliper.

Then there’s this type…

Japanese lacquered wood chopsticks

The tapered tip area doesn’t meet each other as much as the angle given on the Chinese bamboo chopstick, but it’s still enough to provide enough platform to keep food in place.

Let’s try pick up some long rice…

Japanese lacquered wood chopsticks picking up Chicken Long Rice noodles

The polished lacquer finish lets the noodles slip through easily, but the angle of the taper on the tips allows you to squeeze the noodles in place. It just takes a little more effort on your part to put a forceful grip on it, especially for this dish.

Now the loose long-grain white rice…

Japanese lacquered wood chopsticks picking up white long-grain rice

The angle of the tips is good, but its skinny profile offers rather inadequate platform area underneath, causing the loose rice to fall over the side quite easily.

Let’s try the Kim Chee…

Japanese lacquered wood chopsticks picking up Won Bok Kim Chee

Works like a champ. Good pinching action.

Some fried rice with the yew wood type…

Japanese Yew wood chopsticks picking up local style fried rice

Again, works like champ. I really like the thicker rounded-square profile of the Yew wood chopsticks. In fact, this is the exact pair of chopsticks I use most often at home. This, and another set of lacquered ones that have the ribbing on the tip, like the kid’s one shown in the group photos, but longer.

Let’s try pick up some rice with the super-duper long cooking chopsticks…

Cooking chopsticks picking up long-grain white rice

Obviously not made for this task, yet I was at least able to grab a bite’s worth and actually could make due eating with it if I had to. I’d just choke-up and place my hand closer towards the tip than where it’s placed in the photo above.

Using that kid’s size chopsticks, I just want to showcase here the ribbed tips and how it augments it’s grip when picking up this piece of chicken…

Ribbed tips on chopsticks augment gripping ability

Even better, look how well it does with the Chicken Long Rice noodes…

Ribbed tips on chopsticks help pick up more Chicken Long Rice noodles

So lesson learned: if you want to eat Chicken Long Rice using chopsticks, get the ones with the angled ribbed tips. They work the best for this task.

Now let’s move on to the Waribashi (disposable) chopsticks and see how they perform, starting with my favorite of the genre, the bamboo…

Waribashi bamboo disposable chopsticks

Like the Chinese bamboo chopsticks and the Japanese Yew wood chopsticks, the disposable bamboo chopsticks have decent amount of contact area between the two at the tapered tips. They’re definitely worth the extra cost over the bargain-basement pine type.

Let’s pick up some long-grain white rice with it…

Waribashi bamboo disposable chopsticks picking up white long-grain rice

Excellent job. Maikai.

Now let’s try that with the upgraded pine waribashi….

Waribashi high quality disposable pine wood chopsticks

I don’t know if you can see it, but change profile from square at the handle end and taper to a rounded square profile at the business end. This one does a pretty good job too, but I find the sharp square edge on the handle end uncomfortable, while also making me nervous that it’s fibrous pine wood is going to jab a splinter in the skin of my hands if I slide them on it.

Now let’s try that with the bargain basement pine wood waribashi….

Waribashi pine wood disposable chopsticks (the cheapest you can get)

What can I say, they work. They’ll get the job done, and have been getting the job done for ages now.

Did you know you’re not supposed to rub waribashi chopsticks together in a restaurant (to attempt to remove splinters) or at a dinner party at someone’s home? Doing that tells the owner or host that you think he or she’s CHEAP. But they are cheap! lol J/K.

Perhaps how the joined waribashi breaks apart is a good indicator how cheaply-made they are. Let’s try separating a few pairs…

The first four pairs starting from the left are the bargain-basement waribashi pine disposable chopsticks, all from the same manufacturer (the green 4-leaf clover and white paper wrapper brand). Notice the one farthest to the left did the worst, making that dreaded crack towards the outside, instead of the intended split smack down the center like you’d hope it would behave and do having that groove to help guide it. So much for that groove. The next three of the same breed broke apart consistently the same, with a slightly-veering crack line to the left, but acceptibly-even.

The waribashi bamboo chopstick after (second pair from the far right) cracked as perfectly in half as I could ask. Jozu desu. Bamboo waribashi is ichiban in my book.

Then there’s the upscale pine waribashi on the far right which broke into a 1/3 – 2/3 split, but at least it did it straight – no so angled like the first pine one – making it less noticeable… and making the restaurant owner or host of the dinner look less cheap. lol

So that’s that. A look at chopsticks. A domestic tool we use on a daily basis (or at least I do), yet like many other good things in life, one we often take for granted.

Look up a few of the rules and regulations regarding chopsticks etiquette by the various cultures that use them, and tell us how many you observe or don’t, yet should or may consider observing in the future. Or not.

Kuàizi. Hashi. Jeokkarak… Whatever you call them, chopsticks certainly offer some food for thought.

Related links:
Chopsticks – Wikipedia article
Chopsticks Etiquette in Oneself and Others – What Japan Thinks
Korean Eating Utensils a Paradox (link downloads PDF document )


17 thoughts on “Let's Talk Chopsticks

  1. You missed out on a couple Chinese chopsticks, all shaped like the first one you show. They are ivory and bamboo types.

    My mother had ivory type, which obviousy you canot get anymore. Very slippery. We sort of grew up using those. Wonder what happened to them? Guess my sisters took them.

    And then there’s the ones made from bamboo. Everyday use, easy to use.

    And I have some chopsticks made from koa that was for sale by some Big Island craftsman at a shop at Volcano. Shaped like the round regular Japanese type. Very elegant looking and expensive – $16/pair about 10 years ago.

    Oh, someone asked me if I saw the program on TV about disposalble chopsticks. I did not so was briefly told about it.

    Most disposable chopsticks are made in China and sold around the world. And the story was about how they are always so clean and white-ish. Seems the Chinese dip them in a chemical bath to get them to look all consistently nice. And the chemical bath was reported to contain chemicals kinda harmful to people. I don’t know exactly what chemicals as I didn’t see that program myself. Gotta watch these sneaky Chinese out for the bucks. Look at their milk, gyoza and pet food scandals.

    And there’s so large consumption of these disposable chopsticks from China that they are depleting forests like crazy. All throughout Japan these chopsticks are avaible – each ramen or bento shop may used hundreds!

  2. That’s the most exhaustive treatment of chopsticks I have seen. You should write a wikipedia article on that!

    Oh, and thanks for throwing a craving for chicken long rice my way.

  3. Nate, but I did include Chinese bamboo chopsticks. Not Ivory though, that’s for sure. Jade either. <—Now THAT would be awesome! The melamine plastic ones are supposed to resemble in color and feel like Ivory, which I think is somewhat plausible, yet of course not the real deal.

    check out this pair of Ivory chopsticks for the asking price of an equity mortgage-blasting $120K….


    There’s also a great write-up about the plight of natural resources, thanks in part to the prevalent use of Waribashi here…


    I bet them Koa chopsticks could fetch a pretty penny today. What a great way to make use of scrap Koa wood, too. I know a few guys who make Ukuleles that I’ll throw the idea out to them on it.

    TikiPundit, it was just as exhaustive writing and taking photos to produce this post, yet I’m very appreciative to hear you enjoyed it!

    Nate ’88, Chicken Long Rice is pretty easy to make, it just takes a little time to make the ginger-infused chicken stock.

    Start by soaking the dry rice noodles in warm water for about 15 minutes or so. When they’re soft and pliable, cut them in half with a kitchen scissors, drain and set aside.

    Now that you got the long rice noodles soaking, in a big pot, boil chicken (breast, thighs, drumsticks or whatever you have) in water (enough to cover, plus a few inches over) with plenty of fresh sliced ginger and rock salt (not too much of the latter).

    When the chicken meat is cooked through and tender (about 45 minutes to 1 hour), remove the chicken from pot, let cool ,then remove the meat from the bones and chop into bite-size pieces and set aside. Throw the bones (and whatever remaining meat) back in pot with stock and continue boiling for another hour or so to extract as much flavor as possible from the bones and leftover meat. Then when pau, strain out the bones and ginger pieces, then pour stock back in pot and put stove on medium-low.

    At this point you’ve got a good ginger-infused chicken stock. This is where you adjust the seasoning by adding a little shoyu and more rock (Hawaiian) salt if necessary.

    Now place the chopped chicken meat and soft, presoaked rice noodles in the stock and simmer until the rice noodles are translucent and cooked through. Just before serving add chopped green onions (add last so they retain green color).

    Enjoy with your favorite chopsticks (good luck) or Korean Spoon. Ha!

  4. Pomai – Yes you did include bamboo chopsticks, but not of the same shape as the regular size and shape of regular Chinese chopsticks. Maybe I’ll do a post on them. And there is a certain religious aspect to them.

    I’ll also post a pix of the koa chopsticks.

  5. One of my girlfriends is a haole girl who grew up in California. Her husband is a haole boy who grew up on Oahu. When they were dating, they got into a disagreement because he was cooking at her house and said he needed cooking chopsticks. He couldn’t believe she didn’t have any cooking chopsticks, while she thought he just made up that concept. So she asked me and I confirmed that, yes, there IS such a thing as cooking chopsticks. So she went out and bought some and now they are happily married. 🙂

    I just became acquainted with the Korean stainless steel chopsticks/spoons recently. I live in an area with a large Korean immigrant population, so we’re surrounded by tofu stew joints and Korean BBQ restaurants. I’m still getting used to the feel of the steel. One thing I don’t like about it is that the steel heats up quickly, so if you scoop up your bubbling hot tofu stew with the steel spoon, you burn your mouth from both the stew AND the spoon. However, they are awfully pretty to look at.

  6. The only time I’ve ever used Korean steel chopsticks was at On Jin’s. It felt weird using them, but I also felt if someone attacked me while using them, I could afflict pain with the chopsticks.

    BTW, I’m a lefty too.

    We’re going to take over the world.

  7. Pomai,
    Living in San Francisco I heard some unkind remarks from non Asian people saying they more refine and use knife and fork to eat instead of chopsticks. Being Asian it was so not nice thing to say in front other people in restaurant which was of all thing Japanese.

    Well anyway when I was little went to learn Chinese dancing and learn chopstick dance which even in Turkey perform it also.

  8. I found these titanium chopsticks a while back and like them a lot: http://www.tistix.com/

    Originally bought them for moribashi but they’re a little short for that so ended up using them for eating.

    They are round and pointed (dangerous weapons!) and the tips are roughened to provide friction.

    Drawbacks: Expensive (!) and they’re perfectly round which means they roll; they could use a flat spot.

  9. Bob, those Titanium Chopsticks are SWEET! Wow, $70 a pair. Interesting how the anodization on them is said to last longer than anodized aluminum type. That would kinda’ frustrating though, with them being round. Especially if you use a chopsticks rest that doesn’t have any indentation to prevent them from rolling of the sides. Titanium is the alloy of choice for piston connecting rods in formula 1 race engines and more exotic road racing street bikes due to its light weight and high strength.

    There a really cool stainless steel set (and all kinds of other modern ones) at this site…


    Betty, if you ask me, I’d say using chopsticks takes much more skill than using a fork, knife and spoon. That, as well as the many chopsticks and general table etiquette rules that’s practiced in those asian countries makes them just as sophisticated if not more so than what you’d see practiced in even fine dining restaurants here in the states.

    Marvo, I was bummed when Onjin’s (near Ward Entertainment Center) closed, as I heard so many good things about her food. Do you have any other authentic Korean restaurants you’d recommend? When I find a good one (which there’s many in the Koreamoku area), I plan on taking my set with me in case they don’t use them, as I want to ask the owner what their take o using them is. Especially the spoon!

    President Obama is a lefty too, so it looks like our mission of ruling the world is pretty much complete!

    Jenny, thanks for sharing that story about your friend’s cooking chopsticks’ lead to marriage! There’s a cooking choptick set even BIGGER than the ones I have shown here. Marukai 99 cent store had them, but I didn’t get them because they’re TOO big. Like industrial-sized WOK big. Like any bigger and you could use it for a telephone pole big. lol They were made of sanded unfinished pine wood I believe. The two pairs of cooking chopsticks I have here were also purchased at the 99 cent store (which should be called the Buck-49 store now) for $1.49 for both. Deal. Decent quality too. they’ll last a long time I’m sure.

    As for the Korean chopsticks, even with my microwave-heated Chicken Long Rice, I could feel the heat from the broth quickly warming up the steel. I could imagine if it was scalding hot, it might not be a good idea to attempt it until it cools down a bit. But yeah, I think they’re very attractive looking chopsticks. I’m just curious how the Korean lady will react when I bust out my set at their restaurant. They’ll either be flattered, or they’ll kick me out. lol

    Nate, I just read your post on your Chinese chopsticks. I’ll head back to your blog in a bit and leave a comment on it. The koa ones look sweet! I see you even still have the price tags on them.

  10. Man, that was W-A-Y more than I cared to know about chopsticks. While I have the ability to use them I prefer the good old reliable fork. But I enjoyed your exhaustive article and give you ‘high-fives’ for your excellent research! Keep up the good work.

  11. Pomai, loved your post on chopsticks! I prefer to use chopsticks, and 9 times out of 10 if I bring a plate lunch home I end up ditching the plastic fork and finishing my plate lunch with chopsticks! LOL

    Althrough I didn’t become really proficient in using chopsticks until I was about 14 yrs.old, I really had a hard time at 1st using the Korean metal ones. Those metal chopsticks felt like holding metal knitting needles! The weight felt differently in my hands, and it took me about 7 minutes before I could even use them.

    I read somewhere that it’s considered to be very rude to point at another person with your chopsticks, and at a Chinese Restaurant it’s a no-no to suck at the tips of your chopsticks after mixing the mustard/chili paste with shoyu mixture in the dipping sauce dish, something that most local folks nevertheless do! LOL

    I agree with you that it takes far more skill to use chopsticks than a fork, and to the non Asian people who said it was more refined to eat with a knife and a fork, BULL****! In fact the Chinese considered the fork and knife to be barbaric, as it was reminiscent of the heavy meat diet of the Mongols and how they ate with knives.

    Again, great post!

  12. I am surprised about the Korean chopsticks – my husband goes to Korea quite often and at my request he purchased some nice quality local chopsticks and they are wood, not metal. They are also ribbed. I’ve never seen or heard of the metal ones, or the spoon.

  13. Those are some interesting comments about the Korean steel chopsticks. I wonder if it’s used regionally in Korea, or if more Americanized Korean places use and sell the wooden ones instead because they know Westerners are more accustomed to those.

    The Korean restaurants near me are usually run by immigrants and frequented by immigrants and they always use the steel chopsticks.

  14. Pingback: The Art of Using Chopsticks « My Linguistics

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