Chopsticks can be classified into several groups based on the materials used to make them, like wood, bamboo, metal, bone, stone and compound chopsticks. Chinese sticks may be composed of almost any material but the most common in modern-day restaurants is melamine plastic for its durability and ease of sanitation. The most common type of material in regular households is bamboo.
Chinese chopsticks, longer than most other styles at about 25 centimeters, thicker, with squared or rounded sides and ending in either wide, blunt, flat tips or tapered pointed tips. They are long, as Chinese people like to eat together with many people and share a whole table of dishes. Therefore, long chopsticks make it easier to reach dishes that are far away.
Chinese people are quite familiar with the use of chopsticks. Even from the age of three years, babies start using them. People that are very old also can use them.
There are some points regarding the use of chopsticks. First, we must hold the upper part and cross the chopsticks. Second, hold the chopsticks with the thumb, index finger, middle finger. Third, when we pick the food, use the index finger and middle finger to control the chopsticks. Practice a lot and then we may find it is an easy job. Many foreigners are interested in but also puzzled about how to use chopsticks with the facility.
Though people like to joke that a rice-staple country shouldn’t be eating with two long sticks, chopsticks lend themselves well to the Chinese style of cuisine. Now ubiquitous in the country and in Chinese restaurants worldwide, they have a long and distinguished history.
In ancient times, chopsticks were called ‘Zhu’. At that time, Chinese ancestors liked to steam or boil food. It was difficult for them to use spoons to dip vegetables in the soup. So they cleverly invented ‘Zhu’ to nip food, thus it has become the most convenient tableware in their lives.
The development of chopsticks has experienced a long history. Early in Xia Dynasty (21st – 16th century BC), the shape was still in development. Chopsticks only became two sticks of the same length in the Shang Dynasty (16th – 11th century BC). In the late Shang Dynasty, the tyrannical King Zhou ordered his craftsmen to make chopsticks from elephants’ teeth, which was seen to be the most luxurious in the early history of Chinese food culture.
While the use of chopsticks is of a long history, it is interesting to note that the name of chopsticks 筷子(kuài zi) is comparatively “modern”. It came into being only in the Ming dynasty (1364-1683). Before the Ming dynasty, chopsticks were called “箸 (zhù)”. The upper part of the character “⺮” is radical for bamboo, and the under part “者” stands for family. So 箸 (zhù) (chopsticks) means “the bamboos for the whole family”.
But why did it become “筷 (kuài)”? That is because, in the Ming dynasty, people in shipping business thought “箸(zhù)” has the same pronunciation with the word for stop/stay 住(zhù). The shippers can easily relate to the idea that the ships would stop and hence used the word “筷 (kuài)”. The under part of 筷 (kuài) is “快 (kuài)” which means “fast”. The shippers hoped this name would bring good luck for the shipping business and that all the ships would go very fast.