Korean chopsticks

Stainless Steel & Rice: Chopsticks in Korea

In this article, I want to tell you all about chopsticks in Korea. I’m also surprised because there are a lot of interesting stories.

Where did chopsticks originally come from?

Chopsticks are a tool used in East Asia, where rice is a staple food.

Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly where they came from. There is no proof of origin as it is an old tool, but they may have come from China.

How do Korean, Chinese and Japanese chopsticks differ?

Korean, Chinese and Japanese chopsticks are different. In China and Japan chopsticks made of wood are used, in Korea chopsticks made of stainless steel.

Chinese wooden chopsticks are longer than Korean or Japanese ones because most Chinese dishes are fried or deep-fried with oil. It’s hot, so Chinese people use long chopsticks.

Japanese wooden chopsticks have a sharp tip. Japanese eat a lot of fish, so they were probably made spicy to make fish easier to cut.

Korean chopsticks are thinner, heavier and flat because they are made of stainless steel. They are therefore more difficult to use than wooden sticks.

Nowadays, there are also lighter and thicker stainless steel chopsticks, but typical heavy and thin Korean chopsticks are said to be uncomfortable even for the Chinese.

Why are Korean chopsticks made of stainless steel?

In Korea, bronze chopsticks were used during the Three Kingdoms period (1st century BC to 7th century AD) and during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Brass chopsticks have been used since the middle of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897) and stainless steel chopsticks have only been used since the 1970s.

There are too many bronze spoons and bronze chopsticks from the Goryeo Dynasty in museums, so they are not considered important artifacts.

However, only the kings and nobility used the metal chopsticks, so most people did not know how to use them. Metal chopsticks were a symbol of wealth before stainless steel chopsticks became common.

Also, I think Koreans like something practical, so we use stainless steel chopsticks instead of wood.

The great advantage of stainless steel chopsticks is that they last forever and are dishwasher safe.

Korean stainless steel chopsticks

When do Koreans start using chopsticks?

Usually, Koreans start using chopsticks at the age of 3-4 years old in Korean. That is, already at 2-3 years of international age! Children, of course, are not good with chopsticks. So nowadays there are holes on the chopsticks to pinch the children’s fingers, but they still have to learn for many years. In my generation, chopsticks like this didn’t exist.

Chopsticks for children
Chopsticks for children

Koreans think chopsticks help kids develop their brains. When we grow up and practice enough, we can even pick up a single grain of rice.

Is it a problem if Koreans are not good at eating with chopsticks?

Use chopsticks is already one of the educational measures. If Koreans can’t eat well with chopsticks, we think they weren’t raised properly by their parents.

There’s a story about chopsticks.
A man wanted to marry a woman. So he visited and ate with her parents, but the man was not good with chopsticks. Therefore, the woman’s parents were against the marriage.

In Korea, it was impossible to marry in the past if parents objected. Sometimes it still is!

Incidentally, correct usage is not the only thing to consider when eating together in Korea. There is a wealth of table manners to observe in Korean culture.

How to use chopsticks correctly?

  1. First place a piece of chopstick on your ring finger and press it with your thumb.
    (Don’t use the middle of the sticks, use the top).
  2. Another chopstick is placed on the middle finger, that is, between the middle finger and index finger. Fix it with your thumb!
  3. Move the index finger and middle finger up and down so that the ends of the sticks hit.
    (Chopsticks should not cross like X. It should be parallel).
Korean stainless steel chopsticks

Chopsticks label

Chinese and Japanese only use chopsticks when eating, but Koreans use both spoons and chopsticks.

When we eat rice and soup, we should eat with a spoon. When we eat side dishes, we eat them with chopsticks.

  • You must not hold the spoon and chopsticks in the same hand.
  • You are also not allowed to eat with a spoon in one hand and chopsticks in the other. You have to put down the spoon after eating rice or soup and lift the chopsticks again with your right hand to eat the side dishes.
  • Do not push or pull bowls or plates with chopsticks.
  • You must also not tap the bowl or table with the chopstick.
  • Also, don’t point at a person.
  • Do not put the chopsticks in the rice. Neither does the spoon, because we only do that for our deceased ancestors at the honoring ceremony.

Chopsticks can be a weapon?

Yes, chopsticks could be dangerous because Korean chopsticks in particular are stainless steel and are basically long and sharp. I’ve seen chopsticks used as weapons in movies.

Young children sometimes shake chopsticks while eating, then they might poke their eyes or their family’s eyes with the chopstick.

If small children take stainless steel chopsticks and insert them into the hole of the socket, it may cause an electric shock.

Why did Korean kings use silver chopsticks and silver spoons?

During the Joseon Dynasty, kings used silver chopsticks and spoons because the silver color changes to black when the food is poisonous.

I still remember my childhood when my father also used silverware.

Was my father a king too?

Chopsticks are a MUST when travelling

Koreans love to eat spicy food, so we often take spicy instant noodles, kimchi or chili paste on their trip. Chopsticks are a must when traveling to western countries. Why? It is very unpleasant to eat instant noodles or kimchi with a fork instead of chopsticks.

Would you like to eat with chopsticks?

Important phrases and vocabulary:

숟가락 Spoon
젓가락 Chopsticks
수저(숟가락+젓가락) cutlery (spoon+chopsticks)
나무젓가락 wooden chopsticks
쇠젓가락 Stainless Steel Chopsticks
젓가락질하다 Verb for movement when using chopsticks (there is no exact translation in German).
장현옥은 젓가락처럼 너무 말랐다 Hyunok Jang is as thin as chopsticks (it means she is too thin, so this phrase is negative)