The first chopsticks are believed to have come into use over 5000 years ago in China. Early Asian man retrieved his food from the fire by means of a stick or branch. As populations grew and resources became scarcer, people started cutting food into smaller pieces, which meant faster cooking times (using less fuel) and eliminated the need for knives. Thus chopsticks – known locally as 'kuai-zi' or ‘quick little fellows’ – became all that was needed.
With the spread of Confucianism the use of chopsticks then became confirmed as the right way to eat. According to Confucius: ‘The honourable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen. And he allows no knives on the table.’
By 500 AD chopsticks had spread from China to Korea, Vietnam, Japan and beyond. Most were made of bamboo, others of wood and bone, and sometimes fancy ones were made of metal. For a while it was believed that silver chopsticks turned black when they came into contact with poisoned food.
It is said that the use of chopsticks improves memory, increases dexterity and enhances such skills as the writing of Asian characters and brush painting. There are also many superstitions to do with chopsticks. If you find an uneven pair at your table setting, for example, you should expect to miss the next train, plane or boat you will want to catch. Dropping your chopsticks is said to be a portent of bad luck.
Do appreciate the kimchi – the Korean dish which accompanies all meals and is given free in restaurants. It usually contains fermented cabbage and red chili peppers, but it varies depending on the season and the cook!
And wherever chopsticks are used:
In Korea, unlike in most other East Asian cultures, it is considered bad manners to eat rice with chopsticks. Instead, you eat your rice with a spoon.