Friday, 11 November 2011

Chinese chopsticks

Introduction to Chopsticks

Chopsticks are a pair of sticks, usually made of wood, used for eating Asian food. In Chinese, the old word for "chopsticks,",and also in some varieties of modern Chinese such as Hokkien, was zhù (箸 Pinyin:zhù, Minnan: tī). However, using the word “zhù” became a taboo on ships because it sounded the same as another word meaning "to stop" (住). Consequently, it was replaced by a word of opposite meaning, kuài (fast, quick), which evolved into the current term, “kuàizi.” This gradually spread until it became the word for "chopsticks" in most varieties of modern Chinese. The character for this new meaning of "chopsticks" (筷) for kuài has the radical for bamboo added to the character meaning "fast" kuài (快). The English term, “chopsticks,” is supposedly derived from the Pidgin English spoken in British Chinese colonies. The Chinese term, “kuai-tzu,” or “quick ones” became chop (Pidgin for “quick”) sticks.

Chopsticks come in many different forms. Bamboo tends to be the most popular material from which to make them. There is plenty of bamboo in Asia, and it is easy to split and extremely resistant to heat. Other popular materials have included wood and bone, and chopsticks made of precious metals were not uncommon among the wealthy in ancient times. It was believed that silver chopsticks would turn black upon contact with poisoned food, although this has since been disproven by modern science.

It is believed the first chopsticks were developed over 5000 years ago in China. The earliest evidence of a pair of chopsticks made out of bronze was excavated from the Ruins of Yin near Anyang, Henan, dating back to roughly 1200 B.C. Early Asian man would retrieve his food from the fire using sticks or branches broken from trees. Later, as the population grew and resources became scarce, people would cut food into smaller pieces to save fuel because the smaller portions cooked faster. This eliminated the need for knives, and chopsticks became the utensils of choice. The onset of Confucianism is believed to have further cemented the use of chopsticks as the primary Asian eating utensil. Confucius taught, “The honorable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen, and he allows no knives on his table.” Confucius’ disdain for the presence of knives at the kitchen table, coupled with the popularity of his teachings no doubt contributed to the expanding use of chopsticks among the population.
By 500 A.D., chopsticks had spread from China to other countries such as Korea, Vietnam and Japan. While originally only used for religious ceremonies in Japan, chopsticks quickly gained popularity there as well, and in no time their use became as widespread there as in the rest of Asia. Soon chopsticks evolved into an important icon of Asian culture and an important part of history.
How to Use Chopsticks
1. Pick up the first chopstick with your middle finger and thumb. Stiffen your hand for a firm grip. Have the broad end of the chopstick lay on the part where your thumb and index finger connect. Rest the narrow end on the tip of your ring finger, and hold it in place with the tip of your middle finger. (Hint: try holding it the way you hold a pen to write. It might rest on your ring finger or your middle finger, held in place by your index finger. Hold the first chopstick behind your thumb, and then lift your index finger so it can hold the second chopstick.)

2. Grip the second chopstick with your index finger. Place your thumb over the second chopstick. Adjust your grip whatever position is most comfortable for you. Make sure the narrow tips of the chopsticks are even with each other to help prevent them from crossing or being unable to "pinch" the food.
3. Hold it steady. This chopstick should not move when you attempt to pick up food. Alternatively, hold the first chopstick steady and move the second (top) chopstick by moving the tip of your index finger up and down while the thumb remains relatively steady, acting like a pivot point. The top chopstick should remain pressed to the index finger from the tip through the first joint. The movement should come from flexing the joint closest to the knuckle. Straightening your index finger opens the chopsticks and bending it closes them, with perhaps a slight flexing of the thumb to keep the chopsticks lined up with each other. (Note: this alternative is different from the photos on how the top chopstick is held. The movement comes from the top chopstick, not the bottom one, so the top chopstick is held so that it can be moved easily. Use the method that is most comfortable for you.)
4. Practice opening and closing the chopsticks. Make sure the broad ends of the chopsticks do not make an "X," as this will make it difficult to pick up food.
5. Pick up food at a good angle (try roughly 45 degrees from the plate), and gently lift it up. If it feels unstable, put it down and try again.
Etiquette in Using Chopsticks
It is important to note that chopsticks are used in many different parts of the world, in many different cultures. While the principles of chopstick etiquette are similar in many of these places, the finer points may differ from region to region, and there is no single standard for the use of chopsticks. Generally, chopstick etiquette is similar to the general western etiquette regarding eating utensils.
Universal Etiquette
Chopsticks are not used to make noise, to draw attention, or to gesticulate. Playing with chopsticks is considered bad mannered and vulgar (just as playing with cutlery in a Western environment would be considered crass). Chopsticks are not used to move bowls or plates. Chopsticks are not used to toy with one's food or with dishes for sharing. Chopsticks are not used to pierce food, save in rare instances. Exceptions include tearing larger items apart such as vegetables and kimchi. In informal use, small, difficult-to-pick-up items such as cherry tomatoes or fish balls may be stabbed, but this use is frowned upon by traditionalists. Chopsticks should not be left standing vertically in a bowl of rice or other food. Any stick-like object pointing upward resembles the incense sticks that some Asians use as offerings to deceased family members; certain funeral rites designate offerings of food to the dead using standing chopsticks.
Chinese Mainland Etiquette
In Chinese culture, it is normal to hold the rice bowl—rice in China is rarely served on a plate—up to one's mouth and use chopsticks to push rice directly into the mouth. It is acceptable to transfer food to closely related people (e.g. grandparents, parents, spouses, children, or significant others) if they are having difficulty picking up the food. Also, it is a sign of respect to pass food to the elderly first before the meal starts.
It is poor etiquette to tap chopsticks on the edge of one's bowl, as beggars are believed to make this noise to attract attention. It is impolite to spear food with a chopstick, unless a food is difficult to handle, such as fish balls. It is considered poor etiquette to point rested chopsticks towards others seated at the table. Holding chopsticks incorrectly will reflect badly on your parents, who are responsible for teaching their children how to use them. Serving chopsticks (or “community-use chopsticks”) are used to move food from a serving dish to one's bowl for hygienic purposes, rather than eating directly from serving dishes. These chopsticks are to be returned to the dishes after one has served him- or herself, and are often a different color from individuals' chopsticks.
Hong Kong people’s Etiquette
The eldest (most respected) member of the family takes his/her chopsticks first. Chopsticks are not to be used backwards. Resting chopsticks at the top of the bowl mean "I've finished". Resting chopsticks on the chopstick stands means "I'd like to continue but am taking a break."
Taiwan people’s Etiquette
Food should not be transferred between chopsticks. Food in need of transportation should be placed onto the recipient's plate or on a new plate for collection. Using chopsticks like a knife and fork to cut soft foods into smaller portions for children is widely accepted. Chopsticks should not be rested on the table, but rather on a provided chopstick rest or lie across the rice bowl in a sideways fashion. Alternatively, they can be placed flat on the bowl when finished. Chopsticks should not be chewed on, or linger in one's mouth for too long.
Today, chopsticks serve many functions besides tableware. For example, you can buy a pair of exquisite chopsticks as a gift for your friends and relatives. In Chinese, 'chopsticks' reads 'Kuaizi,' which means to have sons soon, so a newly-married couple will be very happy to accept chopsticks as their wedding gift. Skillful craftsmen painted beautiful scenery on chopsticks to make them like fine artworks. Many people love to collect these beautiful chopsticks as their treasures.
It has been said that using chopsticks improves one’s memory, increases finger dexterity and can be useful in learning and improving skills such as Chinese character printing and brush painting. Many Asian superstitions revolve around chopsticks as well. For example, if you find an uneven pair of chopsticks at your table setting, it is believed that you will miss the next train, boat or plane you are trying to catch. Also, dropping your chopsticks is an omen of bad luck.

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