Lessons from the past – The Chinese connection



‘To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk’ Thomas Edison the inventor of the light bulb once said. In this series of ‘lessons from the past’ blog posts we talk about inventions that were even beyond the imagination of the creator himself. After the likes of chicken tikka masala, pepper, buttermilk and tea it’s time to talk about chopsticks.

Chopstick culture

Eating with chopsticks is like riding a bicycle – it can be tricky at first, but once you get a hang of it, it’s hard to forget. The history of chopsticks is as interesting as the experience of eating with them.

Chopsticks were discovered way before people actually started using them to eat in 400 AD. Initially they were used to stir around food while cooking. It was during the time, when the population of china was on a rapid increase that cooks in China needed to begin cost cutting. To save on cooking time and thus fuel, they started cutting food into small pieces before cooking. These small bite sized pieces of food could be eaten directly with chopsticks, without the need to use knives at the dining table.

Furthermore, the teachings of Confucius said that sharp objects like knives should not be present during meal times which should be peaceful and calm. Confucius’ disdain for knives at the dinner table increased the popularity of chopsticks. Eventually chopsticks were the preferred traditional method of eating food in China, Japan, Korea and several parts of South Asia. The earliest chopsticks were like tweezers, joined at one end. They were made of silver, bamboo or wood. Over the years they got modified and are now like the way we know them.

In China, chopsticks are also associated with several myths – it is said that if you drop your chopsticks during a meal it brings bad luck and you may end up missing your next flight, train or cab. Researchers say that eating with chopsticks helps improve memory and finger reflexes and also helps to learn the Chinese written script faster. I don’t know about that, but they sure are fun to eat with!

If you are just learning to eat with chopsticks then use wooden or bamboo ones as they are easier to use as compared to plastic or metal chopsticks. Practice with simpler dishes first and then graduate to the more difficult ones. As long as you can manage to get food from the bowl to your mouth you can use chopsticks effectively!

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