"The honorable man … allows no knives on his table." — Confucius
While both forks and chopsticks have their origins in the kitchen as preparatory aides, forks took a lot longer to become everyday items than chopsticks, because everywhere they were introduced they were thought unnatural and a mark of affectation.
Chopsticks, on the other hand, were readily accepted as a natural extension of the human hand. They have their origins as larger sticks used to retrieve food from hot cooking pots (around 3000 BC) and were soon used as an eating utensil, when in around 400BC, a scarcity of resources necessitated the cutting up of food into smaller portions for quick cooking.
This meant that there was no longer any need for knives while eating, and also that food was small enough to be handled easily by smaller chopsticks.
Interestingly, the etymology of the word 'chopstick' (both in English and in Chinese) means something along the lines of ‘fast-stick’ or ‘quick little fellows’ denoting the speed with which those dexterous enough could use the utensils.
The chopstick’s popularity was also given a helping hand by the teachings of Confucius who disdained the use of knives and said that the ‘The honorable man … allows no knives on his table.’ Eating with chopsticks soon became the norm throughout China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam with each country presiding over their own chopstick etiquette and variations in design.
How to use chopsticks
The best thing to do if you want to learn how to use chopsticks is to watch a tutorial, and have fun trying. Essentially they are used in the right hand, one chopstick resting along the thumb and middle finger (like holding a pen), the other maneuvered between the index finger and thumb. It’s much easier to understand if you can see it, so check out this video for the best results.
Which chopsticks are best is a hot issue between chopstick-using countries. The Chinese version is long and comes to a blunt finish, the Japanese version is smaller and tapered to a point and the Vietnamese and Korean are somewhere between the two.
The best (and most common) material which chopsticks are made from is undoubtedly natural bamboo, as this is a heat-resistant, easy to split and anti-bacterial wood that gives off no taste to the user. Other common materials include lacquered wood, bone, ceramic and metal, all of which have their pluses and minuses.
One of the main things about chopsticks is that their design encourages you to eat slower, which aids digestion and increases your presence at the table.