Chopsticks: symbol of Chinese food culture

Most of us, at least once in our lives, have tried to enjoy Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese dishes with chopsticks. Someone uses them properly, others feel a little awkward, continuing to prefer the classic western knife and fork. Chopsticks are the symbol of Chinese tradition and culture and can be made of wood, bamboo, ceramic, plastic, but their shape always remains the same. 

The origin of this culinary tool is uncertain and there are various legends about it, but it certainly dates back to a very ancient era. Initially, millet was the main ingredient of Chinese recipes so spoons were the only practical utensil to have meals. Later, when millet began to be processed and consequently the dishes were also more elaborate, such as noodles, Chinese people needed a different tool to eat more easily. 

One of the many stories traces the chopsticks back to the period of the Yao and Shun emperors, in 2100 BC, when the people had to face several floods that led to numerous deaths and considerable damage to agriculture. A man had the task of embanking the rivers and during one of his working days, he decided to cook some meat, once the meal was ready, however, it turned out to be too hot to be eaten with his hands, so the clever worker decided to make cutlery from a tree branch. Since then, that man has continued to use his recent invention every day, spreading its use. Whereas, the other legend tells the story of a king belonging to the Shang dynasty (which reigned from 1600 BC to 1046 BC) who hated too hot dishes and for this reason many of his chefs, if offered him hot meals, paid with their own lives. This time the king’s concubine, wanting to save the chef who had prepared a hot dish, decided to feed the monarch with her jade accessories. The emperor thus continued to use them during his meals.  

Whatever the true origin may be, it is certain that Chinese people cannot do without chopsticks to have their meals. Some archaeological discoveries found some tombs with the first bronze chopsticks dated back to 1200 BC. during the Shang dynasty. According to the researches and studies carried out, the large spread of these tools in China occurred around 500 AD. 

Now that we know more about this tradition, we need to consider some rules to keep in mind the next time we have lunch or dinner at a Chinese restaurant. It is very important to not stick chopsticks into food (Chinese food is already cut into small bite- size pieces); remember to not stick chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice; do not pass food between people with chopsticks, but it is better to place the food onto a small plate and let the other person serve himself with his own chopsticks; lastly, never cross chopsticks into an X shape. 

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