Local Heart, Global Soul

July 1, 2010

Chop Chop! we need to buy sticks!

Filed under: SINGAPORE — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , ,

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

We are wandering though Singapore’s Chinatown in late January,  just before Chinese New Year, due to take place on the 14th February 2010.

I spy a display across the street and the first thought that went through my mind was ” Why would they be selling so many pencils?”

Then I went over for a closer look and saw immediately that these were not pencils at all, but chopsticks!

Our Singaporean friend tells us that one of the Chinese New Year traditions is that people buy a new pair of chopsticks and will switch from the old chopsticks to the new on the Eve of the New Year as part of the “spring clean” in order to bring good luck and prosperity.

If you go to a restaurant or eat out anywhere, then disposable wooden chopsticks will be provided, but for home use, family members will have their own individual non disposable set of chopsticks and these can come in a variation of materials that range in quality and price.

Greenstone or gold chopsticks show off the owners wealth, Kings and Emperors used chopsticks made of silver as it was believed that if the food had been poisoned, the chopsticks would reveal this by changing colour.

Daughters were traditionally given chopsticks as a marriage gift, to give good luck and to help to hopefully produce sons, apparently this tradition came about because the word for “chopsticks” in Chinese is pronounced very similarly the Chinese words “quick a son!”

Chopsticks have been excavated and documented from a far back as 1200BCE and originate in China, but their use has spread all over South East Asia.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Some Universal Chopstick Etiquette includes:

* One may not make undue noise, gestures, or draw attention to yourself whilst using chopsticks, to do so is considered vulgar and bad mannered. Probably this originates from the fact the beggars would draw attention to themselves by making noise with their chopsticks and bowls.

* One may not use chopsticks to move bowls or plates around the table.
* Chopsticks may not be used to play with food in your bowl or with food on shared dishes.
* Piercing or stabbing food with your chopsticks is frowned upon, usually the food is already prepared in small enough pieces that this would not be necessary.
Rare exceptions to this rule include the need to tear larger items of vegetable apart or to secure difficult to pick up items, but in general using your chopsticks for stabbing or piercing food is not considered good form at all by traditionalists.

* Chopsticks should never be stood vertically upright in a bowl of rice or any other food because this represents the offering of food to the dead, and is part of funeral rituals. In this instance it is a double no no, since the chopsticks, or any standing stick-like object are also reminiscent of incense sticks that are burnt as an offering during funeral ceremonies.

Chinese Etiquette additionally includes:

* Hold your rice bowl up close to your mouth and to push the rice directly into your mouth.

* The transfer of food between closely related people, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, spouse is acceptable if they are having difficulty picking up with food. Food is also passed to the elderly members of the family before the meal starts as a sign of respect.

* It is considered poor manners to point rested chopsticks at other people seated at the table.
* Holding your chopsticks incorrectly reflects badly on your parents, who are supposed to have taught you the art of chopstick holding well.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Wikipedia tells me that:

The English word “chopstick” seems to have been derived from Chinese Pidgen English in which “chop chop” meant “quickly”.

In China, an estimated 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks are used and thrown away annually.This adds up to 1.7 million cubic metres of timber or 25 million fully grown trees every year.In April 2006, the People’s Republic of China imposed a five percent tax on chopsticks to discourage excessive consumption and waste.

Reusable metal chopsticks have grown in popularity in recent years. The Taiwanese-American singer Leehom-Wang has publicly advocated their use. In Japan, reusable chopsticks are known as “my hashi” (meaning “my chopsticks”).

Wiki has more information on chopsticks here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chopsticks


  1. It makes sense…we tend to want to make beauty out of the things we use in our home. I think of chopsticks as cheapo wooden things because I get them with my takeout from the teriyaki joint around the corner from work. But if I had them in my home, I would want them to be nicely made and colorful. Again, KD, I love your eye for color! Thanks for this!

    Comment by jstwndrng — July 1, 2010 @ 4:21 am | Reply

  2. yep, I can tell you hand on heart that I have never seen so many chopsticks in one place before! amazing isn’t it? It IS a problem for the environment though, especially all those cheap throwaway ones… 45 billion disposables used then tossed in only China alone!
    Upon finding this out I’ve decided that I’m going to buy lots of individual chopssticks next trip for home use, but since we only use them semi regularly, I’ll make a little chart to remind us who’s who’s.LOL.

    Comment by Kiwidutch — July 1, 2010 @ 4:36 am | Reply

  3. I’ve always loved “chopsticks window shopping” at Chinese markets. The beauty of some of them is astonishing.

    Your Chinatown series reminds me of a TV documentary series called “Chinese Restaurants.” The show visited Chinese restaurants in 13 different countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Very interesting study on the how these restaurant owners acclimated to their new home countries and how they educated their new neighbors through food. I don’t know if it’s on DVD, but here’s a link to the network that ran the doc – http://www.linktv.org/programs/chinese

    Comment by blisterina — July 2, 2010 @ 12:43 am | Reply

  4. Thanks for the briliant link, I looked at the list and for some reason the inclusion of India had me really wondering… just the idea that when Indian people want a take-a-way or restaurant meal, they go out for a Chinese one! (I love Indian food)
    There’s a Chinese restaurant in the Centre here, it’s far more authentic than most and is THE place where the Chinese go when they eat out. I’ve only been there once and yes my fellow diners “chicken’s feet soup” really DID have actual chicken’s feet in it! (and yes, my eyes WERE popping out in amazment when it was placed on the table!)

    Comment by Kiwidutch — July 2, 2010 @ 5:08 am | Reply

  5. I have a friend who went to Shanghai as part of his job several years ago and I remember him regaling us of his culinary adventures, which included Chicken feet (I don’t think they were in soup).

    I love chopsticks. You’ve presented a lovely set here. I have a permanent set that are quite plain. I don’t use them very often, but I do like them. One of the beauties of living in a place like London is that you can acquire the skills of using instruments other than the knife and fork to eat foods from around the world. I can use chopsticks rather well, even if I say so myself.

    Comment by Pie — August 7, 2010 @ 8:28 pm | Reply

    • We have chopsticks at home too, but like you I don’t use them nearly regularly enough. Stupidly it’s also *not* because I don’t know how. I shared a house with a Malasyian girl once and she taught me.

      Comment by Kiwidutch — August 9, 2010 @ 4:56 am | Reply

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