Chopsticks, those pencil-like utensils that few westerners ever really master. I was thinking about these food pick-up sticks the other day. For two reasons. First, I was looking at some old photos of myself back in my school days at the Culinary Institute of America and couldn’t help but notice that right there in the middle of the picture, in my chef coat pocket, was a pair of Chopsticks.
Like a gun slinger in the Old West, I always packed my chopsticks. My trusty companions were just as essential in my world as a six-shooter. I came upon this odd habit not by accident but because my then roomie and classmate was Chinese. He taught me just how efficient and useful chopsticks were, not just for the obvious (eating), but for countless other culinary chores and purposes. I can’t remember what my good pair was made of (probably bone, pearl and jade), but I bought them in New York City’s Chinatown on a day we stopped down to the city to eat at the venerable Port Arthur’s Restaurant on Mott Street. They were my equivalent of a pearl-handled revolver, beautiful, indestructible and VERY effective.
On any given day in the kitchens, besides my good pair of chopsticks, I also kept at least one pair of the cheaper bamboo ones in my pocket and they might be used in tandem to beat eggs to a froth, as tongs to pluck hot tempura-fried shrimp from a deep fryer, as a skewer, or as a pair of tweezers to deftly arrange food compositions. And since we carved small notches along their length, they could be used as a measurement tool as well. You could pit cherries with them and dab their tips in a bit of water or batter to test the temperature of hot oil. In a pinch, when laid parallel about 6 inches apart, they even made a suitable trivet for a hot pan or pot right off the burner. I loved my chopsticks.
Strangely, and I can’t say why (probably because people thought I was weird), I just stopped using them over time. I miss them, so I’m belatedly adding chopsticks to my 2015 New Year’s resolutions. I’m going to get reacquainted with my old friends. The OTHER reason I was thinking about chopsticks was because of the New Year’s resolutions that so many of us make. Namely, to lose weight. Eating with chopsticks is a great (and sneaky) way to lose weight.
Because it forces you to eat slower (I mean, unless you’re REALLY good with chopsticks, and I mean REALLY good…). When you eat slowly, your brain has enough time to process your stomach’s belated message that you were actually full 10 minutes ago. It’s said that it takes about 15 to 17 minutes after you swallow something for your brain to register how full you’re getting. Unfortunately, Western utensils, like steam shovels, are so efficient that by the time your brain gets its stomach signals, you’ve eaten much more that you needed to get full. Eating a bit slower helps digestion, too (sorry…your mother was actually right).
Lastly, most people associate and use chopsticks to enjoy stir-fried foods, rice and other healthier food choices. And that makes it a win-win.
Know Your Sticks:
Chopsticks are shaped pairs of equal-length sticks that have been used as the traditional utensils of China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan for thousands of years. Chopsticks originated in ancient China and later spread to Vietnam, Korea and Japan. They can also be found in some areas of Tibet and Nepal that are close to Han Chinese populations.
The Chinese term for chopsticks is kuaizi. When written in Chinese, its two characters translate to quick and bamboo. The first chopsticks were probably used for cooking, stirring the fire, and serving or seizing bits of food, not as eating utensils per se.
Depending on the country, chopsticks look different.
- Chinese chopsticks are generally longer than other styles (at about 10 inches), and they’re typically thicker, with squared or rounded sides. They end in either wide, blunt, flat tips or tapered, pointed tips.
- Japanese chopsticks are usually shorter sticks tapering to a finely pointed end.
- Korean chopsticks are medium-length and are usually made of metal, a hold-over from the traditional silver used by royalty. Many Korean metal chopsticks are ornately decorated at the grip.
- Vietnamese chopsticks are much like the long Chinese sticks that taper to a blunt point. They are traditionally lacquered wood or bamboo.
It’s not hard to learn to use chopsticks, and the skill really comes in handy, whether you want to use them as another tool in your kitchen arsenal or just hope to look a little more hip the next time you eat out at a Chinese restaurant.
Picking up these chopsticks is easy, and it doesn’t take two to play. Stop by Nino’s Mon Jin Lau Sushi Department and pick up an extra pair of the quick bamboo sticks that just might change the way you cook and eat in 2015.