Chopsticks, or kuài zi (筷子), are not just for eating. They’re a versatile cooking tool that can act like many tools in one.
I first learned of the versatility of chopsticks during my childhood while watching my mother prepare meals. Every day she cooked for our family, spending hours slicing vegetables and meat into thin, small pieces to prep for that night’s stir fry dish.
Mom had a “meat chopsticks” that handled only raw meats. She would make a marinade made of cornstarch, soy sauce, garlic, and sugar, and then add it to the meat. Mom would ensure every part of the meat was covered in marinade by using chopsticks to flip each piece over. She also had a “non-meat chopsticks” used for cooking vegetables.
These cooking chopsticks were kept separate from the ones used for eating. Over time, the cooking chopsticks would slightly warp and discolor from high usage and were therefore not ideal for eating.
Chopsticks History and Etiquette
In ancient China, the Chinese started using chopsticks during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1700-c. 1027 BC) or possibly even earlier in the Xia Dynasty (c. 2070–c. 1600 BC). Back then, people used these tools as cooking utensils to pull foods out of deep pots of boiling water or oil. Circa AD 400, people experienced limited resources due to China’s population boom. As a result, the Chinese cut their food into smaller pieces since these required less fuel to cook. Chopsticks made it easier for people to pick up these bite-sized pieces.
Regarding chopsticks etiquette, never place them vertically in a bowl of food as they look like the incense sticks used during Chinese funerals and therefore remind people of death. Don’t use them to stab food or to poke food around in shared dishes (especially if you’ve already placed them in your mouth). Making noise by banging on the side of the bowl is looked down upon as this is what beggars are known to do in China.
Types of Chopsticks
Bamboo – I prefer bamboo chopsticks. They’re eco-friendly — bamboo grows well without pesticides and fertilizers, and it self-regenerates from its own roots at a fast rate. Bamboo is also strong, heat resistant, and will not scratch non-stick pans.
Lacquered – Though lacquered chopsticks are beautiful, I don’t find them practical. Pieces of food more easily slip out due to their smooth lacquered surface. Lacquered ones can also chip, and these bits in your food could contain chemical toxins.
Metal – Metal chopsticks are very strong. However, they’re not ideal for cooking since they conduct heat. No one wants their chopsticks to burn their hands.
Plastic – Plastic chopsticks are not heat resistant. As such, they can melt and could potentially release toxins into food. Like with the lacquered ones, food can slip out more easily due to their smooth surfaces.
Wood – Wood does not conduct heat so they’re ideal for cooking. However, it takes more resources to produce wood, and trees do not grow back quickly (unlike bamboo) so the process to make wood chopsticks leaves a bigger carbon footprint.
5 Uses for Chopsticks in the Kitchen
As mentioned earlier, chopsticks are versatile. In fact, they’re so versatile that some people use them outside of the kitchen like in crafts or for stirring paint cans. In this post, I’m focusing only on ways to use this utensil for its original purpose — cooking.
My list of uses below is based on what I’ve observed from my own mom while growing up. I also learned a few more tips while visiting my sister who lives in Asia. I’m sure there are many more uses for chopsticks in the kitchen, but I’ll just tell you what I know from experience.
Whisking – Forget the whisk, chopsticks can do the job. I remember watching my mom crack an egg in a bowl, then hold the bowl in one hand at a tilt. Her other hand then used two chopsticks, held together, to quickly beat the eggs in a circular motion. Tap, tap, tap sounds emitted as the chopsticks hit the bottom of the bowl. The result? Very well beaten eggs, perfect for the scrambled eggs my mom needed for her noodle dish.
Stir-frying – For stir-frys, home cooks can use chopsticks to move pieces of food around in the wok. Some woks are quite wide and deep, so it helps to use extra-long chopsticks made for cooking. My favorite standard-sized chopsticks for eating are 10″ long. My extra-long ones used for cooking are 13″ long. The extra 3″ makes a difference when cooking over the stove!
Mixing – When my mom prepped meals, she would use chopsticks to mix ingredients together. There was no wooden spoon in the kitchen. Why have extra utensils when chopsticks could do the job?
Grabbing – Tongs are great but chopsticks are more precise. Chopsticks are great for picking up that stray matchstick carrot sticking to the side of the wok or for grabbing the last piece of bamboo shoots at the bottom of a can. Many cooks find that chopsticks are ideal for inserting and taking out food in deep fryers. I also find them useful for picking up hard-to-grab food bits that have fallen under our stove’s gas burner grills (or even in our toaster oven).
Separating – I love using chopsticks to separate noodles whether stir-frying or boiling food. Unlike larger kitchen tools, chopsticks can gently separate noodles without breaking them since their tips can easily get between strands.
The versatility of this Chinese utensil is amazing. If you have other uses for them that you’d like to share, please let me know in the comments. Happy Cooking (with chopsticks)!
Bicultural Mama is participating in Multicultural Kid Blogs’ Asian-Pacific Heritage Month Blog Hop. See below for more details.
Welcome to our fifth annual Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month Blog Hop! Below you can explore ideas about sharing with kids the rich cultures of this vast and varied region.