Do you know the difference between Korean chopsticks and those used in China and Japan?
In Korea chopsticks, called jeokkarak (젓가락), are mostly made from stainless steel while those used in China and Japan are usually made of wood. Another difference is that Korean chopsticks not the same length as those used in China and Japan. Chinese chopsticks tend to be the longest ones and Japanese chopsticks the shortest, with Korean chopsticks falling at length between the other two.
So why are Korean chopsticks made of metal? Well, I’ve found various explanations. One is that in ancient times pure silver chopsticks were used by the king because the silver would change color if the king’s food had been poisoned. Then the commoners wanting to emulate royalty began to use metal chopsticks.
Other explanations aren’t as exciting. One is that metal chopsticks are more practical and sanitary since they can be easily washed and used again. Another is that since Koreans mostly use a spoon to eat their rice, they can use the more slippery chopsticks to eat their other dishes (apparently it’s harder to eat rice with metal chopsticks).
Whatever the explanation, metal chopsticks are uniquely Korean. Since our adoption process happened in record time (six months from match to picking up our son), we didn’t have a lot of time to practice using chopsticks before we traveled. And I was embarrassed when one of our waitresses in Korea brought us both forks and wooden chopsticks after watching us struggle with the metal chopsticks.
So I vowed that I would practice and be able to use metal chopsticks without incident the next time we visited Korea. I guess I can count one goal accomplished–I’m now proficient with metal chopsticks thanks to eating every homemade Korean meal with them. Now if I can just master the language. 🙂