....... Divertimento: The versatile chopsticks 筷子

Monday, 12 March 2012

The versatile chopsticks 筷子

I was using a pair of chopsticks to beat some eggs for my breakfast omelet this morning when I started thinking about how useful chopsticks are in the kitchen. First of all, do you ever use chopsticks as an egg beater? Honestly, it is the best tool for the job. Of course, there are limitations. I wouldn’t use it for beating eggs for a chiffon cake, for example. Only a balloon whisk would be up to that task.

Instead of steaming baskets or steaming racks, mum would use a pair of bamboo chopsticks to hold up dishes to be steamed in a wok. To prevent a pot from boiling over, she would place a chopstick across the top of a pot to tilt up the lid a little. This way, the lid is covering the pot but there is sufficient ventilation to prevent messy boil overs. I used to own a pair of super long chopsticks which I’d bought from a Chinatown grocery store in Australia. This was exceptionally useful when deep frying food. With this pair of chopsticks, I could stay a safe distance away from splattering oil. Also, the bamboo chopsticks did not get as hot as a pair of metal thongs would. Nifty. Too bad I haven’t been able to find these in Hong Kong.

Here are some interesting tid bits about chopsticks:

Chopsticks originated in ancient China as early as during the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BC). However, some people believe that it was probably not until the Han dynasty when chopsticks were used as eating utensils. Prior to that, chopsticks were probably used for cooking – for example, for stirring the pot and picking up food. But then again, Zhou, the last emperor of the Shang dynasty, was reputed to have used a pair of ivory chopsticks. Gold and silver chopsticks became popular in the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD). It was believed that the silver chopsticks could detect poisons in food.

In Japan, around 24 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks are used a year. This works out to around 200 pairs per person per year. In China, an estimated 45 billion pairs of disposable chopstick are produced annually. This adds up to 1.66 million cubic meters of timber or 25 million fully grown trees every year.

If you are now interested to learn more about the humble chopsticks, you may wish to visit a chopsticks museum in Shanghai. The address of the Kuaizi Museum is 191 Duolun Road (Hongkou District) 多伦路文化名人街上海市虹口区. In Hong Kong there is a specialty chopsticks retailer called Chopsticks Gallery at the Ngong Ping 360 Village (Lantau Island).

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