Korean Chopsticks (Metal & Flat) | History, Where To Buy & More!
So you’ve decided to embark on a quest to broaden your culinary horizons and visit a Korean Barbeque restaurant for the first time (good choice!). Now, you’re fully expecting to be using chopsticks. No problem. This isn’t your first Asian cuisine rodeo! But what you see next to your plate isn’t the usual pair of round wooden utensils; just these two flat metal Korean chopsticks that resemble a decapitated fork and knife. But the spoon is still fully intact! (More about that spoon later.)
Welcome to Korean food culture. You’ll find ample delectable dishes, intriguing cultural etiquette, and the nation’s own unique take on chopsticks and their use. Let’s explore what this is all about, and where it comes from.
History of Korean Chopsticks
The use of chopsticks in Korea is one of many cultural carry-overs from China, where wood and bamboo chopsticks have always proliferated in the kitchen and at the table. So then how did Korean chopsticks end up being flat and made of metal? The explanation encompasses several aspects of the country’s history and cultural evolution that make for a fascinating exploration of Korea’ heritage.
The mining, cultivation, and crafting of metal goes back a long way in Korea, and has influenced some of the most pivotal events in the country’s background; from victory in a historic sea battle thanks to ships constructed with metal armour to the first known printing of a written document with a metallic press. But the use of metal goods was widespread among Koreans of all regions and classes, as it’s a land rich in minerals such as iron ore, silver, gold, zinc, lead, and tungsten.
1. Banjja Korean Bronzeware
Bangjja, a type of bronzeware, is completely unique to Korean peninsula. Its natural lustre and brass/ gold colouring give it a luxurious appearance, making it popular for use in cookware and utensils, as a familial status symbol, particularly among Korean royalty, since the ancient time of the Three Kingdoms.
As Korea’s standard of living has risen dramatically in the past fifty years, and more resources have become more widely available, this trend has given way to using more common types of metal, notably stainless steel, the most common material used for Korean chopsticks.
Speaking of royalty, for many of the ruling classes of the warring kingdoms, assassination attempts were a concern, particularly by poisoning. It was believed, with at least some evidence, that metal kitchenware would be discoloured by toxic chemicals, warning the diner that something unsavoury lurked in their food. And speaking of status symbols, the metal construction also allows for stylistic engraving and inscriptions of everything from creative designs to family crests, making the chopsticks more than just a utilitarian implement for the meal, but a personal expression that can tell you a few things about your dinner host.
In more recent years, the design of Korean chopsticks has persisted in large part due to keeping with the cultural traditions, as well as some more practical considerations. Metal chopsticks are easier to clean at higher temperatures, keeping them hygienic and reusable for generations, longer than most of their wooden equivalents can last without special delicate care. Also, following the Korean War, when much of the county’s woodlands had been destroyed by combat, a shortage of wood in Korea combined with the abundance of metal and the need for durable resources with longevity solidified the practicality of producing chopsticks with metal.
Korean chopsticks’ flatness, as opposed to other countries’ round variants, is a simple matter of ease of production. Fashioning them out of metal, especially stainless steel, is a much more streamlined and low-cost process if they’re formed similar to forks, knives, and other implements made from the same material.
1. Disadvantages of Korean Metal Chopsticks
Are there any disadvantages to metal chopsticks? Well, their smooth metal surface doesn’t allow for much gripping traction, so they can more easily slip out of the user’s hand. This gives them a steeper learning curve for Korean children and grown-up foreign beginners than those made of other materials. This issue also makes them less conductive than their wooden counterparts for eating rice, a staple food of Korea. This brings us back to that spoon. The Korean table setting is unique among those in Asia in that there’s a western-style spoon to accompany the chopsticks, which is commonly used for the rice, thus eliminating one of the main inconveniences to using metal chopsticks.
Chopsticks In Korean
The word that the Korean people use for chopsticks is Cheotgarak (젓가락). This, like much of the Korean language of Hangul, derives from the Chinese Mardarin language, which consists of characters meant to graphically symbolize the words they depict. ‘Cheo’ comes from the characters representing chopsticks. ‘Garak’ simply means sticks.
The word Jeo (저) can also be translated to mean chopsticks. Interestingly, this word also refers to a flute, fife, or writing and calligraphy, so it more broadly indicates the nuances of instruments and utensils that employ dexterity in the hands and fingers.
There Is also the term Sujeo (수저), which refers to the cumulative customary place setting of the chopsticks and the spoon. It’s typically placed to the right of your plate.
Best Korean Chopsticks
So why not get some Korean chopsticks of your very own? You can practice and master them at home with your instant Korean cup ramyeon before venturing out to show off your skills in public. There are ample Korean chopsticks available, no matter your budget or style preferences.
1. SHARECOOK Korean Chopsticks
If your mission is strictly utilitarian, these are the chopsticks for you. It’s a low-priced set of five pairs. They’re stainless steel with a non-slip surface (despite being metal). They’re also available in five different colours: silver, black, gold, rose gold, and multicolour. These represent a solid, reliable, authentic no-frills option. Click here for more info about the Sharecook Chopsticks.
2. JOMUCO Chopsticks
If simplicity with a bit of style is your thing, check out this set from JOMUCO. These come in a set of five pairs. They are also non-slip and dishwasher safe. They feature laser-engraved designs. They’re affordable, low-maintenance, and display some elegant traditional patterns. Click here for more info about the Jomunco Korean chopstick set.
3. Luxury Korean Chopsticks
If you prefer something with a little more elaborate design and of higher quality metal, have a look at these. They come in a two-pair gift set. These feature a titanium plated laser-engraved finish and are available in five multicolour patterns: black silver, black/ gold, blue gold, blue silver, and rainbow silver. Each also displays an elegant pattern on the handles. Click here for more info.
If you’re looking to get a little fancier, have a look at these laser-engraved premium pieces from EMRSTORES. This 5+5 set contains five pairs of stainless steel laser-engraved multicolour and five pairs of plain black chopsticks. All sets are packed together in an exquisitely-designed presentation gift box. The 304 grade stainless steel is particularly suited for toughness, durability, and sanitation for food and healthcare environments. Click here to find more info about EMRSTORES luxury Korean metal chopsticks.
5. SUJEO Premium Korean Chopstick and Spoon Set
And if you want to go all-out with Korean cutlery, there’s this beautiful collection of ten Sujeo (수저), or full place settings with a pair of chopsticks and a spoon. The metal was processed with a satin polishing, giving the finish a milky look. The end of each handle has a ceramic coating. The premium and quality and traditional look make this set a great gift. Find more info about the Sujeo set here.
How To Use Korean Chopsticks
There’s literally no reason not to know how to use chopsticks. Not only do you not want to be the rube tourist probing their Dubu Kimchi with a fork, but you may be mangling the food itself, and not experiencing the proper flavor combinations in each bite as the chef intended. Use the right tool for the right job. Here’s how…
Each individual and even several chopstick-wielding cultures have their own preferences as far as grip and exact placement in the hand, but the best thing to do if you’re a beginner with chopsticks is to play around with them and experiment to see what’s most comfortable for you, and then feel free to modify as you become more familiar with them.
To get you started, follow these simple steps on the basics of chopstick use. They apply to either the right or left hand:
- Hold one chopstick in much the same way you hold a pencil, resting on the webbing of your hand where your thumb attaches, and lightly clamp it on three sides; the tip of your index finger on top, the inside of your thumb on one side, and the first knuckle of your middle finger on the other.
- Practice levering the chopstick up and down in a see-saw motion, keeping your wrist straight and steady. Once you have this movement down…
- Slide the rear of the second chopstick under the first, resting on the webbing of your hand, braced by the stem of your thumb on one side and the tip of your fourth “ring” finger on the other.
- Try the see-saw motion again, now focusing on keeping the bottom stick stable and bringing the top one down to join the tips together on a scissor pattern. Once you have the hang of it…
- Try clamping something (preferably unbreakable) between the chopsticks and picking it up! You’re now among the ranks of billions chopstick users worldwide!
1. Tips On Using Korean Chopsticks
Some additional tips:
- Give it time. Using chopsticks takes a minute to learn. Be patient and enjoy the practice!
- Easy does it. Don’t grip the chopsticks, or the food or objects you clamp with them, too hard. It takes very little pressure to keep the chopsticks steady and pick up whatever you might want to grab with them. If you squeeze with too much force; your hand will fatigue and start to hurt.
- Learn from the best. Keeping an eye on your Korean friends and eating companions for how to grip the food and pick it up for eating, will not only make you appear (almost) as proficient as a native Korean, but can ensure that you’re properly experiencing the local delicacies.
Frequently Asked Questions
Absolutely! They’re the standard utensils in Korean eating culture.
Not at all! Historical, cultural, economic, and practical factors make them as varied as any other appliance or commodity in common use in the world.
100% Yes! Not only are they still used by billions of people worldwide, and in restaurants of all corners of the Earth, but many of the foods from Asian countries are prepared to be eaten with chopsticks in order to properly experience them.
Written by Jason Montgomery