Why the Metal Chopsticks – a Korean Tradition?
If you have travelled to various Asian countries and enjoyed eating food with chopsticks, one thing strikes you as different in Korea. Instead of chopsticks made of bamboo or wood, Koreans favour chopsticks made of metal for eating. But what are the benefits of using metal chopsticks, and when did this tradition originate?
Koreans did originally use wooden chopsticks. However, metal chopsticks were found in the tomb of King Muryeong of Baekje, who died in year 523. Therefore, the switch from wood to metal most likely happened around this time.
There are countless theories about why Koreans use metal chopsticks, and not all are mentioned here. One theory is that silver chopsticks would change colour, and therefore warn the nobility, if their food was poisoned. Eating your food with utensils of silver or even gold would also symbolize wealth and power, but as cheaper metals, such as steel, became easier to produce, the rest of the people could also eat with utensils fit for a king.
Metal utensils are said to be more hygienic, as they are easier to clean at a higher temperature. Particularly, metal chopsticks are ideal for picking up sizzling hot meat from the grill at the Korean BBQ table. Yet, metal is more slippery than wood and can be a challenge for foreigners, as it demands more precision.
If you are planning a trip to Korea, you should definitely brush up on your chopstick technique. Handling chopsticks requires more muscle control than using a fork and knife, therefore, you might experience hand cramps the first couple of meals. Nevertheless, I urge to accept the challenge, pick up the metal chopsticks, and enjoy Korean food like a king.
Source: Ask a Korean Dude. Kim Hyunggeun. Seoul: Seoul Selection. 2012.