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Vietnamese chopsticks

Vietnamese chopsticks: History, cultural significance, and etiquette

05/12/2023 40 views

The use of Vietnamese chopsticks is more than just a means of conveying food to the mouth; it is a nuanced practice that reflects communal values, familial ties, and a profound connection to the country’s rich history.

Vietnamese chopsticks

Learn all about chopsticks in Vietnam (Source: Collected)

Vietnamese chopsticks, deeply rooted in cultural traditions, extend beyond being mere utensils for dining. They carry a rich tapestry of customs, shaping the way meals are shared and enjoyed in Vietnamese culture. From the meticulous art of holding chopsticks to the unspoken rules governing communal dining, the use of chopsticks in Vietnam reflects a blend of tradition, respect, and a deep connection to culinary heritage. Learn more here.

1. History and typical features of Vietnamese chopsticks

The history of chopsticks dates back to ancient times, with their origins rooted in the early tools for eating. The historian Tu Ma Thien, who lived during the Han Dynasty, noted the existence of chopsticks before the Shang Dynasty. Modern archaeological discoveries, particularly at the Long Cu Trang site, supported this claim, revealing chopsticks made from bones dating back 5,500 to 7,000 years.

Copper chopsticks were found approximately 1,200 years before the Common Era, but they were not intended for eating. They were used for stoking fires, cooking, and arranging small portions of food on plates. Around 200 BCE, people in Asia began using chopsticks during meals.

Vietnamese chopsticks are traditionally made of wood

Vietnamese chopsticks are traditionally made of wood (Source: Collected)

Vietnamese chopsticks are predominantly crafted from wood, featuring a rounded and unvarnished design without decorative lacquer. The tips of these chopsticks tend to be slightly longer than their Japanese or Korean counterparts.

In the northern rural areas, where bamboo stands prominently, individuals commonly fashion chopsticks from aged bamboo stems. Typically, Vietnamese chopsticks in the northern regions are a bit shorter compared to those in the southern regions.

Conversely, in the country’s south, which is characterized by numerous rivers and swaying coconut palm trees, Vietnamese chopsticks are frequently fashioned from coconut wood and tend to be slightly longer.

2. Cultural values of Vietnamese chopsticks

Chopsticks in Vietnamese culture play a significant role in dining etiquette, and they are deeply intertwined with various cultural values. Here are some aspects of the cultural values associated with Vietnamese chopsticks:

  • Unity and togetherness: Using chopsticks reflects a sense of communal dining. Vietnamese people often share dishes family-style, and using chopsticks symbolizes unity and togetherness during meals.
  • Politeness and etiquette: Proper chopstick etiquette is highly valued in Vietnamese culture. This includes not pointing with chopsticks, not sticking them vertically into rice, and not using them to spear food. Observing these Vietnamese chopsticks etiquette rules is a sign of respect.
  • Learning and tradition: Teaching children how to use Vietnamese chopsticks is a cultural tradition passed down through generations. This act of passing on knowledge reflects the importance of learning and preserving cultural practices within the family.
Chopsticks in Vietnam carry cultural nuances

Chopsticks in Vietnam carry cultural nuances (Source: Collected)

3. How to use Vietnamese chopsticks?

Mastering the art of using chopsticks might be challenging at first. However, this beginner-friendly guide will take you through the steps to conquer the use of Vietnamese chopsticks.

1. Inspect the chopsticks: Ensure that the two ends of the chopsticks are of even length and free from splinters. If they are disposable chopsticks, you may need to break them apart at the perforation.
2. Position the chopsticks: Hold one chopstick in the crook of your thumb and the base of your index finger. This chopstick remains stationary. The other chopstick is held like a pencil, using the tips of your thumb, index, and middle fingers. This chopstick is the one you move to pick up food.
3. Stabilize with the third finger: Your middle finger should be positioned between the two chopsticks, acting as a stabilizer. This finger helps control the movement and maintains the gap between the chopsticks.
4. Practice opening and closing: Gently open and close the chopsticks by moving the top chopstick with your index and middle fingers. Practice this motion to get comfortable with controlling the chopsticks.
5. Balancing with the ring finger: Some people find it helpful to use their ring finger to add extra balance. It can lightly touch or rest on the stationary chopstick, providing stability.
6. Adjust for comfort: Experiment with the positioning of your fingers until you find a comfortable and stable grip. It may take some practice to find the most natural hand position.
7. Pick up food: When picking up food, move the top chopstick while keeping the other one relatively stationary. Practice picking up different types of food to improve your coordination.

Keep in mind these tips during your practices:

  • Avoid gripping the chopsticks too tightly. A relaxed grip with controlled movements is more effective.
  • Begin practicing with larger pieces of food before attempting to pick up smaller items. This allows you to get a feel for the chopsticks’ movement.
  • Be patient and practice. Learning to use chopsticks takes time. Regular practice, especially during meals, will help you improve your skills.
Vietnamese chopsticks

Learn how to use Vietnamese chopsticks like a local (Source: Collected)

You may be surprised to learn that there is no standard or fixed way to use chopsticks. Other ways to hold Vietnamese chopsticks include:

  • The orchid style: Hold the chopsticks with the thumb, index finger, and ring finger placed on top of the chopsticks, leaving the middle finger free.
  • The casual, graceful flair: Place the index finger slanting upwards, with the thumb and middle finger controlling the chopsticks.
  • The secure grip method: Close the fingers together, with the middle finger gripping in the middle of the space between the two chopsticks for control.

4. Essential things to know about Vietnamese chopstick etiquette

4.1. Dos in Vietnamese chopstick etiquette

  • Check that the tips of the chopsticks are correctly aligned before starting the meal.
  • Turn the chopsticks around and use the other end when picking up food for others. 
  • Place the chopsticks down without letting them cross or slant after finishing a meal. 

4.2. Don’ts in Vietnamese chopstick etiquette

  • Do not insert both chopsticks vertically into the rice bowl, and do not tap the chopsticks while eating. This is believed to bring bad luck.
  • Avoid using uneven chopsticks or crossing them. This may lead to discord.
  • Do not use chopsticks to skewer food and suck or bite on them. Such actions are considered unhygienic and impolite during meals.
  • Do not transfer food from one pair of chopsticks to another or pass food directly from one pair of chopsticks to another. This is considered unlucky, can cause discord, and may result in dropping food.
  • Do not pick up and put down, flick, or directly bring food to your mouth with chopsticks. This is considered impolite.
There are things you must not do while using Vietnamese chopsticks

There are things you must not do while using Vietnamese chopsticks (Source: Collected)

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Vietnamese chopsticks are more than just instruments for conveying food to the mouth; they symbolize a cultural identity deeply rooted in tradition, respect, and unity. The meticulous customs, taboos, and nuances associated with Vietnamese chopsticks showcase a profound connection to Vietnamese heritage. Whether it is the careful consideration given to the arrangement of chopsticks at the beginning of a meal or the subtle gestures of sharing food with respect, every interaction with Vietnamese chopsticks is a reflection of a cultural journey that spans generations.

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