The Chinese have been wielding chopsticks since at least 1200 B.C., and by A.D. 500 the slender batons had swept the Asian continent from Vietnam to Japan. From their humble beginnings as cooking utensils to paper-wrapped bamboo sets at the sushi counter, there’s more to chopsticks than meets the eye.
The fabled ruins of Yin, in Henan province, provided not only the earliest examples of Chinese writing but also the first known chopsticks—bronze sets found in tombs at the site. Capable of reaching deep into boiling pots of water or oil, early chopsticks were used mainly for cooking. It wasn’t until A.D. 400 that people began eating with the utensils.
This happened when a population boom across China sapped resources and forced cooks to develop cost-saving habits. They began chopping food into smaller pieces that required less cooking fuel—and happened to be perfect for the tweezers-like grip of chopsticks. To help hone our fine motor skills, we practiced using chop sticks to grasp yarn “noodles” out of Chinese food containers!