Chopsticks and Bowls

Our hosts’ special chopsticks set
Metal water cups at a highway stop

Eating Utensils in Korea

In Korea we found that it’s the custom to use stainless-steel chopsticks, bowls, dishes and drinking cups. At virtually all restaurants you’ll have a basket on the table with stainless-steel chopsticks and spoons, and a communal table with cold water, served in small stainless-steel cups.

When we ate at the home of our Korean hosts, they too had the sets of metal chopsticks, beautifully wrapped up in a cloth case. They told us that sometimes for a very special occasion they will bring out a lacquerware set. They don’t, however, use metal bowls, plates or cups.


Table set for a special bulgogi meal
Big bowl of cold noodles in summer

Korea has a long history of making wonderful ceramics, as do Japan and China, where bowls in restaurants are usually pretty ceramic ones and chopsticks are wood or plastic (these days). So we wondered why Korea uses metal.

It’s generally believed that this tradition dates back to the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). The Joseon kings were always worried about personal security, including poisoning. So they insisted on having their food first tasted by a servant and on using silver chopsticks and bowls, as silver would tarnish if there was a poison.

Even for a pretty fancy galbi dinner we had metal chopsticks and spoons
A typical rice bowl and utensil set

The custom caught on and was passed down to the common people, but of course they couldn’t afford silver so they turned to other metals. They also discovered another advantage: metal is easy to clean and hard to break.

Makes sense to me, but I have to say that the metal chopsticks are more difficult to use, as the shiny surface doesn’t pick up food as well.

We ate at many different types of restaurants, from fancy to casual, trying an amazing variety of foods. Interestingly, the common denominator was always the metal chopsticks, frequently a metal rice bowl, and sometimes the metal cups and plates.

Water dispenser and metal cups at a highway stop

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