Feb 2, 2018
by Ron Skaar
Photo by Jon Russo
The spoon was certainly the earliest and most significant eating implement used by people in ancient times. Antiquated spoons in China had a pointy end, used as a one pronged fork or knife. Perhaps the first spork?Chopsticks are another set of utensils used by billions of people around the world with an ancient past. Created during the Bronze Age in China, at first, by using strong twigs to retrieve food from boiling cauldrons.
The Chinese have been wielding chopsticks for culinary purposes, since at least 1,200 B.C. Evidence of early Chinese writing and the remains of a long set of bronze chopsticks comes from the fabled ruins at Yin, in Henan province.
It was not until A.D. 400 that people began to eat with these utensils. A population boom across China compromised dynastic food resources. Cooks developed cost saving habits by chopping food into smaller portions which required less cooking fuel and was perfect to eat with chopsticks.
This bite size food created less need for knives in dinning. Around this same time, Confucius was promoting his ethical teachings and vegetarian cuisine. He believed that the knives sharp point suggested violence and warfare which interrupted the happy, contented mood of meals.
Cooking oil also became plentiful at this time, with mill stones grinding the liquid from seeds. This oil plus the bite size food craze brought on the new cooking method of “stir fry”. Bamboo chopsticks were the perfect foil for cooking and eating this new dish.
By A.D. 500 the slender batons had swept the Asian continent, from Vietnam to Japan. The increasing consumption of short grain rice further cemented the use of chopsticks. Early ripening short grain rice, first grown in Vietnam, spread quickly to China, Korea and Japan.
Short grain rice cooks sticky and could be transported in clumps, easily eaten with chopsticks.
The grains cling together in small masses during cooking and remain tender even when served at room temperature. They’re ideal for sushi and are the preferred cooking grain in most Asian countries.
Wealthy diners could own ivory, jade, corral, brass or agate chopsticks. Sterling silver sticks were supposed to tarnish, supposedly, if one was being poisoned. The Korean’s include a spoon with their set, the Chinese sticks are blunt on the end and in Japan they were made (I hope) 8” long for men and 7” long for women!
The essence of successful Chinese cooking lies in the precise preparation of the ingredients, all ahead of time. It is important to be exact and systematic during cooking in order to achieve a perfect combination of flavor. The smaller pieces cook quickly or “chop chop”.
Chinese New Year is the most exuberant festival of all. This years celebration falls on February 16th. The ubiquitous paper wrapped bamboo chopsticks debuted in 1878 and February 6th is our national chopsticks day.
I love the texture and taste of egg foo yong, the accompanying recipe is a quick favorite. These easy to prepare egg patties come with a simply delicious piquant and silky sauce and is best, of course, eaten with chopsticks.
6 large shrimp, cooked and diced
2 cups fresh bean spouts, chopped
2 green onions, chopped fine
Salt and pepper to taste
Patties: Combine ingredients, heat oil to 300 degrees and form into four flat rounds. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Serve with sauce. Poached diced chicken is an alternative to the shrimp or keep it vegetarian by substituting vegi bouillon cubes in sauce and add no meat.
Cut the salt by using low-sodium soy sauce.
2 cups boiling water
3 beef bouillon cubes
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce, to taste
Sauce: Pour boiling water over cubes in a bowl and stir until dissolved. In a saucepan melt butter until lightly browned; stir in cornstarch to make a paste. Slowly add the bouillon mixture, stirring until thickened.
Add soy and keep warm.
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