When it comes to styles of chopsticks, there are cultural differences: Japanese chopsticks are typically pointier, for example, while Chinese chopsticks have blunt ends, and Chinese and Vietnamese chopsticks tend to be longer than those used for Korean or Japanese cuisines. From the material to the length, the East Asian utensil comes in more forms than some diners may realize.
Layered on top of that is personal preference. Ask chefs around the U.S. which kind they stock for restaurant service, and you’ll likely get a different answer every time. Looking to buy your own? Dive into the endless options — from material to length to shape — that experts prefer.
Little Tong Noodle Shop in New York City uses 9.5-inch-long disposable bamboo chopsticks from Mutual Trading, found either at the Mutual Trading New York showroom or from various retailers online. “The longer length — 8.3 inches is more typical for Japanese disposable [chopsticks] — is more conducive to maneuvering our long, slippery noodles, as well as some of our deeper bowls,” says general manager Emmeline Zhao.
As for the shape, it’s more more Chinese, what the Japanese consider “tensoge” style, with ends that taper and converge, rather than pointed, divergent ends (get a close look at the difference here). “The ends are also more user-friendly when it comes to gripping thin, slippery noodles,” says Zhao. According to Zhao, these 9.5-inch tensoge-style bamboo chopsticks are similar to what they use in the restaurant.
At Sushi Noz in New York, chef Nozomu Abe prefers a style called rikyubashi, made from hinoki cypress. The elegant, simple, and high-quality rikyubashi chopsticks narrow into thin points at both ends. “These are the type of chopsticks used for tea ceremonies,” Abe says. “Rikyu is the name of the most famous tea ceremony master, so the name of the chopsticks is an homage to him.” This style suits Sushi Noz, as the restaurant’s design takes its cues from tea-ceremony aesthetics.
Eddy Buckingham, co-owner of New York’s Chinese Tuxedo, gets the restaurant’s chopsticks custom-made and branded by a friend in Guangzhou, China. Similar to those at Sushi Noz, they separate at the bottom with thin tips. “The tip is a narrow conical end, the best shape for dexterity with noodle dishes,” he says. “The conical end then tapers to a four-sided square at the base.”
Chefs Daniel Le and Albert Nguyen at New York’s Hanoi House import their chopsticks, made from traditional coconut wood, along with their pottery from Bat Trang village in Hanoi. While they love the material and look of the restaurant’s chopsticks, Nguyen says that growing up he used a slightly different wooden chopstick, also one with a square top and skinnier tip.
“I like how the square top sits flat on the table but the tip should be pointed and rounded enough to grab food with precision, but not too narrow that you can’t grab a good bite of rice,” says Nguyen.
Like many of the chopsticks you may be used to, the chopsticks at Chinese Tuxedo are wood. “We use timber [wood],” says Buckingham, noting that they wear down faster than plastic or metal chopsticks, “but I prefer the feel in the hand.”
Little Tong Noodle Shop also uses wood — specifically bamboo, for its sustainable qualities. “The material matters when it comes to selecting disposable chopsticks,” says Zhao. She points out that bamboo is a highly renewable resource: Entire forests of it can regenerate in under five years. It’s also naturally antibacterial and antifungal, so it’s grown without pesticides or fertilizers that leach into the soil and pollute water sources.
At Cote in New York, chef David Shim says they use melamine chopsticks purchased from Korea. Melamine “is not as polished or slippery as the stainless kind; they are also a bit more pointy,” he says.
Cote’s owner, Simon Kim, likes that the chopsticks are reusable and are a great match for the restaurant’s food. “They’re perfect for our type of cuisine,” Kim says. “At Cote, we cut our meat into small cubes, sort of like mini-steaks, so the chopsticks are perfect for picking up and handling them; no puncture marks from knives or forks!”
Then there’s metal. While Shota Nakajima, chef at Seattle’s Adana and 2018 Eater Young Gun, uses metal chopsticks to cook with at home, he prefers to eat with wood, which is what they offer at the restaurant. He cites temperature as a main reason. “I don’t use metal ones for guests because when you try to eat something hot, your chopsticks become way too hot,” he says.
Vina Sananikone, art director for the Foreign National in Washington, D.C., says that for Spoken English at the Line Hotel, chef Erik Bruner-Yang chose to feature sleek black chopsticks purchased at Mutual Trading in D.C. Meanwhile, at D.C.’s Maketto, Bruner-Yang and chef James Wozniuk serve interpretations of Cambodian and Taiwanese food alongside disposable chopsticks.
Yu Li, the owner of Tang Hotpot in New York, had her restaurant’s chopsticks custom-made in Xi’an, China. Made with sandalwood and adorned with a mother of pearl logo, they are longer than normal for the convenience of dipping and catching ingredients in hot pot. Tang Hotpot makes it easy to take their chopsticks home if guests like them — they can be purchased right there in restaurant.
In Chicago, chef Jennifer Kim at Passerotto says that while she’s not allegiant to one brand, the restaurant uses an affordable selection of polished wood chopsticks purchased through a wholesale company. “They match the spoons that we use, which is in the Korean style — it has a very wide head and a long handle,” she explains. “We didn’t really use fancy chopsticks at home, and so I chose a product that was similar to what I grew up with and what I use now.”
She adds that polished wood ages really well, but her staff still has to oil the chopsticks once a week; they may switch to metal chopsticks soon because there’s a little less upkeep.
Amelie Kang, the restaurateur behind New York’s MáLà Project and a 2018 Eater Young Gun, favors acrylic chopsticks, as she’d never seen anything like them. “The chopsticks and the food look good together,” Kang says. “The liangfen (a Chinese dish consisting of starch jelly that is usually served cold with a savory sauce) is clear and smooth, and so are the glass noodles.”
It also complements the overall aesthetic, she says. “Acrylic happens to be a big element in our decor. Some side tables, signs, water dispenser are made with acrylic. We also used to have acrylic chairs.”
Kang’s favorite brand is Korin, where she buys the chopsticks for MáLà Project. You can go for a similar look with these clear pairs, or you can get the exact ones from MáLà Project: As at Tang Hotpot, the restaurant sells them to diners right on site.