Ethnic Eating 101: Korean, Part 2
|leena @ flickr.com CC BY-NC 2.0|
Before we start, a word about Korean tableware. Koreans use spoons at every meal and they are the only Asian culture which consistently uses metal chopsticks (usually stainless steel). If you're new to the art of chopstickery, you are going to be one frustrated diner after trying to pick up food with heavy metal chopsticks. They usually have raised bumps or grooves near the tips to assist with traction, but that's no guarantee of success.
Fortunately, Koreans don't use chopsticks for quite as many tasks as other Asians; rice, for example, is normally eaten with a spoon (or dumped into a pot of stew and then eaten with the spoon--this is not the etiquette horror it might be elsewhere), so the chopsticks are really only used for non-soupy, non-rice foods, which tend to be easier to eat with slippery metal. As long as you can eat it neatly with a spoon, you are OK manners-wise.
Why metal, incidentally? There's no canonical answer to the question; one of the more plausible theories seems to be that of the servers at Beverly Tofu House in L.A.'s Koreatown: Koreans use metal chopsticks because Koreans use metal spoons and Koreans like their utensils to match. This would explain the use of metal soup bowls and metal rice bowls as well.