Korean Spoon and Chopsticks (Sujeo)

korean spoons and chopsticks in silver, wood and stainless
Korean spoons and chopsticks (Sujeo)

Korean Spoons and Chopsticks (Sujeo)

Want to learn more about Korean Spoon and Chopsticks?

Did you know that Korea is the only country that has metal chopsticks? Other Asian countries made chopsticks out of bamboo or wood, but a wider range of materials including wood, brass and silver is used in making Korean spoons and chopsticks. The shape is also shorter and flatter than the chopsticks of other Asian countries. 

Another unique feature of Korean chopsticks is that they’re always paired with a spoon. Unlike Japan or China, where soups aren’t such a big deal, Koreans believe that proper meals should always include either a soup(guk,국) or stew(jjigae,찌개).

Sometimes, soup can even become the main dish. If you watch K-drama, you will often see a scene where the actor dunks a bowl of rice into a huge bowl of soup, hunches over it, and shovels it up with thunderous slurping sounds. This is not considered rude: sound effects are an essential part of the Korean meal. 

Okay, I got side-tracked. Anyhow, so Korean spoons enjoy equal status with chopsticks, and hence the chopstick+spoon set that we call “sujeo (수저).” (pronounced “soo-juh”) I remember the family meals when I was young. Father’s sujeo was the largest and made of silver embellished with cloisonné. Mother’s sujeo was also embellished but slightly smaller than father’s. Ours were plain silver with a few carvings that were closer to scratches.

These days, most households and restaurants use stainless steel or plastic sujeo for practical reasons, but the material and design of the sujeo used to be a status symbol for a long time.

Table Setting Guide for Korean Spoons and Chopsticks

The proper way to set the sujeo is at the right hand side of the rice and soup bowls with chopsticks to the right of the spoon. Like this picture below – btw, below is Multigrain Rice (Japgokbap) and Beef Radish Cabbage soup (Mu Baechu Guk).

But if you’re setting the jesa (memorial rites) table for dead ancestors (see pic below), the sujeo goes to the left-hand side.

chuseok jesa table setting illustrated and annotated
Korean Chuseok Jesa (memorial rites) table setting diagram

Our family were Christians, so I never attended a single jesa in my life, but I thought this idiosyncrasy was quite interesting. Because it was believed that the spirits will come from the North and sit at the North end of the table to eat.

Sujeo Etiquette

As for etiquette, one should never hold chopsticks and spoons together in one hand. It’s actually quite convenient and kinda fun if you have the skill to do that, but our mother insisted that people from noble families never did that. FYI, we do not have any nobilities among our ancestors.

Our mother also said that we should also never scrape the rice off the spoon with our teeth. That’s kind of a common sense but sometimes you are tempted to do that when you see rice still sticking to the spoon. Finally, when you’re done eating, just place the sujeo down on the table. Neatly, if possible.

Written by Jean

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *