File photo
File photo

In Korea, expect scissors on the table

by Chihon Kim
Stripes Korea

Does using scissors for cutting up food at the dining table seem strange to you?

To many, scissors are only for cutting papers, fabrics, or for opening stubborn food packages. But in Korea, scissors are another dining utensil.

I love food scissors and the rhythmical noise they make when they easily cut through slices of thick Korean barbeque.

Though forks and knives are what one may think of when asked about dining utensils, in many countries these are not the main tool for cutting their food. Food scissors are an essential meal tool for quick, exact cuts of steaks, noodles and everything in between.

Though originally not a traditional custom in Korea, using scissors at the dining table started in the 1970s when some savvy Korean figured out scissors were a great way to cut cold buckwheat noodles (naeng-myeon), according to Korea Times guest columnist Yang Dong-hee.

I don’t remember there being any scissors at naeng-myeon restaurants as a child, but in early 2000, I do remember being slightly puzzled when a server left a pair of scissors at my table. Now, they’re everywhere and I cannot imagine life without this practical cutting tool at restaurants and at home.

Using scissors on your plate probably seems like a lowbrow way to enjoy a meal, but it is extremely useful for grilled meat at Korean BBQ joints, and restaurants that serve ox bone soup and kal-guksu noodle soup. Scissors don’t require as much effort or an extra plate on the table for slicing like you do with a knife. Cut directly in the grill to save time and make shareable portions at the table.

Scissors are even used to cut kimchi and other veggies. They are convenient and reduce the use and cleaning of cutting boards. It’s not uncommon to see food kiosk employees using handy scissors for cutting the deep-fried vegetables or squid before handing out to customers.

And if even after reading all of this you’re still not convinced about using scissors to cut your food, know that the ones used for cooking are designed with food contact in mind. Food scissors are different than the ones you use in the office or at school, as they have rounded tips and a bigger grip to easily apply force when cutting tough cuts of meat. And to prevent rust, these scissors are made of heat-treated stainless steel.

When you first arrive in Korea, scissors on the table may seem foreign, but give them a try! You may find yourself heading to a kitchen supply shop for a pair of your own once you’ve tried this convenient food-cutting tool.

kim.chihon@stripes.com

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