If you’re an aspiring ecologist who enjoys Asian eats, you already fret over how many miles that bok choy journeyed on its way to your plate, but you could also consider those final few inches it travels—to your mouth. Disposable chopsticks are tossed out by the billions each year. Armed with a proper permanent pair, lifelong lo mein lovers can tuck into noodles without felling forests.
Strangely enough, Chinatown was without an all-chopsticks shop until last November, when Yunghong Chopsticks—the first American outpost of the first Chinese chain to focus on Asia’s main tableware—opened in a space just south of Canal on the main Mott Street drag. Beyond a handful of spoons and few other lovely little gifts, this tiny boutique is as single-minded as you’d expect: It’s wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling chopsticks, the majority works of utensily art created for the company by designers in Beijing and Hong Kong.
Yunghung sells around 1,000 kinds of kung pao–ready pincers. Prices start at $1.99—for simple-but-stylish dailyware in wood, plastic and steel, which hang alongside toy-topped plastic kiddie training pairs on racks by the door—and rise to the gold leaf and mahogany boxed sets that sell for $600, hitting every price point and aesthetic in between. There’s a $42 Cantonese opera-themed set, with classic characters sketched in red, yellow and blue; a clear couple in solid crystal; $36 sets with intricate blue seashell inlays; and spare $118 pairs of the sleek, dark wood known as Huali, their ends swirled in German silver. There are Three Bears–style sets for the family, each pair smaller than the last; boldly graphic boxes in black and red and brown, the tools inside inscribed with the sayings of Chairman Mao; official Olympics sets; plus bamboo, porcelain, stainless steel and plenty of fish, since they stand for prosperity, if you’re Chinese.
According to Lamb, plenty of tourists stop in for a pair decorated with sweet little red radishes or their sign in the Chinese zodiac—even the rat is awfully cute when engraved into silvertopped twee tongs—but the store draws many local Chinese looking for gifts, such as the $500 formal sets that will become family heirlooms. In China, says Lamb, chopsticks are given for housewarmings, anniversaries, weddings and even new business partnerships: “Because chopsticks come in pairs,” says Lamb, “and you can’t have one without the other.”
Photo credit: Erin Gleeson