You’ve just been invited to eat by your best Asian friend and their family. You all enter a wonderful smelling restaurant I will stereotypically call, “Seafood Paradise.” Everyone orders, and you wait for your food to arrive. You expect your own plate. You expect your own food. Instead, the waiter brings all the food to the center of the table..
It has certainly been a very long time since our last post (due to increasing workloads at school and a very busy summer). It was always in the back of my mind, though. Yesterday (finally), I was browsing through our giant list of submissions and came across Jackie Smith, who suggested “Putting Food On Other Peoples’ Plates.” This is something I have witnessed throughout my entire life; first as a child (receiving food) and as a much larger child in college (receiving and giving food).
DISCLAIMER: I have never particularly enjoyed the etiquette due to hygienic concerns, but it does make my life much easier as an avid food taster. You will also not find this food etiquette in all parts of Asia.
First things first– there are a few things everyone should know about eating with Asians:
- Like with other cultures, playing with cutlery (in our case, chopsticks) is very inappropriate. Playing with food is also frowned upon.
- Piercing food with chopsticks is okay if it is big and difficult to handle (fishballs).
- Leaving one’s chopsticks standing straight up in their bowl is very disrespectful (and might even resemble deceased family members) due to likeness to incense
After these ground rules, the rest are purely regional and ethnic. Take China and Vietnam, where it is very common to hold bowls and plates up to ones’ mouth and push food directly in. It is also acceptable to put food onto other peoples’ plates as long as they are close friends or family. If your Asian friends have bad chopstick handling skills, it will reflect badly on their parents (who should have taught them how to use them correctly in the first place). Don’t forget to let elders eat first!
In Hong Kong, the oldest family member picks up their chopsticks first. Putting chopsticks at the top of one’s bowl means, “I’m full,” while crossed chopsticks on top means, “I’m taking a breather.” In Taiwan, passing food between chopsticks is bad. Koreans may seem the most backwards because it is “ill-mannered” to eat rice with chopsticks (go figure…).
On the other hand, people in India, Indonesia, and Malaysia use their hands to eat. If you’re having trouble using utensils (or none at all in some cases), you can just ask the waiter for your utensil of choice– chances are they are more than willing to accommodate foreigners. Communal serving chopsticks are also accepted (and available) in most restaurants.
We hope this helps, Jackie!
That’s it for the first installment of SAPL in quite a long time. Thank you Jackie, and thank you all for your patience. Posts are coming bi or tri-weekly, so remember to come back often and share all the Asian goodness with your friends.
Last 5 posts by Peter
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