Learning table manners is the first lesson for many Vietnamese children. The country’s standard for consuming food with grace is one of the basic principles for human development.
As time progresses, ancient complicated traditions die out. But some of them are practiced into the modern-day to reflect the core values of the Vietnamese society. These include respect for the elderly and a community-oriented culture that ensures everyone is taken care of at the dining table.
Keep these tips in mind so you won’t feel lost when invited to a Vietnamese meal.
Always wait for the elderly.
Watch for cues here, as for some households, children (or the youngest member) will ask the elderly and other seniors to start and wish them a good meal first. Once they hold the bowl and begin taking food, you can follow suit.
Scoop rice for the elderly and seniors first.
If your seat happens to be near the shared rice bowl, volunteer to distribute the rice for everyone, starting with the elderly. Only fill to about three-quarters of the bowl’s size. Pass it to other diners with both hands. When someone is about to finish their rice, offer to refill it for them.
Be considerate and moderate in your helpings.
“Watch the pot when you’re eating, observe the direction when you’re sitting.” (Ăn trông nồi, ngồi trông hướng) is a proverb that reminds people to observe around the table to make appropriate adjustments. Do not keep eating the same dish even if it’s your favourite. If there are ten people on the table with exactly ten prawns, do not take two for yourself.
Use the serving utensils to pick up food.
If these are not available, turn your chopsticks around and use the other end to take your food or pass the food to other diners if they ask. After using the soup ladle, return it to the bowl with its cup facing down.
Use chopsticks properly.
Keep the chopsticks parallel and hold them at one-third of the way from the top. When in use, only the upper chopstick moves, the lower one stays still. If you’re not comfortable with chopsticks, don’t be shy to ask for forks and spoons.
Use your chopsticks to remove the bone or discarded food from your mouth
and leave it on the side plate. If that is not available, ask for a piece of napkin and place the bone on it.
Stay until the end of the meal.
If you wish to leave early or to take a phone call, ask first. Otherwise, do not leave the table until the elderly have done so.
Place a pair of chopsticks upright in your bowl.
That reminds people of incense sticks on the altar to pay respect to the death or call them back.
Suck or bite the tip of the chopsticks.
It’s considered rude and unsightly. Rest your chopsticks on the tray, holder or sauce plate when you’re not using them. Be mindful not to point the chopsticks to anyone when you’re holding them.
Pick up food and put it back down to the shared plate.
Make up your mind about the piece you want first before picking it up quickly. Do not mess up the plate or comb through it to select your desired portion.
Do not cross hands with other diners while picking up food.
Always wait for them to be done before taking your helping.
Slurp or make noises.
It is rude to make noises when chewing or eating soup. For soup, avoid slurping by drinking the soup with the spoon inside your mouth, instead of resting it halfway on your lips and start sipping. For crunchy foods, chewing more slowly helps prevent noise.
Flip the fish.
This superstition originated from sailors travelling across the sea. Flipping the fish was said to bring bad luck as it resembled a toppled ship. Nowadays, it depends on the household. Some people still believe it, so it’s always best practice to lift the large middle bone out after one side of the fish is done before going through the other side.
Vietnamese often share condiments (soy sauce, fish sauce and other dipping sauces), so it’s important not to dunk eaten pieces of food into the plate for hygiene reasons.
This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt