11 Things you should know about Asian dining etiquette

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Don’t commit these dining faux pas at your next Asian dining experience.

If you’re like me and you grew up in a pretty ‘Westernised’ household, many Asian dining etiquettes didn’t apply. It was only when I visited other friends and had dinners at their homes did I realize the many faux pas I was committing. Oops.

But there are some universal Asian dining etiquette rules that are staunchly followed, even in Western households like mine. Out of respect, of course.

Whether you chalk it up to tradition or just plain ol’ manners, it’s best to know these rules when eating in an Asian household or establishments.

It is especially important if you’re meeting your other half’s parents for the first time.

Here are 11 Asian dining etiquette that should be followed at all times…

1. Never stick your chopsticks in an upright position into your food

This is an essential rule to always remember if you’re eating with chopsticks. Whether it’s Chinese, Japanese or Korean cuisine, the biggest faux pas you can commit is sticking your chopsticks in a standing upright position into your rice or noodles. In many Asian beliefs, doing so is a sign of disrespect. Asians do this to indicate that they are offering their meal to the dead at a prayer altar. So be sure never to do this!

2. No double dipping!

There is a reason why there are serving spoons/forks/chopsticks that accompany every dish that is on the table. Double dipping and sharing of utensils are absolutely frowned upon. Try to avoid using your own utensils when taking food from a sharing platter.

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3. Turning the Lazy Susan while someone else is taking food

It’s just downright rude for you to turn the table while someone else is taking food. But it is particularly uncool to do it when dining with Asians because they need to put back the serving utensils after that have taken the food. You should avoid even touching the Lazy Susan when anyone else is taking food.

4. Just take it and go!

Whenever you’re eating a shared dish, which includes food at the buffet line, never pick through for a “nice” piece. This act signifies “digging a grave” and should not be done. Pick up the exact piece you want and move on.

5. Make sure you only use chopsticks of even lengths…

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In Chinese custom, chopsticks must always be the same length. Uneven length chopsticks have a reference to death and coffins. So if you’re ever out dining at a casual Chinese restaurant, where you might be tasked to hand out chopsticks to your guests, always remember to only give out chopsticks in pairs of the same length.

6. …and you should also use chopsticks respectfully

Chopsticks are the quintessential Asian utensil and should be treated with the utmost respect. Never use your chopsticks to point at others, use as a spear for your food, pick at your teeth, or chew on its ends. These are all of poor manners.

7. The extra teacup

If you ever dine at a restaurant that serves tea, like in Hong Kong, China, Singapore or Malaysia, you will find that the wait staff have placed an extra teacup on the table. It is customary in Asian culture to have the extra teacup made available, should an unexpected guest arrive.

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8. Eating with your hands

Should you ever come across an occasion in which eating with your hands is involved, NEVER use your left hand to eat or handle food. In Malay dining etiquette, the left hand is used for washroom purposes and is considered unhygienic.

9. Banana leaf experience

If you have the pleasure of eating banana leaf rice at any Indian establishment or home, to show your satisfaction at the end of the meal, fold your banana leaf from top to bottom.

10. Paying time

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Different parts of Asia have different rules when it comes to paying. In Japan, you let the host or the highest ranking person at the table pay for the meal. However, if you are paying, never hand your cash to the cashier directly. Place it on a small tray that will be given to you. In Chinese (Singaporean and Malaysian) custom, it is common to see people arguing over picking up the tab. It is a friendly banter and almost expected of you to at least fight for the bill once.

11. Leave a little behind

In most Asian cultures (except for Japan), leaving a little bit of food left on the table or your plate is customary. Though many modern Asians do not follow this culture, the older folk will still follow this. The last piece of a shared dish is always left behind. But in more recent times, due to exposure to more news about wastage and famine, the younger Asians will finish all the food on the table.

Do you know more Asian dining etiquette practices? Share them with us in the comments!