9 table setting principles in Asian dining

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Easy do's and don'ts rules for your Asian table set up

Respect, discipline, and gratitude are some values that Asians apply to their daily lives, down to simple routines like dining. As such, it will be helpful to know some Asian table setting tips that can be handy when eating out with elders, meeting your future in-laws, or simply to honour food.

An Asian table usually focuses on composition. You won’t see endless decks of forks, knives, and goblets. Instead, it can be minimal so as a tip, play with shapes and colour scheme. Nonetheless, here are some of the Asian table setting tips that you should master.

9 Basic Asian Table Setting Tips

1.  Round

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In Chinese tradition, round symbolizes harmony, unity, and togetherness. You can use square plates for a more modern edgy look, but circular plates are traditional, not to mention practical. You can use this to serve yourself food or for keeping the non-edible pieces served like chicken or fish bones.

2. Bowl

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Small ceramic rice bowls are used for Oriental cuisines, while metal ones are often used by Koreans. Sizes and usage may vary.

Chinese fried rice, ramen, pho, or any dishes that are served for a group are placed in a bigger serving bowl. You can prepare a middle-sized bowl for each of your guests to enjoy those group servings.

On the other hand, have small sauce bowls for dipping sauces like Chinese vinegar, pickles, or snacks.

3. Chopsticks

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An Asian table will not always have a spoon but it is usual to see a pair of chopsticks. It can be set on the side of the plate or bowl. If you need to set them while eating, lay them across the top of your bowl or on the edge of your plate.

Never put them in your bowl or vertically stick them up in your rice bowl, as this position is for funerals.

Tip: Use decorative chopstick rest so your guest knows where to lay them and this will avoid the eating utensils from touching the table.

4. Wet Washcloth

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This hot, moist, tightly rolled cloth is used to wipe your hands before the meal. These can be served in a tiny tray. Wet washcloths can be necessary since some dishes require the use of your hands when eating, after all, the table is a holy place for food and family.

5. Hands

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Asia is a melting pot of different cultures. In India, you won’t see a lot of spoons and a pair of chopsticks, instead, it is customary to eat with your bare right hand! Although, remember not to use your left hand as it is considered “unclean”.

Since your hands will be dirty from eating, avoid serving yourself making the serving spoon dirty. Wait for the host or waiter to serve you.

6. Teacup

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Tea time is a great way to end your meal as tea aids digestion. It is normally served in tiny teacups or glasses so refills are necessary when your guests would want more. Use a ceramic teapot with a lid to keep the concoction of tea leaves warm.

Tip: It is Chinese tradition to add an extra teacup to welcome more guests.

7. Goblets

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A water or wine goblet can be present at an Asian table. You may notice to have your goblet filled to the brim with alcohol as it is normal for Chinese dinners to do so. The faster you drain your glass, the more speedy it will be filled again, apply caution.

8. Placemats and linens

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You can go from bamboo to embroidered placemats. This is a great way to add style to your minimalist ceramics or plain white plates and also it can save the linen from any drippy food accidents.

9. Colour

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Red and gold is good luck in Chinese tradition but you do not want to be overwhelming so try to use a bit of these and that. Moderation is key. It is popular to also use blue and white hues for ceramics and a little bit of jade green for a touch of freshness.

Above are some of the Asian table setting tips that you can apply in your own home or when invited to eat out. You can add your own style but just make sure that it does not go severely against any tradition so as not to offend the host or your guests. Take your time to do a little bit of research.

After all, food keeps most of us together as a family so let's make it better by instilling good table manners from the start.

Read also: 11 Things you should know about Asian dining etiquette