Many things happen when a foreigner is invited to join a Vietnamese dinner at their local friend’s home or at a Vietnamese restaurant. You don’t know how to behave when eating certain types of Vietnamese cuisine that is entirely different from your culture. Or don’t know how to react in certain situations. Such difficulties are real, but you will overcome it in no time, because help is here.
Get your note and pen ready, because you are going to need this Etiquette 101 – Guide to Vietnamese dining before sitting at the dinner table with your local family in a perfect manner
1. Order matters
Before seating, you might need to remind yourself of how the Vietnamese value ordering, especially among the elders. Usually in a family meal, the elder will sit first, followed by the second oldest in the house, and so on.
During the meal everyone will not start eating until the elders have begun, and politely say a sentence in Vietnamese, which is roughly translated to English as “Please allow me to begin the meal” – to the elders. This show your respect to not only your host but also his/her family, who have invited you cordially to join their dinner. When you have finished eating, don’t forget to thank for the meal. This is similar to the Japanese when they also have opening and ending etiquette to a meal.
2. Using chopsticks
Vietnam, just like any other country in the Asian region (Japan, China, or Korea), uses chopsticks as their main utensils beside spoon. Spoons are for soup or porridge, and chopstick are for everything else that comes in shape and size. For those who have had a few Japanese or Chinese meal before, holding a pair of thin stick in between their fingers are nothing. But for the new-comers it is like a disaster. You still have to learn if you want to impress the locals that you’re working or living with, just remember to practice everyday. Ask your Vietnamese friends to teach you, it works better if you have someone to show you how visually.
Biggest thing to remember about using chopstick: never, ever, stick your chopsticks vertically in your rice bowl. That is just similar to how Vietnamese people place their burning incenses in the rice bowl for the dead, and it’s a bad thing. Even if you stick it diagonally it is still considered inappropriate. It’s best you place it down on the chopstick holder.
Also remember to not dig up the food to find things you want to eat and leave out those you don’t. It is impolite towards everyone, and thus humiliation to yourself. And don’t knock on the bowl using chopsticks – Vietnamese elders see this as calling starved wandering spirits near the area, and it is not a good sight.
This tip is not only applied for eating with a Vietnamese family, but also for all Vietnamese meals you’d be eating anywhere in Vietnam.
3. Noises are not preferred
Of all Asian countries, only Japan allows the slurping sound when eating noodles and soup, because that is how you compliment the chef. Yet in Vietnam, it is considered impolite if you chew food with your mouth open, or slurp loudly from your spoon. If chewing with open mouth is your habit, try to reduce the noise as much as possible. Soon you’ll find that habit be gone, and you can enjoy your delicious meal in a polite silence.
4. Other notes on elegance
Eating elegantly is a way to impress your Vietnamese host that you are well aware of their culture, and at the same time good for your health.
Why is that?
First, putting too much food in your mouth making you unable to chew everything. Not to mention getting yourself to the dilemma state of spitting out a few or trying to swallow everything. Clearly, it is uncomfortable and unhealthy.
Secondly, Vietnamese people tend to talk about various of things from all kinds of topic around dining table. The requirement for joining is finishing the food in your mouth completely before speaking to avoid the “unidentified flying objects” that could land on other people’s faces.
Last but not least, use a different pair of chopsticks or another spoon to share food with others, and also to take food from shared plates. This is not only a polite way when eating, but also to prevent diners from catching other people’s diseases if there is any.
5. Be careful around sauce
Vietnam is famous for their nuoc mam, or fish sauce, which is usually a milestone for any first-time-to-Vietnam foreigner. It is true that you have to master nuoc mam if you wish to spend longer time in this land and learning the local’s culture. Vietnamese often dip food to nuoc mam for a more salty flavor, just a drop of the sauce and your food will taste completely different.
But there’s one thing to remember. Nuoc mam is a liquid, and it falls in drops. It is also well-known for the heavy smell – if one drop of nuoc mam landed on your table, or, worse, your shirt, it stays and stink for a week. How can you avoid this disaster from happening?
You do as Vietnamese always do: after dipping the food in nuoc mam, don’t pull it back right away. Instead, hold your bowl in the remaining hand, reach nearest to the sauce, and put your food in. See? Nothing will be smelly for a whole week. Plus, it looks so polite when you do that.
You can do it!
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is always true and applied for any culture, especially things regarding dining etiquettes. Each culture has its own interesting view point in dining, thus the fun in learning the different culinary codes. Vietnamese cuisines is no exception when along with the great, tasty food comes with a handbook full of dining etiquettes. May your time in Vietnam be smooth when learning to eat Vietnamese food as a local.
Source: Eatout.vn – Food and restaurant guide for Gourmet