Every country has its culture, and has his own “Etiquette.” That also works for Vietnam, and if you are a foreigner invited to a Vietnamese meal, you could find yourself in a delicate situation if you don’t know the customs. Here are a few tips to help you go native.
Sharing a meal is for the Vietnamese people an action of showing affection among family members and/or friends. The traditional values and etiquettes of the ancestors are conveyed to the children and then, as the eternal rule, they teach their children these traditional values.
Always bring some gifts when you are invited to someone’s house for a meal. The most popular and “safe” gift in Vietnam is fruits. If you want to make some good impression, Dragon Fruit, Mangoes and other expensive fruits are advisable. Don’t be surprised if the host does not unpack fruits right away, he or she will keep it for later and instead will offer you other fruits. If you have some special delicacy from your country, use it, it will be much appreciated.
The dishes in Vietnam’s meals
If you want to organize a Vietnamese dinner, don’t forget that the traditional Vietnamese meal has to be colourful and diversify. Dishes in Vietnam’s meals are divided into four types: salt dish (es) – the dishes are rich in protein, bland dish (es) – vegetables and soups, fruits and rice.
Vietnamese people consider the food which belongs to Yin and Yang is healthy. The salty food belongs to Yang and the sweet and sour belongs to Yin. In the process of cooking, they mix the Yin and Yang food together. For example, they will eat grapefruit with salt because it balanced the Yin and the Yang.
Firstly, in Vietnam people eat by their eyes. A dish of chicken salad for exemple, consists of the yellow of chicken, the white of bean sprout, the green of cabbages, the red of chillies and carrots, and the brown-yellow of peanuts. After looking the food, Vietnamese people taste the food by the nose. They smell flavours coming from the chicken and other ingredients. Next, they use their tooth to touch the soft vermicelli and the brittle peanuts. Then they hear the crackle of peanuts. They enjoy food by using all of the senses.
On the dining table, cooked rice, soup, and fish sauce are shared to everyone. The food likes meat or cereals are sliced into small pieces so that everyone can take them easily. Men are very often served first as in most of Asian countries.
Place both hands on the table otherwise; you cannot pick up your rice bowl and use chopsticks at the same time, you will be not able to use all your fingers to wrap up food if needed, and other people won’t know what your other hand is up to under the table.
The chopsticks rules
Like some other places in Asia, Vietnamese people use chopsticks to eat instead using fork or spoon. And there are some “chopsticks rules” that you should remember.
First, when eating out rub your chopsticks with paper or with lemon to make sure they are clean.
Never leave chopsticks positioned vertically out of your bowl whether it is plain of steamed rice or noodles. Vertical chopsticks are considered to be improper because they look like incense sticks positioned vertically during a wake or a funeral. It is better to simply put both chopsticks on top of the bowl and place both sticks side by side.
Don’t tap chopsticks on the edge of your bowl. Doing so bring bad luck and poverty. As an old saying goes, “Tapping bowls and you’ll be a beggar for life.” In the past, only beggars tapped and implored to attract the attention and compassion of passers-by.
Don’t tap your bowl with the chopstick; it means you are practicing some death summoning ritual, and you surely don’t want to do that right?
Remember to avoid holding the chopsticks halfway down. This means a death in the family.
Do not let the chopsticks touch your tongue or inside your mouth. This may sound weird, and you even think it is impossible, but there is a reason for this. During Vietnamese meals, you have to use your chopsticks to get food from the main dish, so it is unhygienic and disrespectful to others.
Don’t let your chopsticks fall on the ground. It’s considered as very disrespectful.
Vietnamese use to place all the dishes in the center of the table to make it easily accessible to everyone. According to a Vietnamese proverb, “An trong noi ngoi trong huong” (we must look at the bottom of the pan before taking). So don’t rush on your food!
Just like some others countries, you should never take the last piece, unless the host passes it to you. While eating, do not fill up your bowl with food; you should only take a small quantity every time. Since everyone shares the dishes, never take it directly. Place it in your bowl first, where it will mix with other food and will taste even better.
Sometimes, the host may serve you the food directly in your bowl or on your plate. Try to finish everything to show your satisfaction and appreciation to your host. However, if you are too full or just do not want it, you can politely decline it by covering your bowl. If you fancy some more, you can ask. Vietnamese are very hospitable, so your host will be glad if you do it. When you finish, you should place both chopsticks on the top of your rice bowl to signal to your host that you cannot have any more food.
After the meal
Finally, on the dessert, forget the pastries and other delicacies. The Vietnamese not have the habit of eating fat. They will offer you fruits. They will serve their fresh fruits and not the one you came with.
At least, cover your mouth when using a toothpick!
The secret is in the observation and the adaptation. Don’t worry; missteps will be easily forgiven especially if you are a foreigner in Vietnam!
Asian and Western Dinner Etiquette – Differences