Know your onions: Food etiquette to keep in mind when visiting Asia

Share food generously with others, and don’t be greedy. Pic: Amy Ma/Saveur

WHEN in Asia, eat like the Asians do.

Eating etiquette in Asia may differ from country to country, but a little research before flying out is a thoughtful move to avoid disrespect at the dining table or at a restaurant.

Here are some of the do’s and don’ts of dining that are common across many Asian countries.

Accept food or tea with both hands

Accepting tea with both hands

It’s respectful to accept tea with both hands. Pic: Antonio Diaz/Life & Thyme

Tea drinking is an essential part of Asian cuisine. In China and Taiwan, when the host offers you a cup of tea, graciously accept the teacup with both hands.

Similarly, in Korea, you should hold out your cup with both hands when an elder fills your cup with tea. You should also use both hands to accept a side dish when someone passes it to you at the table.

At the same time, it’s considered rude to turn down your host when he or she offers you something to eat or drink. Simple accept, say thank you and have a small bite or sip.

Serve food and drinks to others first


In most Asian countries, it’s customary to make sure your fellow diners’ bowls and cups are filled first. For example, in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Malaysia and Singapore, it’s common for hosts and guests alike to serve food to the people next to them or nearest to them before they eat.

In Vietnam, men are often served first while in Indonesia and Korea, guests would only begin eating after the elders have started.

Also, don’t pour yourself a cup of tea without serving other guests first. If you want more tea, pour some for the people next to you before refilling your own cup. Do the same for rice or other food – ask others if they want more rice or noodles before you order your second bowl.

Share food courteously

Share food generously with others, and don’t be greedy. Pic: Amari

Communal meals where numerous plates of food are shared amongst a group of people are common in Asia. Do be considerate and only take small portions at a time.

If there’s a lazy Susan, turn it only in one direction and politely take parcels of food that are right in front of you. Also, let the elders go first if two people are reaching for the same dish at the same time.

Refrain from rummaging through dishes for the parts you like – for example picking a dish apart to get to the meatiest part of the fish or chicken. “Digging for treasure”, as the Asians call it, is a sign of disrespect and bad manners.

Eat with your right hand

Many dishes in India are typically eaten with the right hand. Pic: Hindutva

In India, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, Malay and Indian meals are usually enjoyed with bare hands. Always wash your hands thoroughly before meals and only use your right hand to eat.

Remember not to eat with your left hand even if you are left-handed. It’s considered taboo to eat with your left hand as it’s “reserved for personal use” in the toilet.

Be mindful around chopsticks

Don’t stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice or noodles. Pic: Unsplash

Do try to eat noodles using the two-handed method. Noodle soups are a staple in almost all Asian meals and there are actually many different ways to eat them.

For the sake of simplicity, you can just go for the two-handed approach with one hand use your chopstick to pick up the noodles. With the other, use the spoon to scoop up the soup.

You can simultaneously place both the broth and noodles into your mouth or alternate between the both of them. Slurp if you like – in Asia, slurping is a sign of enjoying your food.

On top of that, don’t stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl of noodles, rice or other dishes. This is considered taboo because it resembles placing incense in your food and offering it to the deceased.

SEE ALSO: 6 cultural dos and don’ts to keep in mind when visiting Asia