Vietnamese home meal

50 Rules on a Vietnamese Dining Table

This is a compiled list of 50 DOs and DON’Ts on a Vietnamese dining table. Historically, these rules were taught by Vietnamese parents to their kids at home. In a Vietnamese home, a meal can be served on a dining table. If there is no dining table avaible, a mattress should be layed, and food are severed on a dining tray the is placed at the center of the mattress.

vietnamese family meal
  1. DO NOT push rice into your mouth more than 3 times for one bite. (Of course the number “3” here is rather statutory, the whole idea is if you push rice continuously, you may look like a hungry beggar, or a rude diner.)
  2. DO NOT pick up food (with your chopsticks) directly to your mouth. Instead, DO pick up food into your personal bowl, then your mouth.
  3. DO NOT use personal spoon or chopsticks to stir a shared meal like a shared soup bowl. There are always a soup spoon for a shared soup bowl.
  4. DO NOT dig up a serving plate to get the most delicious piece of the whole dish. (Doing so will make you look like a toddler.) Also, do not pick up food, then change your mind and pick something else.
  5. DO NOT rest your chopsticks vertically in your personal rice bowl. If you want to rest your chopsticks, rest on the dining tray, on chopstick rests, or on your bowl brim horizontally.
  6. DO NOT dip your chopstick tips on a shared dipping sauce bowl. In restaurants, usually there are personal dipping sauce bowls, but in some circumstances which you have to share a dipping sauce bowl, dip the food only, not your chopstick tips.
  7. Reverse your chopstick tips if you want to pick up food for other people. In restaurants, there are usually spare chopsticks to do this, however in a home setting, you want to to use the other ends of your chopsticks.
  8. DO NOT bite your chopsticks, spoons or bowl brims. DO NOT lick your chopsticks.
  9. DO NOT hold a bowl in your one hand, and use the other hand to hold chopsticks to point out some directions. DO NOT hold chopsticks in your mouth, so you can do something else like scooping soup. Rest your chopsticks on a chopstick rest or a dining tray instead.
  10. DO NOT shake your legs while dining. An uncontrollable shaking in your legs is considered as an impolite gesture.
  11. DO NOT sit too close to or too far from the dining table.
  12. Keep your back straight while sitting on a chair. DO NOT lift your ass while sitting on a mattress, you may move your back instead.
  13. While holding a bowl, DO NOT rest your elbows on the dining table. While not holding a bowl, rest your wrist gently on the table.
  14. DO NOT rest your chin on your hand(s), with your elbow(s) resting on the table.
  15. NEVER speak with full of rice (or food) in your mouth.
  16. DO NOT make a duck face to blow off hot air on a serving plate on the table. Instead, use a spare spoon to scoop out the cooler food near the edges.
  17. Rest the soup spoon face down, not face up.
  18. In a shared dipping sauce bowl, dip your food, not your chopstick tips. Chewed or bitten pieces of food should not be re-dipped.
  19. DO NOT chirp your lips while chewing food.
  20. DO NOT make noise while eating, for example, don’t slurp your food noisily
  21. DO NOT talk, drink wine, or drink soup when there is still rice in your mouth.
  22. Don’t tap with your chopsticks, bowls, or spoons.
  23. When soup, sweet soup, chowder, porridge or congee is served with a small bowl, you can drink without using a spoon or chopsticks. If larger bowls are used, you should use spoons, instead of drinking the soup directly.
  24. DO NOT eat before the elders do, instead wait for them to hold their bowls. If you are a guest, DO NOT pick up food (with your chopsticks) before the family owner (or the party holder) does, unless you’re suggested to, in some particular circumstances.
  25. Whether you are in a family etiquette or you are being treated as a guest, DO NOT make fun or insult because the food does not suit your taste buds. This is particularly important because it’s not merely about politeness, but also about your ethics. Kids who are not taught strictly will behave spontaneously, and are likely to decry and disrespect others. If the food does not suit your palate, but it may be delicious to others.
  26. DO NOT pick up just one particular dish on the table, even if it’s your delicacy. (If the food is good, let other people enjoy as well).
  27. Taste the food in your bowl or plate first before adding condiments like salt, pepper, chillis, lime… Avoid adding all the spices right after taking a seat.
  28. Finish your bowl, leave no rice left. (Think about this rule optimistically instead)
  29. When preparing a dining table or a dining tray, you must have a spare bowl to keep bones, shrimp heads, some grits, or uneatable pieces…
  30. Kids who are too small (smaller than 6 years old) should be eating separately with an adult to babysit.
  31. Kids who want food that is out of their reach should ask an adult for help. They should not crawl on the dining table just to get the food. There should be a separate dish for young kids with boneless and finely sliced food. The elders should also have deboned, finely sliced or soft stewed food.
  32. DO NOT place personal belongings on the dining table, except for a paper fan which can be placed near the table edges. Nowadays, cell phones can be considered as impolite and unclean items.
  33. It’s imperative that those who come late should have a separate serving plate which is saved for them, not leftover food.
  34. Eat slowly, not in a hustle and bustle, and do not walk while chewing food.
  35. While eating, DO NOT let your lips get smeared with food. Do not litter the food over the table. The table cloth should be clean, when your meal is finished.
  36. If you have a (fish) bone or a strange object stuck in your mouth or throat, slowly get that object out. Do not throw up your food on the table.
  37. Only the elders, over 70 years old, and small children can eruct or belch without being deemed as impolite.
  38. If you can’t stand hot spicy food, you should go away from the dining table to sneeze or blow your nose.
  39. When you have a guest in your home, be careful with cooking, and serve hot or special spices as a condiment on the table. This way, if the guest can’t eat spicy food, it won’t bring inconvenience to him/her.
  40. Avoid touching hands with other diners on the table. If you are left-handed, you should choose a suitable seat.
  41. Watch your sleeve while you are picking up food.
  42. If you notice the food is in large size, you should ask to cut the food into bite-sized pieces.
  43. During a meal, if you have some personal affairs to be taken care of, you should ask for permission (or apologize) before leaving.
  44. Say thanks for the meal. Don’t be tight-fisted with compliments when the food is good.
  45. In Vietnam, “mời” is the action of asking someone else, an elder for example, to eat the food first. This “mời” practice must vary across families. In some families, especially in North Vietnam, younger people must ask all the elders to enjoy the food first. The eldest may say something like “các con ăn đi” which literally means “You should eat”, and the younger may say “con xin phép” which means like “I’m honored.” This may sound strange to Westerners, but who study Japanese culture may find this etiquette quite similar.
  46. If you want to re-apply your lipsticks after eating, do it a bathroom, not on the dining table.
  47. Your seat depends on the owner. DO NOT seat before the owner ask you to.
  48. In the past, when a housekeeper share a meal with the owner, his/her palm faces down when using chopsticks.
  49. DO NOT drink too much.
  50. Be honest with your diet scheme, and allergy when you’re invited as a guest, so as no to puzzle the owner.

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