The Eating Traditions of Asia

Asia is one of the best places to go for a gastronomic adventure. Food is a culture in Asia. Wherever you go, you will find specialised dishes with unique flavours. When it comes to food, the traditions of eating are as important as the dishes themselves. It is commonly believed that following these traditions enhances the taste and character of the food.

Japanese Eating Traditions

It is a known fact that the Japanese are quite tradition-oriented, their eating etiquette being very important to them. No matter where you go – be it to a Japanese restaurant or as a guest in a Japanese home – you will find people following certain traditions.

Usually, the food is served on a low dining table with cushions on the floor designated for the guests. Both men and women kneel while eating during formal situations. However, in more casual settings, men sit cross-legged, while women sit with both legs on one side.

You will see hot steamed towels being offered to you in restaurants. They are meant to clean your hands before starting a meal.

People usually eat with their chopsticks, although there are some customs concerning chopsticks as well. While not using your chopsticks, place them on the chopstick stand, usually known as hashioki. Do not talk while holding your chopsticks and never point them at someone, as they are considered impolite. Instead, place them down on the holder before you speak. Do not leave chopsticks standing vertically in your bowl of food. This resembles offering made at funerals and will not be taken well.

A seat of honour is designated for the most important person at each meal. Called the kamiza, this seat is positioned farthest from the entrance so that the person can see everyone entering and sitting in the room.

Every meal begins with the main guest, family head or the waitress gesturing to start eating. This gesture is known as itadakimasu, which means “I gratefully receive” to express gratitude. After finishing the meal, you are supposed to say “gochisosama deshita” meaning “thank you for the meal”.

When eating Japanese food, there are ways to use chopsticks correctly.

When eating Japanese food, there are ways to use chopsticks correctly.

Chinese Eating Etiquette

Being one of the oldest civilisations, China also has several traditional eating customs that are interesting to know about, even if you don’t practise them. Traditional Chinese dining requires diners to share dishes communally and hence round tables are preferred. Larger tables usually have a turntable to ease the passing around of food.

The Chinese appreciate good eating manners and believe that good manners invite good luck. Never pick up food from the communal bowls using your chopsticks since it is considered rude and unhygienic. There are specific serving spoons designated for each dish, so use them.

It is also considered rude to play with the chopsticks. You can lift a rice bowl with one hand and eat holding your chopsticks in the other for the ease of eating. Never stare at someone else’s plate, as it is considered rude.

The Chinese never take the last piece of food from a communal dish without asking for permission. On the other hand, if you are offered the last piece of food, it is rude to refuse it. Many restaurants do not serve condiments such as soy sauce as it is believed that a perfectly seasoned food doesn’t need seasoning.

Chinese food is usually served on communal plates from which everybody takes his or her own helpings.

Chinese food is usually served on communal plates from which everybody takes his or her own helpings.

Myanmar’s Eating Customs

Myanmar has long-standing traditional eating customs that are by and large followed by the locals. If you follow some of them as a guest in a local’s house while travelling in Myanmar, your host will be very happy.

Meals are usually eaten on a low table, while the diners sit on a bamboo mat. All the dishes are served simultaneously. Usually, a meal consists of steamed rice, curried fish or dried fish, a curry of meat or poultry, some vegetables and a light soup. There are usually some fritters to add some crunch to the dish, such as onion fritters or tofu crackers. Usually, drinks are not served with the food since the soup is meant to moisten the throat.

The eldest diner is always served first and the others can join in once the elder has started eating. Usually, a small morsel of rice is kept aside to pay homage to one’s parents – a custom known as ‘u cha’. Food is usually eaten with the hand, with only the fingertips being used to mix the food. However, if you ask your host or the restaurant for cutlery, you will be given a set. Noodles are eaten with chopsticks.

Interested to know more about eating customs, especially of Myanmar? We have planned an elaborate presentation about the world-famous Daung Lan Festival for attendees of the ASEAN Food Festival on 17th and 18th August in Mandalay. The presentation will be made in Myanmar, English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages.

Sign up to find out more about what’s happening at the festival. We would love to see you there.