As you explore the diverse cultures of Southeast Asia, you'll find that each has its own unique dining customs. From the use of chopsticks to the etiquette of gift-giving, there are many customs to learn before you travel. Whether you're eating on the street, drinking with local friends, or going out to dinner, here's a guide to Asian food etiquette and traditions. In Singapore, you can use just a knife and spoon, in Korea a spoon and chopsticks, and for some Indonesian foods, you'll only use your hands.
Enjoying different foods is one of the best parts of traveling, and we can all agree on that. But with the new food comes new habits. At a table, it may be perfectly acceptable to decline the latter, but at a table on the other side of the world you could be offending the host and your food companions. Don't let the fear of sounding rude stop you from taking the culinary leap.
Instead, review your dining habits and knowledge about tips. In many Asian regions, avoid serving yourself a drink if they serve you a regular drink during meals. Most Asian households like to prepare lots of dishes and share them all together around a large table. In virtually every Asian culture, it's rude for members of the opposite sex to kiss, hug, or hold hands in public.
Exotic cuisines, intriguing languages and strange smells add to the culture shock factor offered by most Asian countries. You'll also need to review the gastronomic rules of the country you're going to visit, as each Asian country has its own unique traditions. Taking off your shoes before entering a home in Asia is another essential act of courtesy, and it's all about keeping the house clean. I have always liked the custom of using both hands in Asian countries, for example, when presenting business cards.
In most Southeast Asian countries, such as Thailand and Vietnam, tips are not common, but leaving one is always appreciated. Once seated around the Asian table (which may be the floor in some situations), the elders are still respected, although the guests are also valued. Because Asian cultures are different from those you know, you should learn more about them before traveling to the most popular Asian destinations. Asia is full of fun activities for travelers who haven't yet experienced what the continent has to offer.
So why are so many travelers in Asia getting so wrong? So you don't become one of them, here's our guide to Asian food etiquette, whether you're eating on the street, drinking with local friends, or going out to dinner. If you want to leave a gift to an Asian friend, first learn about their region's gift-giving traditions. And don't forget that most Asians use chopsticks because they think they're more useful for defecating! So don't make a fool of yourself by not blending in with local customs.