Food, glorious food – there’s nothing quite like it, eh? Especially when you’re travelling like me, as enjoying a bountiful, multicultural dining experience when you’re on the road is one of the reasons you go exploring in the first place! We all know the culinary powerhouses of the world, with the likes of Thailand, Japan, Italy, India and China regularly laying claim to the finest dishes known to humankind; but what about the way they actually eat those dishes? How much do you know about dining etiquette around the world?
As delightfully varied and exotic as the food itself, so too are the traditions, customs, and rules by which it is consumed. One could write a whole book on global table manners, and indeed there are several on the market.
I’m a long-term traveller that has been around the block a few times though and being the food and fitness geek bring you these unusual culinary customs you should learn so you’ll never offend your host!
Known the world over for pizza and pasta dishes and a Mediterranean diet said to ensure a long life, table manners in Italy are particularly important. Sitting at the top of the table is regarded as the most honourable position, usually reserved for the head of the household.
Turning up late for dinner is perfectly acceptable, but whatever you do, don’t you dare put extra cheese on your pizza, or on anything else for that matter unless it’s specifically offered. Capiche?!
If you don’t know how to use chopsticks – you’re going to have to learn. And when it comes to using chopsticks, there are several other rules that must be obeyed, aside from actually eating with them.
Don’t point them at other people, don’t suck or lick food from them, and don’t play a drum solo with the things either – all of which are considered extremely rude. But due to lack of spoons, slurping soup directly from the bowl is actively encouraged. It acknowledges your compliments to the chef too.
Washing your hands is vital in India, and we’re talking more than just tickling them with water. Get that scrubbing brush out and get under those nails! This might have something to do with the fact that they eat with their fingers here – but make sure it’s only with your right hand as the left hand is for…. toilet etiquette. And when I say fingers, I really mean fingertips. Eating in India is a delicate, deliberate, slow and respectful act, so don’t shovel mounds of food into your gob. Sharing food is very much encouraged too – but remember to pass the plate with the left hand only!
Eating is very civilised in China, so rowdy behaviour at the dinner table is not an option. There’s also a chain of command, so let the elders eat first and wait for your cue to be invited to join in. While in the states it’s customary to tip, there is no requirement in China as it would be considered rude. Belching is encouraged to show satisfaction instead, and leave a little food on your plate to indicate the host gave you more than required. Whatever you do, don’t stick your chopsticks upright in your meal – it will remind the Chinese of funeral customs.
In Thailand, a meal is regarded as a multi-sensory experience and they take eating very seriously. Who wouldn’t if you could cook food as delicious as this! Make sure you’ve removed your shoes before entering someone’s house to dine – and many restaurants will practice the same tradition. Sharing is extremely common and actively encouraged, as meal times are affairs for the whole family.
They prefer cutlery to chopsticks, but don’t use your fork to eat – only to push food onto your spoon. Unless it’s something you have to stick the prongs into.
Like Thailand, Mexicans view eating as a social and family experience. This can often mean you’re not eating until much after the original meeting time – so don’t arrive too hungry! Your host must be present before you’re all seated, and then it’s likely you will join hands around the table and say a prayer.
After this, never put your hands under the table – they must be visible at all times. And similar to China, finishing all the food on your plate is considered rude – so leave a little to show your gratitude.
Although not particularly known for their culinary prowess (unjustly I might add) the UK has an outrageously long set of rules when it comes to wining and dining. Your fork should be in your left hand and your knife in your right – AT ALL TIMES.
Putting your elbows on the table will get you a swift telling off, and make sure you tip your soup bowl away from you when finishing the broth. Belching, burping, and slurping of any kind is extremely frowned upon, as is talking with your mouth full or chewing with it open. When it comes to etiquette and manners, the Brits wrote the book!
I can bet my bottom dollar that you’re all hungry now because I certainly am! But before I go to gorge myself on whatever cuisine is offered in whichever country I’m currently in (I’m currently in Taiwan), remember that these pointers are just the tip of the iceberg.
I could write lengthy articles on one destination alone, so if you’re planning on visiting anywhere, it’s a good idea to brush up on the specifics. You’ll stand a better chance of getting invited back that way!
Now tell me some crazy culinary customs you’ve experienced around the world! I’d love to hear your stories!