Vietnamese Customs

As eating plays such an im portant role in Vietnamese society, there are certain requ irements of dining etiquette,although this can vary from region toregion. For example, in northern and central Vietnam, it is custom for the oldest family member to sit nearest the door and everyone else to be arranged in descending age. The eldest wil l also be the first to help himself to food and a host will often serve the guest. In the south where the traditions of etiquette are more re laxed, everyone can dive in and help themselves. If you are the guest, one trad ition that is i m portant to remember is the bearing of a sma ll gift.Whether you are invited to eat in a home or restaurant, throughout Asia,from Turkey to China, it is polite to bring you r hosts a little box of someth ing sweet or a bunch of fresh flowers -although in Vietnam the flowers should never be white as this signifies death

Above: Delicate lotus flowers are used to decorate tables and plates of food.


As with most Asian countries, dining is a communal affa ir. A selection of dishes may be put on a table and each diner will be given their own individual bowl into which the food is spooned. When passing the food around, two hands are used to hold the dish and the exchange is acknowledged with a nod. Food is usually eaten with fingers, chopsticks or spoons, although the Vietnamese have a knack of sipping their food from the spoons without ever putting the spoon into their mouths.The proper way to eat is to take some rice from the communal dish and put it in your bowl, then use the ceramic

spoon to transfer the meat, fish or vegetables onto your rice. Hold the bowl up near to your mouth and use the chopsticks to shove l in the tasty morsels. It is polite for the host to offer more food than the guests can eat but,equa lly, it is polite for the guests not to eat everything in sight. Depending on the complexity of themeal, there wi ll be a number of individual dipping bowls, conta ining sweet or spicy condiments, and there may also be bowls of chil lies or pickled vegetables to crunch and chew on between mouthfuls. When the Vietnamese eat, there is a great deal of gutsy enjoyment and noisy slurping. Eating is almost a game - there are crabs to crack, prawns to suck, food to be wrapped and rolled, and a lot of mess as they love lingering over food.


Above: A vendor selling the pungent fruit durian and other local fruits in Ho Chi Minh City.


For the Vietnamese, to show a "big face" is a sign of prestige. Wedding sand family celebrations are often elaborate and ruinously expensive for some famili es, but the cost is less important than "losing" face. A great deal of preparation goes into these events so that the food is overflowing.Each celebration cal ls for traditional,time-consuming speialities, and opulent dishes will appear, such as the Vietnamese roast duck, sliced into juicy slabs, drizzled with the piquant fish sauce (nuoc cham), and wrapped in lettuce leaves; sticky rice cakes steamed in lotus leaves and decorated with lotus flowers; and highly prized whole fish, gri lled (broi led) or steamed with the head presented to the guest who is destined for good fortune. On these occasions, the habitual fragrant tea may be cast aside for a little merriment with beer and wine.

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