With Vietnamese people, traditional meal (or family meal) are always very important. It’s not only about the food or the dining but also importantly family time. Therefore, family meal in Vietnam are highly appreciated, usually very cozy that many Western tourists want to experience when visitting Vietnam.
However, the differences in dining cultures are very big. So you need to know what you should do and what you should not do in our family meals.
The dishes in Vietnam’s meals are divided into 4 types: rice – most important, main dish(es) – often rich in protein, side dish(es) – vegetables and soups, and fruits – eaten in end of the meals. We use small bowls for individual eating rice, big bowls for shared soups and plates for others. And lastly, CHOPSTICK!
Chopsticks is absolutely the biggest difference in the dining culture between Western and Eastern, which make good use of knifes, spoons and forks. And this not only because we tend to eat different types of food but also because of the practice of sharing food in a meal among people eating together. In Vietnam, each dish is put in a bowl or on a dish and each meal-er use their chopstick to pick up pieces of food little at a time into their individual bowl (of rice) instead of grabbing a bunch of different food at a time and that’s it.
In Vietnam, kids tend to use spoon coz they’re still too clumsy for chopstick (some pick up from the early stage though), and forks is only used to eat fruits and knives is never used in the meals. And if you’re into using chopstick, here’s the tip: press both stick against your fingers but don’t use too much force. Use your middle and ring finger tip to move the sticks. Give up when it’s so awkward though and enjoy the meal, it’s more important. I’m sure you will get better soon.
It’s a lot of fun around chopstick practice as well. I used to dine with a Dutch guy, who is husband of my sister, in Vietnam, and he was very angry because couldn’t use the chopsticks. He dropped it repeatedly and finally, my sister got him a spoon. Of course, you can ask the host for a spoon (just spoon, not fork and knife) but it’s also nice to eat a Vietnam’s meal like a Vietnamese.
Not only chopsticks, where the meal is served is also a big difference. Majority of families on Vietnam use mats instead of tables. Food is placed on a metal tray put in the middle of the mat, on which family members will sit (cross-legged) around. That’s quite inconvenient for Westerners because it’s getting tired in their legs shortly, but by this way of sitting, the meal is cozier and closer.
Everyday, Vietnamese people have 3 main meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. The most important is dinner when people have more free time to talk and eat together.
So anytime you’re dining in especially a family meal, you will notice the younger often invite and wait for the older to start eating first. That’s a way to pay respect like in any other aspect of Vietnam’s social life and more apparent in the North.
So that’s basically what’s special about traditional meal, or family meal, of Vietnamese. It’s more of persional perception once you’re in it so try it out when you’re here.