Chopsticks were developed about 5,000 years ago in China. It is likely that people cooked their food in large pots which held heat for a long time, and hasty eaters then broke twigs off trees to retrieve the food. By 400 B.C., because of a large population and dwindling rescources, food waas chopped into small pieces so it could be cooked rapidly to conserve fuel.

The pieces of food were small enough that they negated the need for knives at the dinner table, and thus, chopsticks became staple utensils. It is also thought that Confucius, a vegetarian, advised people not to use knives at the table because knives would remind them of the slaughterhouse. Chinese chopsticks, called kuai-zi (quick little fellows), are usually 9 to 10 inches long and rectangular with a blunt end. By A.D. 500, chopstick use had spread from China to present day Vietnam, Korea, and Japan.

Good Manners in China

Don't stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl. Instead, lay them on your dish. The reason for this is that when somebody dies, the shrine to them contains a bowl of sand or rice with two sticks of incense stuck upright in it. So if you stick your chopsticks in the rice bowl, it looks like this shrine and is equivalent to wishing death upon a person at the table!

Make sure the spout of the teapot is not facing anyone. It is impolite to set the teapot down where the spout is facing towards somebody. The spout should always be directed to where nobody is sitting, usually just outward from the table.

Don't tap on your bowl with your chopsticks. Beggars tap on their bowls, so this is not polite. Also, when the food is coming too slow in a restaurant, people will tap their bowls. If you are in someone's home, it is like insulting the cook.

Itadakimasu and Gochisosama

In Japan, you say "itadakimasu" ("I gratefully receive") before starting to eat, and "gochisosama (deshita)" ("Thank you for the meal") after finishing the meal.

Individual versus shared dishes

It is not uncommon in private households and in certain restaurants (e.g. izakaya) to share several dishes of food at the table rather than serving each person with his/her individual dish. In such a case, you are supposed to move some food from the shared plates onto your own plate by yourself, using the opposite end of your chopsticks (if you have used them already) or with special chopsticks that may be provided for that purpose.

Some of the most important chopstick rules are:

Hold your chopsticks towards their end, and not in the middle or the front third.

When you are not using your chopsticks and when you are finished eating, lay them down in front of you with the tip to left.

Do not stick chopsticks into your food, especially not into rice. Only at funerals are chopsticks stuck into the rice that is put onto the altar.

Do not pass food with your chopsticks directly to somebody else's chopsticks. Only at funerals are the bones of the cremated body given in that way from person to person.

Do not spear food with your chopsticks.

Do not point with your chopsticks to something or somebody.

Do not move your chopsticks around in the air too much, nor play with them.

Do not move around plates or bowls with chopsticks.

To separate a piece of food into two pieces, exert controlled pressure on the chopsticks while moving them apart from each other. This needs much exercise.

If you have already used your chopsticks, use the opposite end of your chopsticks in order to move food from a shared plate to your own plate.

Doi Dua

In Vietnamese, chopsticks are doi dua. Saying the English word is considered crude.

Try not to let your chopsticks touch your mouth. Only the food should touch your mouth.

Only pick up one piece of food at a time. Chopsticks are not shovels.

Always place the food on your plate or in your rice bowl first; then pick it back up and eat it. Never eat directly from the serving plate.

Do not use your chopsticks as spears.

If you find yourself in danger of death by either starvation or embarrassment, it is perfectly acceptable to confess your inadequacy and ask for a fork. But confess your inadequacy; don't just ask for a fork...

Vietnamese dining is a social occasion. Be prepared for constant interaction. If the meal is particularly formal, you are unlikely to be allowed to serve yourself. Your host will make sure you have ample food.

Don't take a second helping of anything until you have tried a helping of each dish. In the southern areas of the country, a "helping" is about one tablespoon.

Compliment the cook on each dish after you have tasted it.

The meat is the most important (and the most costly) ingredient in any meal. Leave some of it for others.

It is polite to use both hands when offering something or passing something. The same is true for accepting something. The Vietnamese will nod at each other as the pass a dish.

Do NOT hunt and peck to find the "good stuff" on a serving plate. Doing so will leave your guests with a low opinion of you.

Never return a piece of food from your plate to the serving dish.

Unlike most Western countries, it is NOT okay to turn down a second or third helping. To do so might be considered an insult. Begin early to talk about how FULL you are and then reluctantly agree to the seconds (and thirds) your host offers you.

If you don't know what to do, say so.

Finally, if you have been invited in advance to a meal in a Vietnamese home, bring a present. Sweets are common. So is tea or coffee. Flowers will also do; but be aware that white is the color of death in Vietnam.

Jal Muk Get Sup Ni Da


Lifting a spoon or chopsticks before the elders do is not considered mannered.    

Finishing meal before the elders do is not considered mannered, either. 

When pouring wine or any kind of beverage to the elders, use both hands to hold the wine bottle.

When your cup is poured by the elders, use both hands to hold the cup. 

If you are drinking in front of elders, turn your torso a bit (20 degree) to the side and drink . 

Before the meal, always tell your hostess, " Jal Muk Get Sup Ni Da." 

I will have a good meal- (Thank you for the meal.)

After the meal, "Jal Muk Ut Sup Ni Da."

 I had a good meal - (That was very good.)

In old times, having meals was the most important thing for a Korean.  

In Korea, people still asks each other "Have you had lunch (or dinner)?" instead of "How are you?"  






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Created 2-25-05