How to join a Vietnamese meal suitable for its local culture

Vietnamese meals play an important role in Vietnamese culinary culture.

Vietnamese people usually have three meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In which lunch and dinner are considered the main meals.

Dinner is the most important meal because this is when family members fully participate, forming a reunion meal.

During the meal, the members chat and exchange many stories of life, culture and show affection to each other.

If you have the opportunity to join a Vietnamese meal with a local family, please pay attention to the following cultural characteristics to avoid surprises.

  1. Starting a meal is an invitation
  2. Rice is the main dish
  3. Start picking up food from the vegetable
  4. Eat soup with ingenuity
  5. Don’t finish your meal too early
  6. Usually there are no drinks to accompany the meal
  7. From the meal, Vietnamese people are very welcoming
  8. Foods are often combined together
  9. Pay attention to your sitting position when eating
  10. Use chopsticks in Vietnamese meals
  11. Notice a small bowl of sauce
  12. Vietnamdrive’s thought
vietnamese meal
Vietnamese meal | ©Vietnamdrive

1. Starting a meal is an invitation

Before eating, younger people often invite adults to join the meal. Wait for everyone to sit at the table then taste.

Absolutely do not eat before the elders come to the table, that is impolite.

When everyone is fully seated, the eldest person at the table usually invites everyone, and all can begin the meal. That is the beginning of a traditional Vietnamese meal.

2. Rice is the main dish

For Vietnamese people, rice is the main dish. The remaining food is considered as additional dishes to create flavor, taste, and increase the richness of the rice of each person. It means other foods are intended to make rice easier to eat, not to be eaten individually.

So, if you are a guest, be careful not to taste your own food without eating it with rice.

The culture of considering rice as the main food originates from the agricultural culture of wet rice cultivation in Vietnam. Rice can help people feel full for longer.

If you are not used to eating rice, let the host know so they can put less rice in your bowl.

3. Start picking up food from the vegetable

eat vietnamese meal
Starting a meal with a vegetable dish.| ©Vietnamdrive

Meals often include savory food, Vietnamese vegetable, and soups. When starting to eat, you should choose a vegetable dish, it should not be a salty dish and should not be the most delicious dish, which is the main dish in the food tray.

Doing that way shows politeness and a culture of giving in to others in Vietnam.

While eating, you should not put a lot of food on your plate or bowl at once. Pick only one type of food at a time, eat it all and then take it again, unless the dishes need a combination.

4. Eat soup with ingenuity

Pay attention to the soup, do not get the soup into the rice bowl when it is full. And, you eat almost all the rice or run out of rice, let having the soup.

This is intended to avoid difficulty eating when you use chopsticks and avoid making noise while eating rice and soup at the same time.

Unlike the culture of European or American countries (see more a Vietnamese visa for an American), soup is often eaten after having rice, with very few places to eat before the main course.

5. Don’t finish your meal too early

Finishing a meal too early shows that you are not enthusiastic about the meal and are not friendly with people around.

So don’t stop eating early, but don’t leave the table too quickly when everyone is eating, drinking, and talking.

If you’re having a party in Vietnam, wait until the last dish comes out before you leave the table.

If joining the meal with a Vietnamese family, it is best to stay with the host until lunch or dinner is over.

6. Usually there are no drinks to accompany the meal

soup in vietnamese meal
Soup is the main drink in Vietnamese meal.| ©Vietnamdrive

In daily meals, there are usually no drinks such as beer, soft drinks, fruit juices, etc.

Soup will be a replacement drink in normal Vietnamese meals.

Therefore, you should not ask for drinks when joining a Vietnamese family if they do not prepare.

However, at parties or when the guests come to houses in Vietnam, the host can buy more soft drinks or beer to entertain guests. You shouldn’t be too surprised to see this either.

>>> Read more about the top beer brands in Vietnam.

7. From the meal, you will see that Vietnamese people are very welcoming

Vietnamese people are very hospitable, every time there is a guest, the host will cook more food, prepare more beautiful dishes, so you will be surprised when you are invited to a Vietnamese meal with various dishes.

So, try to eat different dishes, this shows your friendliness and enthusiasm when invited to eat with Vietnamese people.

If there are certain foods you can’t eat or are allergic to, tell the person sitting next to you about it to avoid other diners offer foods you can’t eat.

8. Foods are often combined together

One of the eating characteristics of Vietnamese people is that they often combine many foods together to create a variety of flavors, getting a more delicious feeling.

For example, vermicelli with shrimp paste (Bun Dau Mam Tom), you will find many ingredients including fried tofu, pork belly, spring rolls… Each part can be eaten separately, but not tasty enough. So, Bun Dau Mam Tom, all these ingredients need to be eaten together. It means many kinds of food go together at the same time in the mouth, then there is a rich flavor.

Therefore, you need to pay attention to which foods combine with which one. The best way, you wait for a few people to eat first, you will know how it is made.

9. Pay attention to your sitting position when eating

Sitting position when having a Vietnamese meal is also important. @hirene___

The sitting position in a Vietnamese family meal is also one of the cultural points that should be paid attention to.

You should not sit near the rice cooker when you are a guest. Because the rice cooker is in an important position, the whole family shares a pot of rice. So, the host sitting near the rice cooker will know if there is not enough to serve.

Before starting to eat, usually, the person with a younger member in the family scoops the rice into small bowls to invite the others. One bowl is for each person but from a pot of rice, showing the culture of originating in the same place, with the same ancestors, and sharing the same sweetness.

When you join a meal with a Vietnamese family as a guest, it is best to ask where you should be seated.

10. Use chopsticks in Vietnamese meals

Vietnamese people like to use chopsticks to pick up food from the plates and also take the same chopsticks to eat.

Therefore, when coming to Vietnam, you may also learn how to use chopsticks.

Sometimes, plenty of foreigners are surprised because they are afraid of being dirty. The reason is that many Vietnamese use their own chopsticks to pick up food for others.

Indeed, this is a long-standing culture in Vietnam, showing tolerance and sharing in the eating and drinking culture.

Fortunately, many Vietnamese people have realized the problem of hygiene, so picking up food for each other with their chopsticks has been greatly limited.

However, you also need to prepare mentally so that if you fall into this situation, you will not be shocked.

11. Notice a small bowl of sauce

Another interesting thing is that in the meal there is usually a small bowl to hold Vietnamese fish sauce or soy sauce for the whole family to share.

A bowl of fish sauce indicates the delicate culinary culture of the Vietnamese people: when some people like to enjoy the salty taste, they can add more fish sauce to their food.

When cooking for many members, the family chef often chooses to cook a little lighter so that each person can customize to suit the own taste while joining the meal.

fish sauce dish in meal
Fish sauce dish often presents in Vietnamese meals. ©Vietnamdrive

Vietnamdrive’s thought

There are plenty of different cultural points depending on various regions for a meal in Vietnam.

With the framework of this article, Vietnamdrive only points out the main cultural features so that you won’t be surprised when attending a meal of any Vietnamese family.

Many different interesting things left will be exciting experiences, and only when you really eat with Vietnamese people, then you realize the lovely values of the traditional culture in Vietnam.

What do you think about a meal in Vietnam?

Have you attended any Vietnamese family meals yet?

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    About the author

    The editorial staff of Vietnamdrive is a team of travel experts managed by Mr. Thom who has worked in tourism for 14 years. Trusted by thousands of tourists from all over the world.