In Vietnamese culture, dinner is the most important meal for every family member to gather together and share about their days to each other. Understanding about Vietnam table manners, traditions, and etiquette is absolutely necessary for every tourist.

Research Vietnam table manners before your trip to the country
Research Vietnam table manners before your trip to the country

To the Vietnamese people, dinner is the most important meal. Traditionally, it was the time when peasants could gain enough nutrition and energy after a long working day at their farms. Also, all family members gathered together at dinner and shared the details of their day to the others. Nowadays, despite the modernization and industrialization process, traditional Vietnam table manners are still preserved and passed down from generations to generations. This article will bring you an introduction into Vietnamese traditional meal and some do and don’t tips for your discovery trips to Vietnam.

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What is a Typical Vietnamese Meal Included?

A typical Vietnamese meal - Vietnam table manners
A typical Vietnamese meal

In Vietnam, people usually have breakfast, lunch, and dinner without any tea or coffee break. Food for breakfast can be diverse and usually contains carbohydrate to provide enough energy for a working day: pho (Vietnamese noodles – the symbol of Vietnamese gastronomy), banh mi (Vietnamese baguette), xoi (sticky rice), bun (a kind of rice vermicelli), and banh cuon (steamed rice rolls). Due to the modern hectic schedule, Vietnamese people now usually have lunch at some eateries or bring their own lunch boxes to work or school. As a result, dinner is the main meal when you can observe Vietnam table manners.

Find out more: What Vietnamese have for breakfast?

So, there are 4 distinctive features of a Vietnamese meal you should know:

Rice plays an irreplaceable role in daily meals

Cơm - Vietnamese rice - Vietnam table manners
Cơm – Vietnamese rice

Many Westerners surprise that rice or dishes cooked from rice is included in every meal when traveling to Vietnam. Since our country relies on wet rice cultivation, rice is our staple food.

In Vietnam, having a meal is in fact known as “ăn cơm”, or “eating rice”. Nowadays, rice is often cooked in electronic rice steamers and eaten with meat, fish, and vegetables on a daily basis. Rice is also used to cooked many special dishes, and processed into rice paper, rice noodles, or fermented into rice wine. Anh Vietnamese “cơm” eateries (cơm bình dân) line every street corner. You cannot miss any food made from rice on your trip to Vietnam.

Vegetable and meat (or fish) are included

Dinner food usually has one or two main courses like stewed pork, boiled chicken or fried fish; one dish of boiled vegetables (rau luộc) or stir-fried vegetables (rau xào) and one bowl of soup. Thanks to our tropical climate, there is a variety of vegetables in our country and fresh vegetables are available all year-round. Some popular vegetables in our country are water spinach (rau muống), cabbage, chayote, and cucumber.

Dishes are placed on a round tray

All dishes are placed onto a round tray - Vietnam table manners
All dishes are placed onto a round tray

There are many distinctive things with food arrangement on a Vietnamese dinner. Meals will be slow, and courses come out of the kitchen in succession. Some families have a dining table while the rest, usually who live in rural areas, have dinner on the ground floor. Meat and vegetables are placed in plates while soup and broth are served in a large bowl. Vietnamese braised fish (cá kho tộ) is usually served in a clay pot.

All dishes will be placed onto a round tray. According to Vietnamese belief, the round shape represents happiness, fullness, and togetherness. A round tray allows family members to sit in a circle and easily exchange information to each other. Each person has a small bowl which is filled with rice and we eat rice together with other food. When you finish one bowl of rice, ask the person who sits near the rice steamer to fill another bowl for you. Food is eaten with chopsticks, so you can have a chance to learn to use this eating utensil when coming to Vietnam. Large spoons are used to transfer the soup to your bowl. Fruits (watermelons, oranges, dragon fruits, and so on) and tea are included as desserts after the meal.

Food tastes vary between different regions

Vietnamese gastronomy reflects its geographical and cultural differences. People prefer different spices, flavor, and cooking techniques in different regions. While Northern people prefer salty food, people living in Central Vietnam like spicy flavor, and Southern people tend to consume sweet. On our Vietnam family tours, you can customize your trip from North to South and admire our diversity in cuisine in different regions.

Some Important Vietnam Table Manners to Note

It is interesting to know more about Vietnam table manners
It is interesting to know more about Vietnam table manners

If you are on a Vietnam eco tour, you will probably enjoy some meals with our local host families. Thus, be aware of some Vietnam table manners, rules, and etiquette to stay polite and show respect to the locals.

1. Wait for the table arrangement before sitting down

Vietnamese people always place all dishes at the center of the table so that everyone can access them, so do not rush on your food! The host will invite you to your seat since there are positions allocated for each person based on the difference in age. The oldest person is the one who sits first.

2. Wait for the oldest people to start first

Local people have several Vietnam table manners and eating ettiquete to express respect to the senior. In Vietnam, many generations live under one roof, thus it is essential to show your respect, caring, and politeness to the elderly. According to a Vietnamese proverb, “Ăn trông nồi ngồi trông hướng” (We must look at the bottom of the pan before eating), consider your small actions and let the oldest person become the first eater.

3. Pass your bowl with both hands

During the meal, make sure that you pass the bowl to the others using both hands. When you want a second or third serving, ask the host sincerely, pass your bowl to him or her, and remember to say ‘Thank you’ (or ‘Cám ơn’ in Vietnamese).

4. Do not stick the chopstick against the bowl

Avoid sticking your chopsticks vertically - Vietnam table manners
Avoid sticking your chopsticks vertically

Chopsticks are used to transfer meat and vegetables from shared dishes to your bowls and we usually put them on the top of the bowl. Positioning chopsticks vertically on a bowl of rice is considered an act of disrespect in Vietnam since it looks like incense sticks on an altar. Also, never tap the chopsticks on the edge of the bowl. This means bringing bad luck and poverty to the family.

If you do not know how to use chopsticks, sincerely ask the host for spoons and forks.

5. Do not flip the fish on the plate

Do not flip the fish - Vietnam table manners
Do not flip the fish

If you are visiting a coastal area of Vietnam, take this rule seriously. Flipping the fish dish is considered an unlucky signal, resembling the image of fishermen’ flipping vessel. Taking the fish bone out is a better option.

6. Do not point the chopsticks to anyone

It is really rude when you point your chopsticks to others at the dining table. Do not make this mistake unless you want to upset the host.

7. Do not dig into the dish

In Vietnam, it is rude to dig into the dish to seek for good parts, for example, chicken thighs and wings, when picking food from shared dishes. This act is considered selfish and not thinking about others, which is bad in a collectivist culture like Vietnam. When you are a guest, the host will definitely offer you good things on the dish, so no need to dig for them.

8. Do not eat directly from shared dishes

This is one of the most important Vietnam table manners. Remember to pick out the food from shared dishes to your bowl first, and then eat it. Do not put the food directly into your mouths.

9. Stay until other people finish

It is not polite to leave the table too soon since other people may think that you do not want to talk to them. Therefore, show your respect by staying and talking to others when you finish your meal; as well as helping the host to prepare dessert. It is an opportunity for you to learn more about Vietnamese culture.

10. Say Thanks to the host after the meal

A Vietnamese meal in the old days - Vietnam table manners
A Vietnamese meal in the old days

Make sure to tell the host that you are satisfied with the meal, at the same time, praise their dedication and skillfulness. This action conveys your appreciation with the efforts of the host. The host will be grateful if you offer to help with the cleaning, although they won’t let you do it.

Drinking Customs in Vietnam

You can find a variety of beverages in Vietnam: herbal tea, iced tea (trà đá), coffee, craft beer (bia hơi), alcohols, smoothies, and so on.

Green tea is the most popular drink in Vietnamese households and you will be served tea every time you visit a local family. The flavor is bitter, so remember if you have trouble sleeping, skip this tea in the evening. Tea is important for casual and business meeting, as well as the way to kill time. There is no specific rule for drinking tea in Vietnam like in China and Japan. The host will pour you more tea every time you nearly finish your cup. If you want to pour the tea yourself, remember to pour the host and others’ cups first, and ours last.

Street cafe in Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam table manners
Street cafe in Ho Chi Minh City

Famous as a coffee grower country, you can find the best coffee in Central Highlands on your tour to Central Vietnam. There are plenty of coffee houses in tourist destinations in Vietnam; however, you can try the special “Cà phê sữa đá” in the pavements in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. This kind of coffee is mixed with condensed milk to reduce the strong and bitter flavor, which is suitable for less-seasoned coffee drinkers.

Vietnamese people love drinking beer - Vietnam table manners
Vietnamese people love drinking beer

Vietnamese people also like drinking beer and alcohol. You can find craft beer eateries in Ta Hien Party Street in Hanoi and Bui Vien Street in Ho Chi Minh City. Local people often shout ‘Một Hai Ba Yo!’ (One Two Three Yo!), ‘Trăm phần trăm’ (Empty your glass, 100%), or ‘Chúc sức khỏe’ (Wish you good health) to raise the spirit. You can join the party, but know your limit and say ‘No!’ if you cannot take any more drink. You will be in trouble if you are drunken drivers. Also, pay attention to the drink quality since there may be fake or counterfeit alcohol used in some eateries.

Start planning your tailor-made Vietnam tour by contacting one of our specialists…

Chi Nguyen

My name is Linh Chi, a true beach lover. My passion is to explore off-the-beaten-track destinations in Vietnam and introduce our S-shaped country's culture and beautiful scenery to friends all around the world.

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