Readers: the following is a re-post of an entry I wrote in August 2004. I fixed some of the links, and I’m reposting it here because it has been getting passed around, and has actually found it’s way back to me. I had no idea this post was getting around, but I’m reposting it here, now, so that you may leave a comment or suggestion. Enjoy.
My white friends always tell me they like going out to eat asian food with me because there are no rules.
There are rules, children, just not yo’ rules. So pay attention. You may have been making an idiot of yourself.
You are eating rice.
Before we start, if you are eating asian food, then you are eating rice and something. You will be ordering something to compliment your rice. Rice is the given. Anything you order besides rice is meant to flavor your rice. The vast majority of dishes that you order were created to go with rice. They do not make sense without rice. If there is no rice on your table, you are not having a meal; it is just a snack.
In the 70s my family would go out for pizza; afterwards we’d go home and eat rice. In the 80s, we would order pizza, and my dad would say, “Ok, pizza’s on it’s way! Better make rice!” No, we did not eat pizza and rice; but there had to be rice at least at the table.
Fried rice is a kind of rice. Generally, it is what you do with your leftover rice. It is homestyle food; it is not very sophisticated. Do not order it if you want to impress someone.
Chinese for dinner.
Check your menu. If it does not say “Individual Combos” or something like that, you will have to order family style. You are not at Burger King; get over it.
First, put your menu down. You must appoint a dictator. If you order democratically, i.e., go around the table and let everyone choose a dish, you will end up with 5 kinds of chicken and no vegetables. Chinese food is not well served by democracy.
If you are the dictator, your job is to order a good meal. If you are not the dictator, you may either lobby the dictator (especially if s/he is incompetant), or you may leave it to the dictator. A normal order will have one or two kinds of meat, a lot of vegetable options, and steamed rice. If you order correctly, your vegetarian friends will eat well. If you order incorrectly, you will have too many main dishes and not enough sides.
The rice bowl is for rice. Put your rice in it. There is soy sauce on the table because white people like to soy sauce their rice. This is what asians consider “gross.” GROSS! Rice is meant to be sticky. If it’s not sticky, you can’t eat it with chopsticks. If you soy sauce your rice (GROSS!) it will lose it’s sticky. Also that soy sauce will clash miserably with almost every sauce that your food comes with.
You will notice that your rice bowl fits nicely in the palm of your hand. That is because it is meant to be held in the palm of your hand. PICK YOUR RICE BOWL UP OFF THE TABLE. If they didn’t want you to pick it up off the table, they would not have made it that size and shape.
You should learn to use chopsticks; it’s not hard. Ask your server. If you’re not comfortable, use your spoon; you’ll look like a child, but it is acceptable. You should never need a fork or knife; everything is bite-sized. If you decide you can’t live without your fork and knife, don’t be embarassed to ask; however, don’t order noodle soup. Noodle soup can only be eaten with chopsticks and asian soup spoon.
At Chinese restaurants (and/or homes) you eat the food as it arrives; you DO NOT wait until everyone is served. Confucious say: Better a man wait for food than food wait for a man.
You may now start eating. If you’re in China, you might pick a bite of food directly off the serving dish and put it on your rice. Then, you’ll lift the rice bowl close to your face and put that bite of food into your mouth with your chopsticks.
If you are not in China, you’ll have to make a plate. When want food, PICK THE DISH UP OFF OF THE LAZY SUSAN. Offer to serve the people around you; then serve yourself. Do NOT spin spin spin spin spin the susan, and then serve yourself from the susan; it prevents others from serving themselves.
Tea should be served the same way; serve everyone around you first. NOTE: drinking a lot of hot tea cuts through the greasy/salty in your mouth and in your gut. It will keep you from getting the runs. If you are at a table for four or less, the youngest person should keep everyone’s tea cup filled. You may thank the person for pouring by tapping three fingers on the table.
If you ordered fried rice, eat it off your plate with your spoon. If you ordered a big bowl of noodle soup, lean over the bowl, grab a single bite of noodles with your chopsticks; your soup spoon should be in your other hand to help the noodles into your mouth. If at any reason your rice has become sauced and has lost it’s sticky, put down your chopsticks and use your spoon.
When you’re done eating, your chopsticks should be matched and parallel over your rice bowl.
Jinx! Don’t ever stand your chopsticks up in a bowl of food. Don’t point with your chopsticks. Don’t let your kid play drums with chopsticks. Don’t ever use just one chopstick to poke something. Don’t do the walrus tusks; would you do that with spoons or knives? Stupid. Gross. You look like an idiot. Very original. Yah, take a picture. Fascinating.
Unlike at the Chinese restaurant, you’ll probably wait for everyone to be served. You’ll notice that it’s not family style, and that your rice bowl is bigger and heavier. That means you don’t pick it up. However, you’ll still be eating over your rice bowl. Put it in front of you.
Your miso soup is served in a special bowl that goes to your mouth without a spoon. If there’s stuff in it, like noodles or tofu or seaweed, dig it out with your chopsticks. By the way, miso is a side dish, not a soup course.
Nigiri sushi? You may prepare your sauce dish with wasabi and soy sauce, although it’s not considered very elegant. Put your nigiri FISH SIDE DOWN into your sauce dish; otherwise your rice ball will disintegrate.
If you are serving yourself from a common source (i.e., wasabi, ginger, shared appetizers), Japanese people like to serve themselves with the backs of their chopsticks, so as to not contaminate other people’s food with the mouth-end of their chopsticks.
When you’re done with your food, your disposable chopsticks go back in their little paper sleeve, so the server doesn’t have to touch them.
For teriyaki: ask the server to put the sauce on the side, or no sauce at all. Real teriyaki is a cooking technique and marinade, not a sauce. Sauce is purely for white people. If you forget and end up with saucy rice, pick up your spoon, put the chopsticks in the other hand, and eat with the spoon.
Japanese restaurants sometimes serve curry with rice on the same plate. In this case, use your spoon as above with your chopsticks in the other hand to move stuff into your spoon.
You are never expected to eat saucy rice off a plate with your chopsticks.
Korean and Vietamese cuisines are also chopsticky. It is a great sign of respect (especially to Koreans) if you clean your bowl or plate of every last grain of rice.
Thai, Filipino, and Indian cuisines are not chopsticky (although they’ll give you chopsticks if you ask). You should eat with a spoon, with your fork in your other hand to push food into your spoon.
Filipino and Indian cuisines also have some pretty important non-utensil techniques. Ask your friends to show you. In the mean time, CUT YOUR NAILS. There should be ZERO room for food to collect under there.
Ok! Eat now!