Eating is a highly social affair in Saigon and the rest of Vietnam which is why proper eating etiquette is paramount. A traditional home-cooked meal is served to guests who often sit on mats, each with their own rice bowl, chopsticks and spoons for soup. Most of the time, all the dishes are served family style which means that there will be a huge plate of various dishes at the center of the table, most likely on a Lazy Susan, intended to be shared among those in the table.

Here are some guidelines for foreigners and expats who might have a different customs from their country.

First of all, serving others first whenever possible is practiced. Keep in mind that the head of the table is usually reserved for the most respected or oldest person in a group; it’s best to let your local host guide you to your seat and do not dig in unless the oldest person in the room has started to.

Remember to avoid grabbing large servings of food or picking the best cuts of meat. When taking something from the shared dish, do not put it directly to your mouth. Put it in your bowl first before eating it.

Chopsticks should always be laid down on a chopstick rest when taking breaks in between bites. And never stick it in on your rice or bowl as chopsticks pointing upwards resembles incense that are offered to the dead. Doing so is deemed unlucky and disrespectful. b You also should never use your chopsticks to point towards something or someone. 

Always pass and receive items such as food or condiments with both your hands and never over someone else's head. Don't forget to say please and thank you.

As much as possible, try to finish what is in your bowl. Leaving your plate unfinished is just rude.

Place your chopsticks on top of your bowl once you’re done eating but do not leave your seat until everyone is finished eating. You should stay and have a little bit of conversation while waiting for others to finish and never take your dishes out of the table when someone isn’t done eating yet.

In case you forgot something or did something wrong, don’t stress too much because Vietnamese people are very understanding. A lot of foreigners are not aware of these table manners and etiquette but as someone who is technically an outsider, it’s always good to be aware and respectful of their culture.

For information on Vietnamese traditions go to Vietnamese New Year Traditions