Cultural Food Etiquette

One of the ways to maximize the experience of a new destination is through its food, eating its must-try, and witnessing local culinary traditions and social culture.

Furthermore, because different cultures have established their traditions around table manners and dining etiquette, you might need to adjust your usual eating habits when visiting other countries.

Dining abroad can often make people feel uneasy, but knowing what culinary habits to be aware of and what etiquette to follow can help create a more enjoyable and exciting dining experience.

Here are some fascinating food etiquette rules from different food cultures that you may take on your next journey to eat like a local as travelers should.


Delicious food on a display in a restaurant

Don’t add extra condiments to your pizza. One should never ask for cheese, ketchup, parmesan, or other flavoring to put on an Italian pizza. Why? Because the chef created a masterful, tastebud-tingling pizza, and each ingredient has a purpose.

Do not mix seafood and cheese. Refrain from asking for cheese on your Frutti di mare or any other seafood dish. Locals consider it rude. They believe that these two should not be mixed because their tastes clash.

Never order a cappuccino after a meal. Italians never order a cappuccino after a meal, as milk halts digestion. However, you can have an espresso after dessert. Ordering a cappuccino will not result in some rage but will mark you out as a tourist.


Ramen on a brown tray

Do not use your fork to put food in your mouth. The proper way to eat in Thailand is to use a spoon to transfer food from your fork to your mouth or eat with chopsticks or just a spoon.


Eat with your right hand. In India and across the Middle East and parts of Africa, always eat using your right hand to eat meals, as the left hand is considered unclean. This is because left hands are typically used in bathrooms in Islamic countries and are considered unclean. Additionally, you must pay attention to passing plates and eating Middle Eastern meals with your right hand solely when using utensils.

Saying thank you is for formal occasions. In many countries, we say thank you for everything. However, in India saying thank you is only appropriate for formal occasions. Thanking someone implies that they have gone above and beyond for you in more everyday, casual settings, awkwardly calling attention to acts of kindness that are just assumed. Simple actions like passing dishes or receiving a meal from your host family are part of a close relationship and are not extraordinary acts requiring thanks.

No pork and alcohol. Fish, chicken, and lamb will be the main meats served. It prevents disrespecting any religious beliefs of Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. Give neither alcohol nor pork to those of the Muslim faith. Before and after a meal, you may be asked to wash your hands.


Cooked fish on a white ceramic plate

Never flip a fish. After eating one side, never flip the fish over, as it is considered bad luck and is said to resemble a capsizing boat. Therefore, remove the bones from the other side of the fish and continue eating there to finish it.

Leave some food on your plate. Make sure to leave some food on your plate when you are done eating when dining out in China. It is to show the host that their meal was filling and satisfying.

Never stick your chopsticks vertically in rice. Lastly, never stick your chopsticks vertically in rice as this is inappropriate and resembles a funeral practice that involves sticking burning incense into rice.

South Korea

Old man eating on a bowl

The oldest person takes the first bite. South Korean culture cares about age. The eldest deserve more respect as they have a higher social rank. You have to pass dishes and pour drinks with both hands to the eldest first and have your meal after they have sat down. Lastly, if you are a fast eater, remember that it is good etiquette to eat at the same pace as others.


Do not use your hands. To eat with your hands in Chile is considered poor cultural food etiquette. Remember to grab a trusty knife and fork, even with a sandwich, French fries, or pizza. Also, try to avoid touching the table with your hands.

Never mix the wasabi and the soy sauce when you’re having sushi. To mix the wasabi and the soy sauce in a bowl to dip your sushi in is considered bad manners. If you must have wasabi, put it right on top of the fish. Meanwhile, ginger is eaten between pieces of sushi as a palate cleanser.

Egypt and Portugal

Breakfast at the Istanbul grill cheadle

Do not ask for salt or pepper. It is disrespectful to the chef’s seasoning abilities in Egypt and Portugal to request salt and pepper if they are not already on the table.

Wait for someone else to refill your glass. In Egypt, gathering from a meal or gathering to refill your glass is viewed as impolite. Wait for someone else to offer to do it instead. The same goes for offering to refill your neighbor’s glasses.


Do not clink your spoon as you stir tea. Prepare yourself for a traditional British tea etiquette rule. Some people consider the clinking sound made by a spoon on a cup of tea to be improper, so try to avoid doing it. Speaking or eating food with your mouth open is also rude.


Clear teacup on a brown surface

Do not expect a full cup of tea. Do not feel bad if your host in Kazakhstan gives you a cup of tea that is only half full. It is a good sign, contrary to a full cup of tea which is viewed as a sign that the host might want you to leave.


Do not eat your bread before your food. The bread on the table in France is not an appetizer. It is meant to go with your meal. You are to tear off pieces and use them to push food onto the fork or to mop up sauces.

Do not offer to split the bill. Eating out is a fairly common occurrence in France. But, whether you are out with friends or acquaintances, splitting the bill is considered highly unsophisticated. Either offer to pay the bill fully or let someone else do so.


Sushi served on a table

Tipping is discouraged. Leaving a tip is common and even a desired custom in many countries, but not in Japan. It is uncommon, and in some places, they would even turn down the money.

Never stick your chopstick upright in a bowl of rice. In Japanese cultures, chopsticks are placed vertically in rice in offerings made to the dead and at funerals. Doing this during a meal is frowned upon as being impolite and unlucky.

Do not pass the food using chopsticks. The passing of bones between chopsticks is another traditional funeral practice in Japan. So, passing food this way is considered extremely rude and even prohibited.

Always use the blunt end of the chopsticks when picking up food from a shared plate. Many plates of food are shared among a group in China and Japan. In such situations, it is best to refrain from exchanging food between chopsticks, and in such cases, you should also never use the pointed end of the chopsticks that go into your mouth to dip into shared dishes. Instead, use the opposite blunt end.

In conclusion, food etiquette is a visible sign of your manners. It will speak volumes about you and will leave a lasting impression. Knowing their cultural food etiquette will help you have the best dining experience.