Not only does dining etiquettes ensure a pleasant experience but it will also help one learn about another’s culture. Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures and has some rather unique dining etiquettes.
The native Malay, Chinese Malaysians, and Indian Malaysians have their own distinct culture and practices, and it is important for a traveller to understand Malaysian culture and the Malaysian dining etiquette for a memorable experience.
Malay cuisine is known for its unique and distinctive flavors. There are many dishes that one cannot stop savoring. Like all Muslims, the native Malays consume halal food and are against consuming alcohol and pork. Make sure you refrain from asking for the same in Halal restaurants or Malay homes.
1. Traditional Malay homes prefer being seated on the floor while having meals. However, modern Malay homes do have dining tables and chairs.
2. Bring a small gift for your host or hostess or some delicacies and a souvenir from your home country.
3. Wait till you are shown your seat on the table (by the host). As a sign of respect, guests are seated on the left-hand side of the elder most member of the family.
4. Wait for the host to signal when you can start eating. To start eating without being asked to shows disrespect and could also mean you are in a hurry to leave.
5. Use of the left hand is strictly avoided, either to serve food or eat. The left hand is used for washroom purposes and shouldn’t be seen handling food on the dining table.
6. Allow the elders to take the serving first (in case you both reach for food at the same time).
7. Each grain of rice is sacred and must not be wasted. It is advisable to scoop enough rice for your own consumption and not too much.
8. Toothpicks are placed next to the plates. Always cover your mouth with the left hand while using them.
The Chinese will often order dishes for everyone to share rather than individual dishes to a person. All the food is placed at the center for everybody to share, while individual bowls are given to everybody to pick their food. Food is served in bowls rather than plates and eaten with chopsticks and not by hand. Spoons are provided only for soups and broths.
While dining with the Chinese Malaysians ensure that:
1. You do not leave the chopsticks standing (in the bowl) as it symbolises the joss sticks used as a prayer to the dead. Place them beside the bowl.
2. Similar to Chinese culture, the senior most member of the table is expected to start eating first.
3. Pork is generally a must in Chinese Malaysian cuisine (especially during festivals and celebrations). Make sure you order pork delicacies while at a restaurant.
4. The bones have to be placed on the separate plate provided. Never put them in the bowl you are eating from.
5. Always accept food offered by Chinese Malaysians and thank them cordially.
Although a minority class, the Malaysian Indians form the third largest single community in Malaysia. They comprise of the Tamil, Malayalam, and Telugu speaking population. Malaysian Indian cuisine consists of many main courses (rice being the staple), and a host of curries and desserts.
Make dining with Indian Malaysians a pleasant experience by following the below:
1. If the host/client is a Hindu do not offer beef. The cow is considered to be a holy animal and consuming their meat is inauspicious.
2. Feel free to use your left hand but to serve food only.
3. Never forget to appreciate the food. This is always seen as a good sign.
4. Eat at a moderate pace, never in a hurry.
5. If you are eating a meal served on a banana leaf, it is customary to fold the leaf from the top over to the bottom at the end of the meal. This is to indicate to the host that you have finished eating and that you are pleased with the meal.
Dining with friends and colleagues is always a good experience. The above pointers will not just help you have a pleasant dining experience, but will also show the host you respect and value their culture.
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