Dining etiquettes do not only ensure a pleasant experience but also help learn about one’s culture. Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures and has some 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.
Dining with the native Malays
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 seaters.
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). The guests are seated to the left hand side of the elder most member of the family. It is a way of respecting the guest
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. Using of the left hand should be strictly avoided, either to serve food or eat. The left hand is use for washroom purposes and should be strictly avoided 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 Malaysian dining etiquette
Chinese Malaysians are the second largest ethnic group in Malaysia. All the food is placed at the center for everybody to share. 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 prayer for the dead. Place them beside the bowl.
2. Similar to Chinese culture, the senior most member on 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 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
Indian Malaysian Dining Etiquette
Although a minority class, the Indian Malaysians form the third largest community in Malaysia. They comprise of the Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu speaking population. Indian Malaysian 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. 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 hurry.
While eating a banana leaf meal, it is customary to fold the leaves from the top at the end of the meal. This is to note the host that one has finished eating.
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.