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Discover the Different Food Cultures of the World

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Partaking in seasonal nighttime Hanami festivals in Maruyama Park.

The following countries have practices that maintain different styles of etiquette associated with their cuisine, highlighting the importance of the culture and heritage that you can take part in during a custom-tailored trip.

The etiquette of dining in a foreign country goes beyond knowing when to use certain utensils or your hands, and instead encompasses the very tenants of the cuisine itself, highlighting historic flavors, customary cooking methods, personal values, and the etiquette associated with the kitchen and dining room.

The dining experience around the world celebrates the senses, from the texture of a dish to the aroma, not solely focusing on its visual aesthetic or taste but the combination of all five senses for an overwhelming sensation in every bite.

1. Italy

Italian dining culture is renowned around the world in connection with a revelatory outlook on life’s pleasures, including delicious hand-made pasta. Certain rules of Italian dining, such as never ordering a cappuccino after noon or refrain from ordering extra cheese as it can be seen as offensive to the chef’s culinary skills, have become well known.

The true art of Italian dining etiquette, however, becomes apparent in the leisurely pace of service and the respect Italian chefs and customers give their food. With a focus on accentuating the specific flavors of each item used, minimal ingredients are added to each dish, keeping things simple yet complex in flavor, perfectly proportioned, and undeniably delicious.

When dining in Italy, it is customary to place the most important person in the party, in the middle of the table. When your cutlery is down your hands should be visible at all times, resting your wrists on the edge of the table. We all love it when the bread is placed upon the table but do not be surprised if you are not offered butter as olive oil is usually provided for dipping. Using your fork to twist your food into your mouth is not only reserved for eating pasta, but also for folding your lettuce and taking a bite, never cutting it with a knife.

Learn more: Italy Tours & Vacations | Italy Travel Guide | Food & Wine Travel Guide

2. Japan

Japan is a country known for its reliance on, and connection to etiquette that supports a civilized and courteous society that believes in good manners in order to demonstrate respect. The various components of Japanese dining etiquette rely on the different contexts of a meal as dictated by different dining occasions. During a formal dining engagement, a Japanese diner will sit on a reed mat in a kneeling position, while sitting cross-legged during a casual dining experience is usually the norm.

No matter what the ingredients or what time of year you enjoy it, in Japan extreme attention to detail and immense pride go into the creation of each dish. Japanese cuisine often looks deceptively simple but side-sauces and additional flavors like wasabi or ginger add diversity when used in small quantities, ensuring the initial seasoning comes through clearly.

However, the initial joys of Japanese cuisine stem from a simple act of gratitude before the meal. Saying itadakimasu before eating, which translates to “I gratefully receive,” shows respect to those who have made and served the food. The attitude of appreciation establishes a comfortable and lasting environment allowing the host, servers, chefs, and guests to indulge in the pleasures of the experience. And do slurp that soup - contrary to western beliefs, it is indeed a sign of gratitude.

Learn more: Japan Tours & Vacations | Japan Travel Guide

3. Morocco

When you think of Morocco cuisine, spices, meats, and vegetables all combined to create delectable dishes, surely comes to mind. With culinary masters coming from the royal cities of Fez, Meknes, Marrakech, and Rabat, Morrocan cuisine reflects grand traditions of the country’s rich history with a focus on lamb and chicken as the featured ingredient. The most famous of Moroccan dishes is the Tagine, a slow-cooked stew named for the traditional, conical-shaped clay dish it is traditionally cooked in, scooped up with bread, and served with couscous.

No matter where you dine in Morocco, the Berber culture and influences shine through with ingredients such as olives and figs still being used today. Over the years, influences from other countries spilled over into Morocco with Spanish and, Arabian flavors and ingredients incorporated in Moroccan dishes, and techniques such as pickling and preservation of fruits and vegetables deriving from Jewish tradition. Savor each bite and relive centuries-old traditions.

The main meal is enjoyed at midday, except during the holy month of Ramadan, the spread on offer seemingly never-ending. Guests are encouraged to always wash their hands before dining and this is mostly due to the fact that food is eaten by hand, your right hand only, dishing up from a communal plate. Good to know is that should you realize you have had enough to eat, it is polite to continue nibbling as once one person stops eating, the rest of your guests at the table will follow suit. Enjoy a soothing cup of sweet mint tea to round off your dining experience.

Learn more: Morocco Tours & Vacations | Morocco Travel Guide

4. France

Eating is a crucial component of French culture and has resulted in a plethora of rules meant to respect dinner guests, hosts, restaurant chefs, servers, and customers. Many of the rules placed upon the dinner table date back to Louis the XIV but have since become common French dining customs. The main component to any French meal is time with the average French citizen spending more than 45 minutes at lunch each day, a reflection of the importance of savoring your food and finding the delicate flavors of each dish during a proper meal.

The importance of different courses and taking the time to appreciate the array of options in a starter, main, dessert, and possible cheese plate highlights the importance of the culinary arts in French culture and its ability to bring people together. The portion sizes are often smaller which makes it easier to finish each course and allows the diner to enjoy every bite while appreciating the pleasure of accompaniment.

A slow meal in France symbolizes life’s pleasures with cuisine made to look beautiful, smell great, and taste divine. Whether in a private home or at a chic restaurant, beauty stems from elegance. For instance, the simple idea of a well-set table according to French culinary custom has the desired effect of slowing down a meal in order for family members, dinner guests, or restaurant patrons to better appreciate the meal.

Learn more: France Tours & Vacations | France Travel Guide

5. China

Rituals and etiquette have a long history in Chinese cuisine and have acted as an important feature of the overall culture dating back to the Zhou Dynasty. The cuisine blends the traditions of science, art, and socialization by balancing taste and appearance, with a focus on harmony in the kitchen. Home cooks and master chefs alike strive for dishes that demonstrate a balance of salty, spicy, sour, sweet, and bitter in order to create delicious, complimentary flavors. The historic, ornate aesthetic accentuates the importance of visually appealing dishes that offer vibrant color nutrition.

Though specific dining etiquette like introducing yourself upon arrival at a banquet or the specific manner with which you should hold your bowl at the table is important, the most important customs at the dining table in China incorporate gratitude and consideration. Tapping the table with two fingers up to three times when being served tea is an example of gratitude while it is important to never hold your chopstick upright as that is a sign of bad luck. Inviting elders to be seated and dine first is another example of respect in Chinese culture.

The symbolism of the cuisine reflects the heritage of China itself and invokes blessings and celebrates the meaning of powers in the different shapes, colors, and legends associated with the ingredients. The importance of these ingredients is embodied in the dumplings served at Chinese New Year, which symbolize “wealth,” because of their nugget-like shapes. In addition, sweet sticky rice balls in soup served during the Lantern Festival represent togetherness.

Learn more: China Tours & Vacations

6. Argentina

The importance of beef in the Argentinian diet is as ubiquitous as pasta in the nourishment of an Italian, the presence of meat on the Argentinian dining table stemming from colonial history. Under Spanish rule, conquistadors first brought cattle to the New World in the sixteenth century and it became a source of wealth and sustenance for locals, creating a deluge of legends celebrating gauchos and the pampas.

Some respected customs at the dinner table encourage Argentines and visitors to wait for the host to say “buen provecho” before eating and ensuring a toast has been made before taking a sip of wine. You don’t need to be right on time for your dining engagement either, arriving a half hour late is quite normal. Resting your hands on the table during the entire meal and leaving a little food on your plate is customary too, while pouring your own wine should be avoided for the myriad of rituals and rules involved.

Sharing a gourd of Yerba Mate tea, passed from person to person and enjoyed through a long straw of metal called bombilla, is considered a friendship ritual and references the important culinary heritage of indigenous Argentina that has survived the onslaught of European influences over the five centuries. The ritual is hardly ever practiced in restaurants but partaking in the mate gourd ritual represents the important values of Argentina consisting of sharing and friendship and in turn subtly encourages national comfort with public displays of affection.

Learn more: Argentina Tours & Vacations | Argentina Tour Guide

7. Australia

A melting pot of cultures from all over the world, certainly specific restaurants and dishes offer specific cuisine such as pizza and sushi for example, however, there are a couple of dishes and traditions that are Australian-favorites. Starting with a “cheers” when toasting to enjoying the much-loved Vegemite on toast, Australians love to eat, and socializing is a huge part of a dining experience.

Key points when dining out is to remember that the head of the table is the place of honor with other VIPs seated on either side of the head. When dining formally, the passing of dishes is done to your left and when you are finished eating, placing your knife and fork parallel on the right side of your plate will let everyone else know you are done. When you are not eating, keep your hands off the table and on your lap and try not to talk business at the table, keeping the ambiance light and enjoyable.

Enjoy an Aussie Meat Pie, hugely popular and the quintessential Australian treat. Grilled or fried Barramundi is another Australian favorite, its name in Aboriginal language meaning “large-scaled river fish”. If you attend a traditional barbeque, nibble on Snags which are beef or pork sausages, enjoyed with spices and sauces on a bed of mashed potatoes, fried onions drizzled on top. To top off an Aussie night out, indulge in their famous Pavlova. While the debate still lingers as to whether this was an Australian or New Zealand invention, the flavors and satisfaction after a few bites will linger longer.

Learn more: Australia Tours & Vacations | Australia Travel Guide

Ready to Experience New Cultures?

While proper dining manners may help you avoid embarrassment or from offending someone during the meal, each country’s culture dictates that customs of dining can also enhance the particular flavors of the meal. What may seem ill-mannered in one culture may indeed be the epitome of politeness in another and being able to submerge yourself in local traditions surely is a tasty treat. Discover a new culture and their cuisine by contacting us at 1-888-265-9707 or by submitting a Trip Request to speak with an expert local travel specialist.

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