The traditional Asian place settings vary slightly from culture to culture, but all have similar roots based upon conquering powers and shared diets and dietary habits. In East Asia, the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese cultures all have specific etiquette for their place settings. Again, this etiquette is a result of their cultures and not just dietary habits but also social habits. Communal plates are seen in some cultures and not in others.
Chinese Place Setting
The traditional Chinese place setting contains a saucer, flat-bottomed soup spoon, chopsticks and an individual bowl of "fan" or grain. There is no traditional Western plate on which to serve food; instead a communal plate is used in the centre of the table for the meat and vegetables. The chopsticks are used to remove bites from the communal plate in the centre of the table. The saucer is used to collect bones and shells or to place food bites while chewing. Along with the communal plate is a communal soup bowl in the centre. The flat-bottomed soup spoon is used to eat from this communal bowl. The flat bottom of the spoon allows it to be sat down without rolling or moving like a typical spoon would. Finally, the bowl of "fan" is the grain portion (rice or noodles) of the meal, and this is not shared.
Japanese Place Setting
Japanese place settings are traditional and consist usually of five separate bowls and plates. To the right is the soup bowl, and to the left is the rice bowl. Placed behind the bowls are three flat plates. A simmered dish would be placed on a flat plate on the far back left. A grilled dish would be placed on the far back right. And finally in the centre would be boiled greens. All five dishes would be placed on a tray. Included typically are pickled vegetables served on or in a separate smaller plate or bowl. Also included on the tray, set with the pointed ends facing left atop a holder, are chopsticks. This tradition of five dishes on a tray is called "Ichiju Sansai" or "soup plus three."
Korean Place Setting
Korean place settings consist of many bowls placed in the centre of the table, and they are eaten out of communally. The foods in these bowls are cut into bite-sized pieces before the meal. Each individual does have rice and a soup bowls from which to eat. Koreans use chopsticks and spoons to eat.
Vietnamese Place Setting
The traditional Vietnamese place setting consists of a rice bowl, chopsticks, a soup spoon and, in some more formal situations, a smaller plate to be placed under the rice bowl. The chopsticks will typically be placed to the right of the rice bowl, along with the spoon. Like other East Asian cultures, communal eating is par for the course in the Vietnamese cultures and in the centre or the table you can expect a variety of serving dishes with meat, vegetables, soups and sauces.
Similarities of Traditional Asain Place Settings
The biggest similarities in place settings are a result of the dietary habits of the cultures. Because of the prevalence of certain grains (rice) that grain is often seen throughout Asia as the staple food and has its specific place in the place setting. Soups are another commonality and are seen constantly as a side dish. You may have noticed that glasses or cups were absent from a few cultures, and that is because drinks are not often served with meals. Tea may be served with some, but it is not typical.
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