If you are new in Malaysia or interested in learning table manners and etiquette, there are a couple of things that should be known when having lunch or dinner. Like other countries, Malaysia has its own traditions and etiquette that should be considered and taken seriously when dining. Otherwise, people might get you wrong or you might feel uncomfortable as well.
If you are an expat or just invited to a Malay house for dining, the first thing you should know is that most Malay people are Muslims, therefore alcoholic beverages, pork, and non-halal meat will not be served. So, when you are invited and brought a gift to the host, keep these in mind.
Yes, it is expected to receive a gift from the guest, which is called buah tangan. It can be something like fruits or anything else.
If you are invited to a Malay wedding, it is polite to give cash in an envelope to the bride and groom’s parents for their married children. Also, it should be done carefully while shaking hands with them, without anyone else seeing.
Let’s start at the very top. Before entering the house, you must take off your shoes and clean your feet over there. That is the reason why Malay houses have either a water pipe or a big jar full of water (which is called tempayan) at the entrance of the house.
When all guests are sat on the floor around saprah (tablecloth placed on the floor), the meal than can be served.
Traditionally, dishes are served all at the same time, not in a specific order. Since the meal is going to be eaten by hand, the tip of the fingers should be cleaned first. That is why a jug (ketor) or a bowl of water is placed.
Do not forget! You should only use your right hand to eat, the left hand is never used. There will be more than one dish that would be served along with rice. For the gravies, a spoon will be served but for dry dishes, it is expected to be eaten by your right hand.
Normally men and women do eat separately but if it is a small and private gathering, they may be seated all together. The other thing that should be known is the sitting ways; men crisscross their feet in front (called bersila) and women fold their feet on the right side (called bersimpuh).
Do’s and Don’ts:
- You must clean your plate no matter what.
- Talking is not good while the mouth is full. Also, having small bites rather than big ones are better.
- If two or more person attempts to have the same dish at the same time, the eldest has the right to get it first.
- If you eat something you do not like, do not put it back on the shared plate where you got it, just put it on your own plate.
- Never point out any food or anyone with your foot. It is disrespectful.
- If the mouth is covered by hand, burping is acceptable for men (not women).
- Even though the drinks are served along with the dishes, it is better to drink eat after cleaning your own plate.
Some table manners have changed over the years such as having a meal on a table with two forks and a spoon (still not a knife).
Do’s and Don’ts:
- A bowl of water or ketor is still available for cleaning the tips of fingers. Do not forget to use it.
- If there is a shared sauce or gravy for dipping food, only dip your bite once. Do not dip your food again after biting it.
- A napkin will be available for everyone on the table for wiping mouth and fingertips. If not, you can always ask for it.
- Interesting belief: If a young woman eats the last piece of food on a plate, she would never find her match in marriage. So, it does not matter if you are a woman or a man, never eat the last piece.
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