Dining etiquette in Cambodia

The first time I ate in Cambodia, I expected chopsticks.

The first time I ate in Cambodia, I expected chopsticks.

I saw the above knife and fork guide in FaceBook today and was reminded of the first time I shared a meal with Savong and his friend Pin. We ate at a market where a stall holder prepared delicious food. The man’s daughter served the three of us and laid out spoons and forks and bowls for the rice.

Now, I try to be a bit culturally sensitive, and my partner is Chinese and I’m not entirely bad at using chopsticks, albeit left-handed (which drew comments from in-laws in China a few years back,) so I asked the waitress, please, do they have chopsticks? I thought I’d be ‘fitting in.’

Well, she finally found a pair, but clearly my request was unusual. I drew funny looks from the chef, and bemused comments from Savong. I learned a quick little lesson: not all Asians eat the same.

There is one Cambodian restaurant convention I simply cannot adapt to however, and that is the accepted practice of dropping used tissues (always in plentiful supply) to the floor after you’ve wiped your fingers after eating the beautiful chicken. Some restaurants provide a little plastic bin – but dropping tissues on the floor? I just think it is demeaning of the poor individual who has to pick it up. To my eyes it feels like a not-so-subtle put-down between the diner and the staff.

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