Western dining standards generally have us being able to identify a specific dish as the main dish or main course we’re having, but if you head over to Southeast Asia the dining experience is a lot different. That’s of course if you eat out at an authentic Southeast Asian establishment which serves local foods, local style. Otherwise there are indeed plenty of restaurants which serve food in more of a western style.
So what is the Southeast Asian dining experience like?
Small, Compact Restaurants
Whether you’re in Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia or any other country located in Southeast Asia (including Malaysia as well), the quintessential dining experience differs most notably from the typical western experience in the layout of the dining establishment. The restaurants are a little smaller and more compact and generally make for more of a broader social setting. For example, there’s just no way you can go through your entire meal and not make eye contact with someone sitting at the next table. This compactness encourages social interactions beyond the company you’re keeping at your own table, so if at the very least you don’t get greeted by diners within your proximity, a full on conversation will probably develop.
Foreign visitors are especially welcomed for the most part, so you shouldn’t be surprised if just by greeting someone at a table next to you they offer you a beer or something.
An Extended Social Experience
If you’re totally starved and need to fill up on something immediately then it’s perhaps best not to go to the most authentic of the Southeast Asian dining spots. This is because in that part of the world, traditionally a meal is an extended social experience, so it’ll take a little while for whatever dish you ordered to get ready. In fact, going back to the discussion I opened with about how western dishes in contrast generally comprised out of one main dish, in Southeast Asia you’re likely to report having eaten little portions of so many different dishes. In fact, this is perhaps an Asian thing as the same can be said about the likes of Japan, but only if you’re specifically looking for the authentic, quintessential regional dining experience.
In many of the Southeast Asian restaurants for example, it’s not uncommon for there to be a pot of some sort brought right to your table along with all the raw ingredients of the meal you ordered. You’ll have to cook them yourself right at your table, but this doesn’t mean nobody will come to your assistance if you genuinely look like you don’t know how to proceed.
So basically where I might have reported to have enjoyed a shrimp dish (with chopsticks), really it was probably shrimp served in a nice green salad with onion rings, an egg or two, pasta, chicken, crab, meat (beef) and some rolls as well. As mentioned, it would all come in small portions each and for the most part it really isn’t about devouring every last bit of food, but rather about enjoying all the different taste elements contained in those foods.
So yes, everything could very well go into the pot all at once, extracted and put on your plate to be enjoyed as each of them are ready.