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#64 Not Taking the Last Piece of Food

Posted April 23rd, 2008 by avaliant · 18 Comments

One thing you won’t hear at a typical Asian dinner gathering is ‘Do you mind if I kill that?” or ‘Were you going to finish that?” This is because Asians like to not take the last piece of food on a plate.

This Asian cultural idiosyncrasy leads to some very peculiar phenomena at Asian social gatherings. For example, you will typically see an Asian person take some plate containing a small amount of food, take only half of it, and put the plate back. This may happen for several cycles, resulting in a whole table of plates with absurdly small amounts of food remaining on them.

The more mathematically inclined might be thinking right now, ‘Ah, that’s all fine and good for continuously divisible food such as noodles or vegetables, but what about food that comes in discrete units, like ice cream bon bons or mochi balls?” That leads us to another typical Asian behavior called taking the second to last piece of food.

You might ask, ‘Well since the last piece of food is taboo, isn’t taking the second to last just as bad?” It isn’t. In fact, those who eat with Asians often should get in the habit of spying plates with rapidly disappearing quantities of food and getting some before there is only one piece left. Such reflexes are the key to maintaining proper decorum while getting enough food to eat at the same time.

Why is this behavior so prevalent among Asians at the dinner table? Perhaps the Asian emphasis on community over individual plays a role. Also, the Asian tendency to use indirect communication and therefore try to anticipate others’ needs does too. Either way, make sure you grab the food you want before there’s only one piece left.

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Tags: Activities · Chinese · Culture · Customs · Environment · Food & Beverage · Habits · Japanese · Korean · People · Relationships · Vietnamese

18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Peter // Apr 23, 2008 at 5:55 am



  • 2 Derrick // Apr 23, 2008 at 7:47 am

    i got in trouble with my dad when i was a kid when i took the last piece without asking. so couple the passive aggressiveness (and/or laziness) of going out to ask everyone if they’d like the last piece (and then looking greedy ‘cuz you’re now announcing that you want it), it’s just easier to give up and let it sit there, as it grows cold and uneaten.

    besides, if you’re really asian, you’ll doggy bag it and eat it once you get home anyways.

  • 3 LG // Apr 23, 2008 at 9:42 am

    haha, i do have a friend who won’t finish or kill whatever is left. no matter what.

    on the other hand, i also have another friend who does ask if you’ll finish it and then do it for you.

    the explanation for her is, i guess asians nowadays who live in the US don’t mind having leftovers, but don’t want to be wasteful. they know how much food costs and are lucky to have what they have here as well.

  • 4 roo // May 4, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    HAHA So true! pretty much the same as Derrick.
    my dad used to yell at me if i took the last piece without asking everybody at the table if i could (which would of course lead to everybody frenzily saying yes and pushing it towards me).

    i guess yeah it’s valuing the community over the individual.

  • 5 Ica // May 8, 2008 at 3:00 am

    taking the last piece of food: guilty.

  • 6 DC // May 15, 2008 at 10:15 am

    True. My Japanese wife always makes a big deal out of this little ritual. Its about ” valuing the community over the individual” as Roo suggests.
    You have to ask before taking the last piece.

  • 7 Traci // May 16, 2008 at 12:15 am

    i take the easy way out: splitting it.

  • 8 TM // Jun 4, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    …or bring a white friend along

  • 9 Anonymous // Jun 22, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    This is so true. Happens every day during dinner.

  • 10 Anonymous // Sep 8, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    hahaha I seriously don’t get why we do this. I feel so awkward when I’m at a friend’s for dinner. I wonder if this is why Chinese people tend to cook so much extra food.

  • 11 Zillan // Jan 3, 2009 at 7:55 am

    I’s rude to take last part.
    But then i take much more than i can eat so it always left a lot cause am full.
    You will offend Croatian ppl if you don’t eat all to the last thingy bcause they will throw up last food…

  • 12 Sage // Jun 22, 2009 at 4:00 am

    It is Chinese superstition that taking the last piece of food is bad luck in that it is what a poor and hungry person would do. Doing the same as that person would rain misfortune on one to also make him poor.

  • 13 haha // Sep 1, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    well, actually, if you really want that last piece, let it be known before you even order anything that you like that food (or while you’re ordering it) and then when everyone’s done eating and there’s just small plates with a little of everything on it, people will start pushing it at you to eat it cause there’s no point bagging one peice and becuase they know you like that food. ^_^ haha

    to whoever said that this aversion to taking the last peice of food may be why asians tend to cook so much extra…that might actually be true. lol. everyone gets enough to eat, and there’s plenty left over so there’s no problem bagging it and then the next day, it’s more “polite” to finish the old food first which leaves the “new” food to be wrapped up as leftovers again!

  • 14 Maria // Sep 21, 2009 at 11:28 am

    I read in a Filipino blog somewhere that kids are used to leaving some food on their plate because more often than not (especially in poorer areas) mothers eat last and only what’s left on the table, after their kids have had their fill :) just a little food for thought

  • 15 Lan // Aug 20, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    I’m Viet, n I’ve never heard of not eating the last food. When I go to restaurant, I usually finish the whole food or bring the left over for home.

  • 16 Eva L // Mar 4, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Seriously? meand my cousins are always fighting for the last walnut shrimp…

  • 17 Sian // Oct 27, 2011 at 8:50 am

    …I remember when I was a kid my father always forced me to finish every little bite left in my bowl so there won’t be any waste …but it’s a terrible no-do on the dining table…they said it makes them ashamed cause it means they are starving me at home!

  • 18 Mr. Duby // Apr 18, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    I agree with TM. The White friend will always finish it.

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