19 Very Specific Food Rules From Around The World

You don’t eat New York pizza with a fork and a knife. You just don’t.
two women smiling and eating big slices of pizza food etiquette

Depending on who you ask, pineapple on pizza is either a crime against humanity, potentially illegal (in Iceland) or actually a great contrast of salty and sweet. Though you can almost certainly find people in Italy who don’t mind a little tropical twist on their ‘za, it definitely violates an unspoken rule of food etiquette in Italy, which is that fruit doesn’t belong on pizza (unless you’re splitting technical hairs about tomatoes).

Technically, no additional condiments belong on pizza in Italy, but that’s another story. This makes a relative amount of logical sense, but many countries have extremely specific rules about food that may seem bizarre from an outsider’s perspective.

In a conversation on Slack, dozens of Babbel colleagues enumerated the fussy food etiquette rules they’ve personally encountered in their home countries or while traveling. Below are some of the best examples we could come up with from our collective hivemind, as well as a few other well-known rules that come to mind.

Strangely Specific Food Etiquette Around The World

1. In Italy, you’re not supposed to drink your cappuccino after 11 a.m. The most compelling theory behind this is that it stems from lactose intolerance, or perhaps more accurately, lactose malabsorption. Milk is just too difficult to digest past breakfast.

2. Also in Italy, sprinkling cheese on seafood is simply a no-no.

3. In Germany, Weißwurst (a specific type of white Bavarian sausage) is only for breakfast — or, more specifically, it has to be eaten before noon. Allegedly, this rule comes from a time before there was proper refrigeration, because it must be cooked, not fried, rendering it more perishable. And you have to peel the skin. And you can only eat it with sweet mustard. Just a whole lot of ritual around Weißwurst.

4. Also in Germany, you don’t drink beer before 4 p.m., unless you’re trying to have a Weißbier with your Weißwurst. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that Kein Bier vor vier! (“No beer before four!”) rhymes in German.

5. A slice of New York-style pizza — whether you eat it in New York City or not — must be folded and eaten with your hands. That’s not to say that some prominent New Yorkers (ahem, former NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio) haven’t been caught eating pizza with a fork and a knife, but the public never really forgave them for it.

6. In Spain, one simply doesn’t put anything on their bread besides the cured meat, cheese or tortilla that’s already on there. No mayo, butter or mustard, please. The one exception would be pan tomaca in Catalonia.

7. Also in Spain, cured meat is to be relished on its own terms, not with any additional sauce. In the words of one Babbelonian, “This is not what the poor pig gave their life for.”

8. The French are pretty serious about cutting their cheese. Here are all the specific types of cuts you must make, depending on the type and shape of the cheese.

9. Adding salt to your food in Egypt and Portugal is a big faux pas, because it implies the chef didn’t prepare your meal correctly.

10. In Mexico, you mustn’t eat watermelon at night if you want to avoid a stomach ache. You can eat as many tacos as you want and be fine, however. Actually, it seems to be a theme, generally, that fruit at night is a no-no in Latin America.

11. In Brazil, some believe you shouldn’t mix mango and milk because it can cause health problems. That is a myth that might date back to the days of slavery in the country, when slave owners spread this rumor to prevent enslaved people (who ate the widely abundant mangoes that were everywhere to be found) from drinking their expensive milk.

12. Also in Brazil, rice and beans are the seat of a great deal of controversy. Specifically, people disagree over which of the two should go on top. Supposedly, there’s one state in Brazil that puts rice on top of the beans (versus beans on top of rice like everyone else), and they are viewed as strange because of this.

13. One more Brazilian controversy: every year starting around November, the battle between “Team Rice With Raisins” and “No Raisins With Rice” takes over social media as people debate how Brazilian Christmas Rice should be made.

14. In many East Asian countries like Korea, Japan, China and Vietnam, you must never leave your chopsticks sticking out vertically from a bowl of rice. This is thought to bring bad luck, because it resembles the offerings made to the dead during funerals.

15. Korean food etiquette provides that the oldest person at the table gets to take the first bite. Until they do, no one else is allowed to start eating.

16. This may seem counterintuitive for anyone who grew up in a culture where it’s internalized that it’s rude or wasteful to not finish your meal, but it’s polite to leave food on your plate in China. This signals to your host that you’re full and satisfied.

17. If you ever order a whole fish in China, do not flip it over to get to the meat on the other side. It’s considered bad luck because it symbolically resembles a boat capsizing, or perhaps because it symbolizes becoming a traitor by turning your back on someone.

18. In Japan, noodles are made for slurping. It’s both a signal of respect (or a sign that you’re enjoying your meal) and a practical way to enjoy a hot meal without waiting for it to cool down.

19. This might surprise some Americans, but it’s bad form in Japan to mix the wasabi into the soy sauce when you’re eating sushi. The wasabi is supposed to go directly on the fish.

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