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Is it ever okay to pick up your soup bowl to drink the broth?

I made some home-made chicken soup and it was heartily enjoyed by the family. My 9 yr old was down to just broth and picked his bowl up to drink. I gently told him this was not good table manners and to use his spoon. As children are wont to do, he innocently asked why he couldn't drink from the bowl as this made more sense.

Other than my being taught that it was rude and uncivilized, I didn't have an answer. I told him something about noisy slurping but one can do that eating with a spoon.

Should I enforce the "use a spoon" rule or is it okay to drink the broth by lifting the bowl if it's just at home? Are there any restaurants where lifting the bowl would be okay, like a pho place?

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  1. It's just not considered good table manners to do it. Although I do all sorts of crazy things at home, it's probably better if you don't encourage it. The line between your home and, say, his best friend's home may become blurred and next thing you know, he's thinking it's ok, to do the bowl thing. there. My Grandmother used to allow us to pour the soup into a mug and then drink it, but never from the bowl.

    1. Definitely okay to do so at a Japanese restaurant. You are not given a spoon to drink your miso soup. If you get a larger dinner sized bowl of soup, then they will give you a spoon.

      7 Replies
      1. re: dimsumgirl

        IHmmmm... Interesting
        have never been served miso soup w/o a spoon of some sort, but if they don't offer a spoon then it may be culturally acceptable to "drink" it. A lot of Asian restaurants don't provide chop sticks either, but will do so if asked.

        1. re: Tay

          Handing out spoons with misoshiro is in deference to western customs. In Japan, one eats the little bits of tofu, seaweed, clam, etc. with o-hashi (chopsticks) and drinks the broth from the bowl.

        2. re: dimsumgirl

          Watching soup being eaten has never been more fun than in the movie "Tampopo."

          1. re: dimsumgirl

            Same in Chinese restaurants, as I assume also true of Vietnamese places.

            1. re: PeterL

              Yes it is considered perfectly proper in Chinese restaurants (and in China), and in fact it is expected. Chinese soup bowls have a ridged ring on the bottom of the bowl specifically so that you can pick it up while hot soup is inside.

              Contrast this with Korean food etiquette where it is *not* considered polite to pick up your soup or rice bowl-- and they make the bowls out of metal so they're too hot to pick up. Yes, in Korea, crossing this line of etiquette actually causes physical pain.

              Mr Taster
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              1. re: Mr Taster

                Really? The Korean restaurant I go to on B-way and 110th doesn't serve their soup with a spoon and everyone picks up the bowl to drink their soup. I am always in the minority there as most of the clientele are Korean.
                I was also going to say that at many Asian restaurants this is the norm, I even admit to doing so at home when no one is looking :-0.
                At an American restaurant or in front of company (or even my husband!) I would not pick up my bowl of soup since I was also taught that it is rude.

                1. re: SweetPea914

                  It's funny, before I visited Korea last year, I observed how every Korean restaurant I've been to in LA seems to buy from the same restaurant supply catalog (always flat metal chopsticks rather than the squared wooden or plastic ones) and metal bowls for soup and certain kinds of cold kimchee.

                  Also, soups are always served here with a long, skinny metal spoon instead of the shovel-like plastic Chinese spoon that Japanese/Vietnamese/Thai restaurants seem to have adopted too.

                  However when I got to Korea, I saw that that's just how things operate over there. Metal bowls, spoons, chopsticks and all.

                  Mr Taster
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          2. You are probably best off teaching your children not to pick up their soup bowls to finish off their broth as this is not commonly done. There are actually bowls with two handles, properly used for some soups, which are intended to be picked up just as your child wants to do. The only time these are used these days are at rather formal dinners. It's a pity because it makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?
            Here is what three of America's etiquette mavens advise on this issue:

            American expert Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette, 1952: The Handled Soup or Bouillon Cup. Soup or bouillon served in a handled cup or even in a small cup-size bowl (Oriental fashion) is drunk. If there are dumplings or decorative vegetables or other garnish floating on top, these may be lifted out first with the spoon before the soup is drunk. Noodles or other things which may be in the bottom of the cup are spooned up after the liquid has been drunk. How to hold cups. A handled cup is held with the index finger through the handle, the thumb just above it to support the grip, and the second finger below the handle for added security. The little finger should follow the curve of the other fingers and not be elevated affectedly. It is incorrect to cradle the cup in one's fingers if it has a handle. This is done only when the cup is of Oriental style without handles.

            Emily Post's Etiquette, 15th edition, by Elizabeth Post, 1992: Soup at luncheon is never served in soup plates, but in two-handled cups. It is eaten with a teaspoon or a bouillon spoon, or after it has cooled sufficiently, the cup may be picked up.

            Letitia Baldridge, Complete Guide to the New Manners for the 1990s: If you are drinking clear soup from a two handled cup, spoon any solids out of the cup first and eat them, then pick up the cup and drink the broth.

            3 Replies
            1. re: MakingSense

              Just to add another bit, there are 2 sizes of handled soup cups. Bullion is the smaller size and the cream soup cup is the larger. They also have appropriate spoons to go with them with a round bowl and of course the bullion spoon is the smaller of the 2. You rarely see bullion spoons available from the silver makers and bullion cups with their saucers (called stands as are the cream soup saucers) anymore. It might be fun if you are so inclined to collect them from antiques stores as some collect tea cups. Many of the china and silver producers still produce cream soup cups and stands along with cream soup spoons. If one is serving soup from a regular soup bowl then the appropriate spoon is what is called an oval soup spoon which is also used for dessert. The catch all name for that is place spoon. If one really wants to get fancy you can look for ice cream forks as an extra place setting piece for dessert.

              1. re: Candy

                You can always be counted on to come through with wonderful details on fine china and silver service pieces! Those cream soup spoons are often called "gumbo spoons" in Louisiana and many of us have them. I think I have at least three sets but I repress this.
                The different soup spoons you are talking about were once so common that they were even included in silverplate and stainless patterns and every bride got them when she was married. You just didn't set a proper table without them.

                1. re: MakingSense

                  Yeah, I know about trying to repress some of those urges. I am into my third set of sterling flatware. So some gamble and some collect silver and china. i guess we are all sick in some way! LOL

            2. It is perfectly acceptable in Chinese and Japanese culture. If you go to a Japanese noodle house, everyone picks up the bowl and drink the broth after finishing the noodles.

              1 Reply
              1. This thread has reminded me just how much time I've been spending in Asian reataurants. I've become used to dinking the soup from the bowl and lifting the rice bowl up near my mouth. Cultural differences can be difficult!

                1. I just finished watching Babette's Feast for the millionth time, and one of my favourite points in that movie is when the guests pick up their soup bowls to drink from them. It conveys such absolute enjoyment. It may not be perfect etiquette, but if someone were to drink a soup that I had made straight from the bowl, it would make me feel fantastic.

                  1. It is going to be hard for your child to understand perhaps, but one key is the shape of the bowl. Many multi-purpose bowls (ie to use for soup or salad) have a rim that is broad and shallowly sloped. It would be very difficult to drink from these without spilling - even for an adult. Apparently many etiquette mavens say it is ok to drink from the bowl, especially from handled bowls. If he can manage without spilling and an undue amout of slurping, go for it.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                      Post, Vanderbilt and Baldridge weren't talking about rimmed soup bowls. They were referring to bouillon cups and the sorts of bowls that are more cup-like.
                      I'm not sure anyone could drink from a rimmed soup bowl without inviting disaster.

                      I think with kids, it's important to teach good all-purpose manners and, as they get older, teach that there are situational exceptions. We live in an upwardly mobile society and one day they may be in positions where they will need more formal manners than we use around the family dinner table. They can't possibly learn them all but they should be aware that they can always learn something new.

                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                        It's only with the handles that it is ok to drink from the bowls. (In the context of western culture.).


                      2. Maybe you should approach from a positive angle. Instead of what not to do, you can show him how to tilt the bowl foward and use the spoon to pick up the remaining broth.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: PeterL

                          Except that you are supposed to tilt the bowl gently AWAY from you. The theory is that of you slip, the soup spills onto the table and not into your lap. You're also supposed to spoon the soup in that direction as well.

                          1. re: MakingSense

                            you're not supposed to tip the bowl. it stays on the table. you spoon away from yourself, but do not move the bowl.

                            unless home alone. :)

                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                              Even the stuffy old 1952 Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette says that it's acceptable to tip the soup plate away from the diner. Craig Claiborne agrees with this in Elements of Etiquette (1992).
                              Vanderbilt also says that you can do it with a dessert dish.

                        2. with all due respect to the Ladies of Etiquette, unless the culture of the establishment (resto or home) is to raise the bowl then the only time to bring the owl to your lips is when dining alone in your home.

                          Likewise jfood thinks that one should follow the lead of the "host" and jfood is using this term very loosely as follows. jfood thinks that one should not be the only one in the resto drinking soup, i.e. in an asian resto in which noone else is doing it. It just feels wrong for him, not being a member of the culture of an asian resto to be the only one lifting. If other members of the ethnicity of the resto are lifting then jfood feels comfortable lifting. if the members of the ethnicity of the resto are not lifting, then jfood feels a little "embarassed" lifting his cup.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: jfood

                            "with all due respect to the Ladies of Etiquette, unless the culture of the establishment (resto or home) is to raise the bowl then the only time to bring the owl to your lips is when dining alone in your home."

                            jfood - I just don't think that is true - if you are served soup in boullion cup (handled cup), it would be polite to drink out of it at the White House or Buckingham Palace (not that I've had the pleasure - grin).

                            1. re: MMRuth


                              That would be classified as the "culture of the establishment" clause in the first paragraph.

                              sorry for the confusion.

                              1. re: jfood

                                I guess what I'm saying is that if one is served soup in that kind of bowl, it is de facto "the culture of the establishment" - same for bowls in Asian restaurants - hope I'm not beating dead horse.

                          2. Pick up the bowl. If those you're with don't like it, you're with the wrong people.

                            1. Depends on the scenario, and the culture. Like many on this thread have mentioned, in many Asian cultures, picking up your bowl to drink soup is not considered rude. I certainly found this to be true when visiting both China and Japan. In fact, in Chinese culture, in order to show your appreciation, you are actually supposed to slurp your soup, loudly. Belching in public is also acceptable.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: FoodieKat

                                A nine-year old's dream!

                                I have promised to take my son to a Chinese or Japanese restaurant where it will be okay to pick up his bowl and drink. I've had many conversations with him that start with "In our culture . . . " so I think he understands different customs and such.

                                Thanks, everyone, for the interesting responses. I learned a lot.

                                1. re: three of us

                                  That is very cool. I never truly experienced Asian cusine until I was in my late teens/early 20's. The closest I ever got growing up was the occasional chop suey takeout, and the rules for eating etiquette at home definitely didn't include picking up the bowl!

                                2. re: FoodieKat

                                  I spent 2 months traveling through China last year and never really experienced the slurping/belching you speak of (although it is true that mainland Chinese people, on the whole, tend to be pretty rude in general-- something about oppressive communism does that to a society)

                                  But in your typical Japanese ramen shop..... from Hokkaido to Kagoshima, holy cow, the slurping never stops.

                                  As for the reason why it is not permitted in our society, there is a good reason why you couldn't come up with an answer for your insightful child-- it is because rules of etiquette and custom are arbitrary. We do it because everyone else in our society does. When you're deeply entrenched in a culture (e.g. like we are in our culture) it is easy to assume that the way we do things is just the way its done. But when you get out of the country for a while (especially for an extended period) and see America from an outsider's perspective, it changes the way you see America (and the rest of the world). Plus... there's so much delicious food out there!

                                  Mr Taster
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                                  1. re: Mr Taster

                                    Yes, the mainland Chinese certainly don't hold back when it comes to chowing down. And I heard a LOT of slurping of soup, and witnessed a collective shovelling of a lot of food as quickly as possible into mouths. There certainly is. I really came to appreciate the subtle delights of regional Chinese cuisine.

                                3. Like others have said, it's ok in some circumstances however kids have an easier time with etiquette when theres one set of rules. I always ask myself: Could the kids do this (picking up the bowl, eating something with their fingers etc) in front of Grandma? If the answer is no, then I know what the rule is. Unfortunately past the "it's rude and uncivilized" explanation I can't think of why they shouldn't pick up the bowl.

                                  Once my own kids are older I want them to know that there are cultural differences and eventually they'll be able to take cues from their hosts in those situations... but for now I'll be sticking with what I grew up with so there'll be one clearly defined set of rules for now.

                                  1. There is nothing wrong with drinking soup, it just needs to be the right soup in the right vessel at the right time. Soup for drinking is served in a double-handled soup cup (formal), mug (informal), soup cups from several Asian countries. Soup for drinking is clear boullion or puree without chunks or miso, etc.

                                    Soup is not drunk when served in a regular soup bowl with spoon, when it is has chunks, noodles, or other elements that make it messy, or to "finish off" the bowl.

                                    Formal: cream of chestnut, bisque, etc in http://pages.somewhere-n-time.com/111...
                                    Information: chicken broth in mug while sick
                                    Japanese: miso in soup bowl

                                    1. Okay at home, not okay in most restaurants. End of story. Nine year olds are not so stupid as not to understand such subtleties, which aren't even subtle.

                                      If I had kids I'd encourage them to drink away.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: John Manzo

                                        Great point, John. We should have more faith in children. It's common for parents to teach kids things like the difference between "inside voices, outside voices." On second thought, maybe not as common as we wish...
                                        It's easy enough when we're teaching kids manners at the family table to distinguish between home and company manners. We were allowed to pick up most bones at home but my parents made it very clear that it wasn't something we should do in restaurants.

                                        We laughed recently when we heard the 5-year old son of friends say to himself as he entered a building, "Oops, inside! Hat off!" as he removed his baseball cap. What a cutie! He has no idea of the fine points of manners but you can take him just about anywhere and he'll behave well for a 5-year old.

                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                          I loved hearing about a young boy at a restaurant telling some loud patrons on cell phones to use their inside voice - in fact, may have read that on CH at some point.

                                        2. re: John Manzo

                                          Epilogue . . .

                                          My 9 year old is fairly typical of a young boy and I think there are rules he and his cousins can discern and remember depending on the setting and situation and other rules where it is helpful to just have one way of doing things.

                                          Each parent has to decide which is which depending on the child(ren) and their own standards.