In A Rice Bowl — Five Delightful Servings of the Asian Culture



IF FOOD IS THE MARKER OF CULTURAL IDENTITY, so then are the wares used to serve and eat with. In Asia where rice is a staple food, the rice bowl is not just for eating with but also a form that has a strong cultural significance.

Here’s serving up five interesting trivia you might not know about our favourite staple food.

1. On the oft-heard greeting: ‘Have you eaten yet?’

A pair of chopsticks and rice bowl make up a typical set of dining wares in many Asian homes. The IN GOOD COMPANY Rice Bowl designed by SCENE SHANG with IN GOOD COMPANY, shown here with a pair of FU Chopsticks.

It does not necessarily mean that your host is off to whip up a meal for you if ‘no’ is your answer to ‘Have you eaten yet?’ (你吃饭了吗?nǐ chīfànle ma). In fact, he is not so concerned whether you have eaten.

This question is synonymous to ‘How are you?’ and originated from times when the poor were struggling to survive. The next time you get a greeting like this, do not expect food but a good conversation.

2. On why the rice bowl is more common than the plate

Rice Porridge
A bowl of Japanese rice porridge. Rice porridge, otherwise known as congee, is a common meal embraced by many Asian countries.

The breadwinner of the family is said to be one who ‘养家糊口’ yǎngjiā húkǒu (which directly translates to ‘raises the family, porridge to the mouth’). Since ancient times, porridge was eaten by the poor, because it is filling—when days were great, the porridge served was thick, and when days were hard, the porridge served was as thin as gruel. This is why the bowl became more commonly used than the plate.

3. On the warm comfort that fits right in your hand

 The dimensions of a rice bowl are derived from the measurements of the human hand.

Traditionally, the ‘ideal bowl’ is said to be one that creates a 12-cm sphere when two identical bowls are cupped together. Why is it this small?

Eating would be a hassle if the chopsticks have to go back and forth, only picking up a small morsel each time. It is much easier to cradle the bowl in one hand, close to the mouth for the chopsticks to do the work. Over time, this became a part of the dining etiquette and it is now considered rude to eat from a rice bowl without lifting it off the table.

4. On the metaphorical ‘iron rice bowl’ 


The concept of the ‘iron rice bowl’ 铁饭碗 tiě fànwǎn is not only deeply rooted in many Asian countries but also prevails in Korea and Singapore. It refers to the system of guaranteed lifetime employment in state-owned enterprises where civil servants and their jobs are guaranteed for life.

Those who have an ‘iron rice bowl’ are said to have a stable income to provide food for themselves and their family under any circumstances. For a long time, the ‘iron rice bowl’ was coveted by many.

5. On togetherness and reunion dinners

 As explored in Rice Bowl - a first novel from the first Singapore Literature Prize Winner, Suchen Christine Lim, the rice bowl is a symbol of togetherness in the Chinese culture. This notion was gradually integrated over time due to the use of the rice bowl during Chinese reunion dinners and family dinners.


A bowl of rice on the table represents the reward for the hard work that was put in during the day. Having your rice bowl filled means that you are able to provide for yourself. Having your rice bowls filled at reunion dinner hence signifies abundance for the year that has passed and a prosperous new year ahead.



The IN GOOD COMPANY Rice Bowl is a collaboration with a local fashion company, IN GOOD COMPANY. The company explores the creation of the form of tableware using fabrics that they work with for their fashion line. Debut at Singaplural 2017, March.


Like the Middle Kingdom Vases and Tea Pets, IN GOOD COMPANY Rice Bowls made of porcelain are handcrafted by the same craftsmen in Jingdezhen.

The material used to cast the resulting shape of the IN GOOD COMPANY Rice Bowl is a full needle knit material known for being malleable and following the forms that it wraps and drapes on. The rice bowl has a soft texture on the outer surface that can be felt when caressed with both hands. Holding the rice bowl in your hand thus becomes a very sensual experience.


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IN GOOD COMPANY (IGC) is about people. It’s about being in excellent companionship with like-minded people and the curious; it’s about working and collaborating with creative people and brands. Co-founded by four friends in December 2012, IGC is touted as the definitive brand for modern classics with a twist. A label of wardrobe essentials, IGC’s aesthetic is defined by clean silhouettes and a blend of relaxed tailoring with surprising details.