The most important etiquette rules on how to serve and eat prawns with grace. Tips to be the ideal host or the perfect guest at the dining table.


What prawns etiquette is

Prawns etiquette is the set of rules to properly serve and eat prawns. Such rules help avoid behaviors that can disrespect your hosts or guests, or make you look unpolite.

If you are hosting, follow prawns etiquette to serve them to your guests appropriately.

If you are a guest, respect prawns etiquette rules to properly eat and enjoy them.

What you should know about prawns

Prawns are crustaceans. They have 10 pairs of legs. They are similar to shrimp. Prawns and shrimp are two different suborders of decapod (“with 10 legs”) crustaceans.  

The main differences between prawns and shrimp:

  • The body of prawns can bend less compared to shrimp.
  • Prawns have 3 pairs of small claws, while shrimp have 1 pair.
  • Prawns have longer legs.
  • Normally, prawns tend to be larger, depending on the variety.
  • More varieties of prawns live in freshwater, while around 75% of shrimp live in saltwater.
How To Serve And Eat Prawns: The Top 6 Etiquette rules

Etiquette rules to serve and eat prawns

1) How to store prawns

It is best to eat prawns right away. Avoid storing them. Do not leave prawns at room temperature for over 2 hours.

If you store prawns, do not remove the shell before storing them. Place them on a single layer, do not stack them.

You can store fresh or cooked prawns in your fridge for 1 or 2 days. 

Alternatively, you can store fresh prawns in the freezer. They can last for up to 3-6 months.

2) How to clean prawns

If you serve prawns whole, wash them in cool running water before cooking them. 

Otherwise, after washing them, remove their head, legs, and shell. You can either leave or remove the fins of the tail. You should remove the intestinal tract, which is the dark vein that runs along the prawn’s tail.

3) How to cook prawns

There are several ways to cook prawns. Boil, steam, fry, or grill. 

Cook prawns thoroughly to avoid food poisoning.

Prawns are among the most common food allergens. They are not kosher, thus they are one of the Jewish dietary restrictions. Before you include prawns in your menu, ask your guests if they have any restrictions.

4) How to serve & present prawns

Serve prawns cleaned or intact. Cleaned prawns should be without a head, legs, shell, and intestinal tract. They can be with or without the final part of their tail. 

If you serve prawns intact, you can provide your guests with an additional small plate to discard the head, legs, shell, and tail. Provide a small bowl of water and lemon to wash the fingers. 

5) Foods and beverages to pair prawns with

Prawns go well with vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, or broccoli. You can use them as an ingredient for salads and pasta. Avoid pairing prawns with other fish. Do not pair prawns with meat. 

Pair prawns with white wine. Unoaked Chardonnay, Chablis, Sauvignon Blanc, or Riesling. Do not pair prawns with red wine.

6) How to eat prawns

Eating prawns with your hands

If prawns are served intact, you can eat them with your hands

First, remove the head and the tail with a sharp pull. Remove the shell by starting from the belly, where the legs meet the body. Press your thumb right above the legs to crack the shell. Remove the legs. Then peel the shell off. If you need to loosen up the shell, gently bend the prawns against its curve. 

Some people prefer to remove the black vein from the back of the prawns too. The vein is the intestinal tract and it is edible. Removing it can get messy and close to precision surgery. So, if the thin black thread does not bother you, you can leave it and eat it. 

If prawns are served headless but with their tail, use the tail to handle the prawns and bring them to your mouth. Then discard the tail.

Eating prawns with a fork and knife

On formal occasions, or if prawns are in a saucy or oily course, you should eat them with a fork and knife. 

Hold the body with the fork and remove the head and the tail with a sharp cut of your knife. Hold the body with the knife, and gently stick the tips of your fork right above where the legs meet the body to hold the prawns. Gently stick the tip of your knife in the opening of the shell where the tail was. Remove the shell by gently working your way with the knife up. 

Place the heads, legs, shells, and tails in a spare plate or bowl. If the spare plate or bowl is not available, place them orderly on a side of your plate. Clean your fingers in a fingerbowl, which is usually available, with water and drops of lemon juice.

On formal occasions, do not suck the juice from the heads. In informal venues, this may be allowed.

prawns etiquette mistakes

Prawns etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst prawns etiquette mistakes. 

  • 9/10. Serving spoiled prawns.
  • 7/10. Pairing prawns with meat
  • 6/10. Pairing prawns with red wine.
  • 6/10. Making a mess eating prawns.

Additional information for properly serving prawns

How many calories per serving?

Counting calories is important to stay healthy and to correctly plan a menu.

Prawns and shrimps have similar nutritional values. Prawns contain around 99 calories per 100 grams. The calories per serving vary based on the dimension of the prawns.

How to buy the best prawns

A crucial factor in prawns etiquette is to serve the best product possible to your guests.

Season and availability 

The season for prawns depends on the variety of prawns, the habitat, and the region. In general, prawns are available all year round.

Choose the best

Fresh prawns are firm, look fresh and moist, and have a delicate smell. Avoid prawns that look musky, have dark spots, or smell bad.

Alternatives to prawns

The best substitutes for prawns are shrimp or scampi.


Which part of the prawns is edible? You can eat every part of the prawns, but the head and the legs. The shell, tail, and black vein are edible but usually discarded. 

What part of the prawns can’t you eat? The head and the legs.

Can you eat prawns raw? You can eat prawns raw, but it is not recommended. Prawns have a high risk of bacterial growth.

Do you eat prawns head? It is best to discard the head of the prawns.

What is the black vein in prawns? The black vein in prawns is the intestinal tract. It is perfectly edible. 

What is the difference between shrimp and prawns? Shrimp and prawns are similar. They are two different suborders of decapod crustaceans. The two terms, and the animals they refer to, are often confused. In general, in restaurant menus, “shrimp” refers to smaller crustaceans, “prawn” to larger ones.