Eating in China - Table Manners

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Eating in China - Table Manners

Postby long_way » Wed Apr 30, 2008 5:53 pm

Chinese people just love their food and after I have tasted so many delicious Chinese dishes myself I am not all that surprised. Chinese cuisine is so varied that everyone can find something for their taste; if you like it spicy - no problem, Sichuan, Guiyang and Yunnan have plenty of it; if you like it unusual Guangdong is the place to be; vegetarian? plenty of that too...

But there is a little problem: in order to fully enjoy Chinese food while in China you will have to be able to read Chinese menu! Yes, often you will get a menu in English too (with slightly higher prices for the same dishes) but translations may be even more confusing than the Chinese writing. I ate my best meals in China when I was accompanied with my Chinese friends because they knew what they were ordering.

There is, however, solution to that problem too (although it may not work all the time): look for the restaurants which have dishes displayed for the customers to see them before you place your order!

One of such restaurants is in Shanghai: ... 1c65_b.jpg

it's located on Shandong Rd at Fuzhou Rd, it's very easy to find: ... e010_b.jpg

They have all the dishes nicely lined up on the back wall; just browse through all of them and point to the one you like: ... 3cab_b.jpg ... f597_b.jpg ... 00c7_b.jpg

and yes, these are silkworm cocoons, if you have been looking for them for ages, you can enjoy them at this restaurant for Y30 ($4): ... 91d1_b.jpg

Western tourist who are not frequent visitors to Chinese restaurants in their own countries may find chopsticks a bit inconvenient but if you ask for a spoon and fork you will get it so that should not be a problem.

There is another problem that you may come across at most mid-range restaurants if you decide to eat lunch by yourself: for Chinese people eating is a social event so their dishes and their food in general is best enjoyed when eaten with a group of people. In that case everyone orders one or two dishes and after that all those dishes are arranged in the middle of the table when everyone can help themselves. Basically you will have "your own" bowl of rice, your chopsticks and your tea cup, everything else is shared among all people at the table.

If you are hosted by a Chinese family be prepared for an endless stream of dishes; forget about "appetizer - soup - main dish - desert - coffee" routine; sweet and sour, bitter and salty, soups and stews come without any apparent logic (although soups usually make their way to the table towards the end of the meal, to wash down all the grease I suppose).

These are some of the main points when it comes to table manners in China:

- Elder members of the family are served dishes first to show them respect,

- if your host serves some of the dishes to you with their own chopsticks that is gesture of politeness and respect; in turn you are expected to eat what was given to you and even say how tasty it was (unless you actually don't like duck tongues, then you can say: "thank you" and leave it there),

- eat what is offered to you but never finish it all, leave some food on the plate, otherwise the host may feel uncomfortable because you can give them impression they did not have enough food to serve,

- don't play with your chopsticks, don't tap them on the bowl (Beggars tap on their bowls, also impatient people at the restaurant, that's an insult to the host or the chef), when you are finished just lay them on the empty plate (or on the dish if you are not using them during the meal),

- this is a big no-no: never stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl! It is considered extremely impolite to do that because when somebody dies, the shrine to them contains a bowl of sand or rice with two sticks of incense stuck upright in it. Your host may think that you wish them death,

- the spout of the teapot should not face anyone, it would be considered impolite do do so; it should be directed to where no one is sitting or just outward from the table,

- always pour tea to others before you re-fill your own teacup,

- turning a fish over to debone it is usually done by the host or a waiter, don't do it yourself, since the separation of the fish skeleton from the lower half of the flesh is deem bad luck by the superstitious people (they think bad things will ensue and a fishing boat will capsize if you do so). This is especially true to southerners in China (to be specific, such as Guangdong, Guangxi and Fujian provinces, etc.), since, traditionally, southerners are the fishing population.

- when a waiter/waitress re-fills your teacup you can just tap your fingers 3-4 times on the table; that gesture has the same meaning as saying "thank you",

- spitting bones or other similar hard-to-chew food particles into a small plate or bowl in front of you is not considered impolite,

- making slurping noises while you eat your noodles is perfectly ok,

- smoking in a Chinese restaurant (in China) is not unusual at all...

Some of the points mentioned above are also in this PowerPoint presentation: ... quette.ppt
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