In America, we don’t really follow a lot of traditions when it comes to sitting down and eating a meal, which is why it was so interesting to learn how to eat a traditional Chinese meal (dining etiquette and all)…
First of all, the dinner table will be one large table with a communal spinning service, which is an easy way to pass food. In a Chinese dinner, a lot of different dishes are ordered, and everyone tries some of each (sort of what we call “family style” in America).
- You will be given a towel to wash your hands in the beginning of dinner. Some people will wash their face with this towel, but if you are wearing makeup I would not recommend doing that. For obvious reasons.
- On some tables, there will be two sets of chop sticks. If this is the case, use one set to get food from the communal dish, and the other to eat with. If this isn’t the case, then don’t worry about it. Make sure to place your chopsticks on the stands when you are done using them, and never stick them straight up in your food.
- Real Chinese food is a lot different than American Chinese food, and you won’t find any General Tsos or Egg rolls on the menu. It also varies from region to region, so depending on what part of China you visit, you’ll be eating different cuisine. My favorite dishes in Shanghai were the crab dumplings (or Xiaolong Bao) and the Shanghai-Style Braised Pork Belly (Hong Shao Rou). If you visit Shanghai, crab is the most popular item, where in Beijing it is roasted duck.
- Everytime you drink, cheers someone at the table. Cheers in Chinese is Gānbēi. Google can sound this out for you. This was the hardest for me, as I don’t like people to know how much wine I am actually consuming.
- Pour others tea before you pour your own. If you notice someone’s tea is low, fill it for them. If someone fills your tea, tap the table as a thanks.
- At the end of the meal, dessert is usually a sweet syrupy soup with mini rice balls. It might sound like a weird dessert, but give it a chance. It’s really good.
Hopefully after reading this article, you’ll be a little more prepared than I was for your first traditional Chinese dinner!