When visiting a country and experiencing a culture that isn’t your own, one thing that really makes trips memorable is enjoying food and drinks that you aren’t familiar with.
It doesn’t matter which part of China you choose to visit; it’s really important to step outside your comfort zone and sample a little of everything. But it’s not just visiting a local tea house that will make your experience extra interesting. Dining out should be an essential part of any itinerary, but just as the food items on offer differ so too does the dining etiquette.
Unlike the way most cultures use food, Chinese dining is full of traditions, a fact that makes eating out at a real, local restaurant in China particularly daunting for many visitors. Here, we take a closer look at the Chinese dining etiquette rules that every visitor needs to know, so you can dine with complete confidence and enjoy some of the best food around.
Let your host do the hard work
When it comes to dining like a local, your host will be in charge of most of your dining experience. Ordering is a biggie in any Chinese restaurant. But in many cases taking advice from the host or simply showing up and eating whatever is put in front of you is the way to go. Be prepared for a feast though, many Chinese dinners consist of around 10 courses.
As a guest you do have a vital role to play, even if you’re not charged with ordering your own food. You must dress well for dinner and always arrive on time, particularly when dining in formal settings.
Service is by age and authority
If you’re dining as a group, be prepared to wait if you’re eating with older relatives or party members. How you’re served in a real Chinese restaurant comes down to your age and status within your family or party. This means your grandparents, or older members of your group will be served first, and then your father, mother, aunts and uncles, before you and the rest of your group even gets a look in. The same serving strategy applies when drinking Chinese tea.
Whether eating food or drinking tea, the seating arrangements of your dinner party are also dictated by your seniority. Elderly guests tend to be given the coveted title of guest of honour. The guest of honour has special status at any Chinese dinner. If your guest of honour is not seated, other guests must stand. If they haven’t begun eating, you can’t tuck in either.
There is such thing as chopstick etiquette
Your eating utensils must be used respectfully. Whilst most people are aware that chopsticks must be placed to the side of the bowl, not in the bowl, when taking a break from eating, there are many more rules relating to their use. TripSavvy explains the main don’ts in Chinese chopstick etiquette:
“Remember, even though chopsticks are fun for people who didn’t grow up using them daily, they are eating utensils! Would you spin, tap, play drums, bang together, or point at something with your fork and knife at home? Doing any of these things will brand you as an uncivilized amateur. Do not use your chopsticks to point at food or for gesturing in the air while talking. This is an easy mistake to absentmindedly make while complimenting a particular dish. Do not leave your chopsticks pointing directly at someone across the table. Angle them slightly. Do not click your chopsticks together to make a noise, use them as drumsticks, or to move anything other than food.”
Want more handy Chinese dining etiquette advice ahead of your trip? Read this essential guide for further information.