At Chinese meal times, Chinese people use a round or square table. Person of the most importance would usually take the seat the farthest away from the door whilst the youngest or the person of the least importance would take the seat closest to the door.
However, if you are the host, usually you would take the seat which is closest to the walkway since it allows the most convenient movement by the host.
Unlike the western style, Chinese people do not use forks and knives. We use a pair of chopsticks and spoons. Unlike Japanese chopsticks, Chinese chopsticks have both ends of the same size whilst Japanese ones have one end sharper than the other.
There are several things to remember when you use chopsticks.
- Don't dig in the food on a plate but just get the piece which you want to get
- Don't pick one piece then drop it back in the plate and change to another piece
- Don't let your chopsticks be covered with food juice or residue
- Don't use chopsticks to beat any utensils to make any noise
- Don't wave your chopsticks
- Don't use chopsticks like forks
- Don't use chopsticks as toothpicks
- Don't lick or suck your chopsticks
- Don't put chopsticks vertically in rice in a bowl since it resembles the incense sticks for the dead
Particularly after SARS, it is more common these days that people use a pair of common chopsticks for fetching the food on the plates. Don't forget to swap your own chopsticks with the ones provided when getting the food because of hygiene reasons.
In a Chinese meal, an even number of dishes should be ordered. Odd numbers of dishes would be appropriate only for occasions such as the meal after a funeral.
The best dish should be put in front of the most important person in order to show your respect. Chicken head or duck head on a plate should not point at guests. The big bowl of soup should be placed in the middle.
If you are the guest, remember not to leave too much food behind because it would mean that you don't like the food. Also, when you eat fish, it would be better if you just take out the skeletons after finishing one side of the meat than to turn the whole fish upside down because it resembles a boat being turned upside down.
Rice in China is the same important as potatoes in the west. Some people need to eat 2 or more bowls of rice at each meal. Especially the older generation, they can't have a meal without rice. However, modern Chinese tend to replace rice with congee (a kind of porridge like food made of rice boiled with a lot of water), noodles or even go without any. So if you are not a big rice eater, you still have a lot others to choose from.
With Chinese restaurants being so popular everywhere in the world, I think it is time you should get a grip of how to use chopsticks.
About The Author
Wong Yee Lee
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