While burgers, fried chicken and pizza are all amazing, but sometimes, the only thing that really hits the spot is Chinese food. While getting Chinese delivered to your door is a pretty wonderful indication of how technology is evolved, eating out at a Chinese restaurant (or better yet, Chinese home cooking) is an entirely different kettle of fish.
But while you’re chowing down on some chow mein or anything like that, you should do your best to ensure you don’t accidentally upset your gracious hosts while eating their delicious meals. So to help you with that, here are a couple of extremely important etiquette things to remember when eating Chinese food.
1. Never put soy sauce on your fried rice
One of the simplest, yet most delicious, dishes on many a Chinese restaurant menu, fried rice is perfect for the beginner who wants to sample delicious flavor without getting into the sometimes intimidating soups and sauces on offer. But when eating your fried rice, resist the urge to splash some soy sauce onto your rice. You see, soy sauce is meant to add flavor to any meal, and similar to how you wouldn’t salt food at the table, you don’t want to imply to your chef that your meal hasn’t been seasoned and flavored to perfection already.
2. When pouring tea, be sure to hold the lid of the teapot
When you require a little bit of liquid refreshment as you eat, a nice cup of tea usually does the trick, I find. But when you’re pouring tea for yourself (and the rest of your dining partners, of course), be sure to hold the lid of the teapot as you do so. This one’s not only etiquette, but common sense too; I don’t know about you, but I think there are better ways to show gratitude to your host than dropping a teapot lid into their cup, splashing boiling water into their eyes.
3. Never cross your chopsticks on the table
So, here’s the situation. You’re enjoying your various appetizers and main courses, the conversation is flowing, and you’re having a good time. But then, you realize you’re too full of tea, and have to excuse yourself to the bathroom. When putting down your chopsticks to visit the porcelain throne, do not cross your chopsticks. Just don’t. As in many cultures, making a big “X” with anything comes across a lot like denial, and you really don’t want to upset your chef after they’ve done such a good job of filling you up.
4. Be careful how you use your chopsticks on a communal dish
Sometimes, it’s nice to enjoy a sharing platter with the other people on your table. Spicy fried squid? Spring rolls? Get in my belly, please. But when grabbing at them with your chopsticks, be sure to turn your sticks around so the end that’s touching the food isn’t the end you’ve been putting in your mouth the entire time. Seriously. That would be like licking every individual piece of food on that platter.
5. Don’t stick your chopsticks into your fried rice
When someone dies in China, a common custom when honoring the dead is to push a couple of burning incense sticks. When you use a pair of simple eating tools to mimic that tradition in a not-altogether-too-reverent fashion, you can see why people might get upset with you.
6. When you make a toast, be sure to use both hands
Let’s say you’re eating Chinese food to commemorate a special occasion. Maybe it’s a friend’s birthday, or someone close to you is getting engaged. So, you eagerly tap a glass with your fork, and say some kind words for a toast. When imploring everyone to raise their glass, you’ll notice that they’ll do so with both hands on their drinking utensil. Back in times gone by, toasting with both hands implied that you were unarmed, and that while everyone else was drinking, you wouldn’t try to stab everyone at the table or anything like that. Good rule to have, I think.
7. Never pop a soup dumpling with your chopsticks
Mmmm. Dumplings are wonderful, but when it comes to soup dumplings (also known as xiao long bao), that deliciousness can be slightly awkward. All that hot soup coming out of your dumpling can be difficult to eat without burning your tongue, but the correct (and polite) way to do so is to chew a hole in the dumpling, slurping up the soup before muching on the delicious filling inside. Don’t stab your dumpling with one of the chopsticks, spilling soup everywhere like a popped zit.
8. Don’t flip the fish
When there’s a nice, big, juicy fish on the table, it won’t be a surprise that the first half of the fish will go rather quickly. When you raise your chopsticks to take another piece, you’ll be greeted by plenty of bone, and that’s not nearly as tasty. When trying to get through to the other side of fish, you’ll be tempted to flip the fish over to get to the fresh meat, but that’s kind of symbolic of a boat capsizing, and considering that’s how you got the fish in the first place, it’s kind of rude. Instead, pull the fish bone out, and chow down.
9. Don’t tap your chopsticks again the bowl
Here we go now; you’re almost a Chinese dining-etiquette master. One last thing; I don’t know why you would, but please refrain from tapping your bowl with chopsticks at pretty much every opportunity. It’s how the homeless in China go about asking for food, and for obvious reasons that’s quite disrespectful at a dinner table. If you’re feeling the rhythm at the dinner table, just tap on your thighs on something.
Well, there you have it, folks: nine ways to stay ahead of the etiquette game when it comes to eating Chinese food. Pretty soon, my Chinese friend has his birthday coming up, and with these guidelines, the only way I’m getting thrown out of his dinner party is if I get too drunk again. I think you can call that progress, right?