Chinese people love to eat and China boasts one of the world's greatest and most varied cuisines. During the long development of Chinese eating culture, many practices have evolved that you may find quite different from what you are used to.
A common greeting in China is, "Have you eaten?" (吃了吗？ chīle ma?)
The History of Chinese Eating Culture
China is a country with a long history of ritual and etiquette, and eating is highly important feature of China’s culture, so naturally dining etiquette has developed to a high degree. Dining etiquette is said to have its beginnings in the Zhou Dynasty (1045-256 BC).
Through thousands of years of evolution it has developed into a set of generally accepted dining rituals and practices. However, there is still variation in table etiquette according to the character and purpose of a banquet and great differences regionally.
The Richness of China's Eating Culture
Food in China is a science, an art, and a social activity.
The science of Traditional Chinese Medicine is employed all over China to create healthy and well-balanced meals (see Medicinal Cuisine). In China's Eight Great Cuisines, food has become an art form combining taste and appearance. And, whether on a snack street, in a restaurant, or in someone's home food is more often the common ground over which people get together to socialize, unlike the drinking culture of many Western countries.
Eating and Drinking in China is Different
Eating and drinking in China can be a mind-broadening and enjoyable cultural experience. However, there are likely to be many surprises along the way. We would like to prepare you for, and even warn you of, the main differences between eating and drinking in China and in the West.
- The food is different to Chinese food in Western countries.
- The restuarant environment is different.
- Seating arangements are different.
- And table manners are different.
Eating Environment - Noisy
Being surrounded by much loud talking and laughing is a typical ambience at a Chinese restaurant. Chinese people like a noisy and upbeat atmosphere when having a gathering and meals are no exception. People regard it as a rule of thumb that if the dishes of a restaurant are good and tasty then the restaurant will be noisy and busy. The crowds at a restaurant indicate the deliciousness of the dishes.
If you want a quiet place to enjoy your meal, some restaurants provide private rooms with one or more tables.
- Learn more about what to expect from Chinese restaurants in China.
Seating Arrangment of an Banquet
The seating arrangement is probably the most important part of Chinese dining etiquette. In modern dining, seating arrangements have been simplified to: 1. master of the banquet, 2. honored guest(s), and 3. other guests.
- Read more on China's seating arrangements.
As a guest at a meal, one should be particular about one’s appearance and determine whether to bring small gifts or good wine, according the degree of relationship with the master of the banquet. It is important to be punctual.
On arrival introduce yourself, or let the master of the banquet do the introduction if unknown to others, and then take a seat in accordance with the master of the banquet’s arrangement.
- See more on table manners in China.