With less than 24 hours to go before the first dinner in the series of the Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine (8GTCC), I thought it is apt that I write something about Chinese Dining Etiquette.
So, for the 52 adventurous diners who are attending the Hunan cuisine dinner in Alvin Garden, here is an assignment for you. Review and remember these etiquettes by heart … and put them into practice during the dinner. I am helping you by highlighting the important points in red and bold. *wink*
Eating is central to almost every occasion in the Chinese culture. When it comes to celebration of any sort, it is often celebrated by having a big dinner. It could be for a wedding, a new born, the opening of a new business, and birthdays. Arkensen was the first born of my generation. When he was 1 month old, my parents threw a banquet of 200 people! I also remember that during the funerals of my grandparents, the ceremony ended with food, albeit it was simple congee. So you can see that eating together is important to the Chinese.
THE CHINESE DINNER
A proper Chinese dinner table is round. In the western table setting, the table is long and the head of the table is reserved for the host. In the Chinese table setting, the most important person (not necessarily the host) has the honor of seated in the seat furthest away from the entrance and facing the entrance. The Chinese believe that honor goes to the most senior person, whether by age or by position in society.
The food for the dinner is normally picked by the host. There are no democracy in the selection of food. All decisions are left to the host and everyone is supposed to like it. If you don’t like it, it is rude to be upfront and frank about it. You either do not say anything about it or you pretend you like it.
THE TABLE SETTING
In the middle of a large round table, there is a Lazy Susan. This helps to pass around the food without passing plates. Passing plates are generally not encourage. If you want to pass food to others, you normally will pick up the food with the (communal) chopstick and pass it direct to their bowl.
On each seat, there is the bowl, a pair of chopsticks and a soup spoon. Modern table settings includes small plates where it is commonly used to put left over bones.
The Lazy Susan should be turned in only one direction. Usually it is clock wise.
Never rest the chopsticks flat on the table. Always rest it against the holder if provided or on your plate or bowl. Never ever stick it into the rice. The superstitious Chinese regards this as a bad omen because it resembles joss sticks used in praying to the dead.
You will notice that Chinese food are served in bite sizes. So you don’t really have fillets and such served. That is why chopsticks are just sufficient for the entire meal.
Because of health concerns, there are now communal chopsticks. You will they are communal because it is of a different color. If there are no communal chopsticks, some people uses the opposite end of their chopstick to pick the food. However, I am not sure if this is an acceptable practice because I don’t see people doing this anymore.
DINNER IS SERVED …
When the food is served, you are not supposed to … start eating even if you are hungry. The host or the most senior person will signal the start by pointing to the dishes and saying words to the effect of “eat your rice” or “raise your chopsticks”.
The proper way to eat is to hold the bowl of rice with the left hand. It is correct to lift the bowl to the mouth and shovel the food and rice with the chopsticks.
Unlike western food, Chinese meat are often cooked with bones. This is suppose to taste better. You usually have a small plate where you are to spit the bone into. Yeah, when I was younger we did not even bother with the plates at home … we just spit it on the table.
When offered the food, never turn it down even if you don’t like it. At least take a small piece.
The other thing is, never dig the food in the plate to select the choice piece. Always take the one nearest to you or at the top of the dish. Once you had touched the food with your chopsticks, you cannot change your mind and put it back … you gotta eat it.
AS YOU FINISH THE DINNER …
Oh yes. One very important thing … as you finish, you MUST eat every grain of rice on your bowl. When I was young, my mum always warned me that if I did not finish the rice, my future wife will have lots of pimples on her face. That is why today Suanne does not have pimples at all.
Now, this next thing is strange. No matter how full everyone is, no food is to be wasted. You are are to try to finish everything that is served.
However, if you notice, the last piece is left untouched. In part it is because it is greedy to eat the last piece. It is also an sign to the host that he is generous for ordering so much food that they can’t finish that last piece. If you really want that last piece, you have to pretend that you are forced by others to take it.
Here is one very important thing to remember too. When it come to paying for the dinner, you are to fight for the honour to pay. Losing the fight means losing face. If you really cannot afford it, just pretend to fight with a hand fumbling in the wallet pocket … and then pretend that you felt bad losing and demanding that you pay the next time. That, my dear diners, is the most important advice for you in Chinese Dining Etiquette.