Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chinese Dining Rules

As you're celebrating Chinese New Year/Spring Festival (you have until the Lantern Festival on Feb. 17, which is the last day of the celebration), you might find these explanations of some Chinese dining customs helpful:

1. Do not rest chopsticks vertically in rice . . .

[T]he sight of two upright chopsticks in a bowl is reminiscent of the incense sticks that the Chinese traditionally burn in veneration of deceased loved ones. . . .

2. Never turn over the fish

In Chinese restaurants, the standard is for a fish to be served whole.

After working your way through the tender top side, it may seem logical to simply flip the fish and continue. Unfortunately, doing so has an unforeseen consequence.

Meaning: You’ve capsized the boat.

According to Lo, this is of more concern in regions that rely strongly on fishing or are located along the coast. . . .

3. Birthday noodles

Chinese tradition calls for a birthday girl or boy to slurp a bowl of noodles as a celebration of the many years ahead. And as “Lady and the Tramp” so aptly demonstrated, that one long noodle can be a great thing.

Meaning: It symbolizes longevity.

In this case, that long strip of noodle is a metaphor for the long walk of life. Yet this tradition comes with an addendum: do not cut the noodles. . . .

4. Tea tapping is a must

A tea cup should never be allowed to run dry.

Your host, or members of your dinner party, will regularly refill the cups of those around them, who tap the table in response. Go ahead and follow suit.

Meaning: It’s a show of thanks. . . .

5. Always order an even number of dishes

When out with a sizable crowd, you want to ensure you order enough food. A rule of thumb is to order dishes equivalent to the number of people in your party, plus one. But if you’re an even-numbered crowd, this will put you at odds -- in numbers and in fortune.

Meaning: Odd number of dishes symbolizes death (again).

“For regular meals, you’d always order an even number of dishes, because an odd number is usually only ordered at a funeral meal,” says Lo. . . .
Not turning over the fish was the only one on this list that I didn't know when we went to China for 5 months in 2007.  But being in coastal Xiamen, it wasn't long before we learned of this custom.  I'm afraid we dumped a few fishermen overboard before the kindly waitstaff at our favorite restaurant set us straight, though!

1 comment:

An said...

I am Taiwanese, and did not know about #2. My parents always turned over the fish. It just seems more practical.

I didn't know about #5 either... my parents would always order one dish per person, plus a soup. But I don't think they followed the "odd/even" thing.

But I would ALWAYS get yelled at for not following #1.