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China: A Guide to Eating on Group Tours...


Evelyn Hannon

I've travelled independently to China on three different occasions. One time I spent three weeks in Hong Kong with a wonderful guide who taught me about the many different cuisines of China. Ditto for my time in Shanghai where I met up with other JourneyWomen who took me to their favorite dining spots. And one time I travelled with a group to Guillin and all our meals were group meals eaten in cavernous restaurants. This last one eaten with foreigners like myself was a completely different experience and I learned so much from it. Primarily, I learned that the food served to you is without any creativity whatsoever and, there is an art and an etiquette to eating in groups in China.

Lazy Susan 101...

*A Lazy Susan is a rotating tray, usually circular, placed on top of a table to aid in moving food on a large table or countertop..

Once you've been on a few group tours in China you begin to understand that while you are being taken to different restaurants, the food you eat in those restaurants is the same everywhere. This is very unusual food; it's called 'Chinese' food but people living in China don't really eat it at all. The 'pretend Chinese food' we had on our tour never, ever appeared on the restaurants' regular menus. I guess that the chefs who prepare these dishes probably all use the same cookbooks prepared by their Bureau of Tourism's Food Committee. That book is probably subtitled, 'What foreigners like to eat.' I pity anybody who goes on a three-week tour and is served a steady diet of bland tourists' food. Authentic Chinese food can be so tasty and so creative.

They say that if you lose one of your senses, the four remaining are heightened. Since I had laryngitis for the full time I was in China my sense of sight (and awareness) were far more pronounced. I used this 'silent' time to identify the many techniques used to eat from the ubiquitous Lazy Susan in the center of each Chinese dining table. Here they are written with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

(a) The 'I'm so hungry I need to be first' technique -- This is the method by which the diner holds one hand on the Lazy Susan so it can't turn and then slowly studies the many dishes to decide what they will have. This is an interesting technique that centers solely on the diner and their needs. It inevitably makes the other diners restless and cranky.

(b) T he 'I want the best piece' technique -- This method highlights the diners who rummage through the serving platters with their chopsticks in order to come up with the choicest pieces of food for their own plates. It was one of the more popular techniques practiced at the tables I was at. This technique is very good at promoting quiet indignation in the other diners. Not to be used when dining with your boss or someone else you choose to impress.

Don't love food(c) The 'My friends (or relatives) are very hungry, too' technique -- With this method the diner makes sure that their loved ones don't go hungry. The maneuver goes something like this. After the diners serve themselves they request the plate of their friend sitting across the table. They courteously ask their pal what they would like on their plate and proceed to heap his or her plate with the choicest morsels they can find. This is a tricky technique because it pleases friends but alienates everybody else.

(d) The 'Spinning' technique -- This is the method used by those who are bored or on a diet. They simply and continuously spin the Lazy Susan round and round and round without touching the food. This technique pleases no one.

(e) The 'I love your veggies' technique -- This is a sly move. In this technique all attention is focused on the special vegetarian platters served to those diners who choose not to eat meat. Before you can say, 'steamed rapini' the carnivores are saying, 'Oh those veggies look wonderful' and are digging into the vegetarians plates as well. This makes the vegetarians very indignant and very skinny.

(f) Then there is the 'Last piece' method -- With this technique followers of the 'Last piece' method clamp their chopsticks around the lone piece of chicken, beef or shrimp on the platter and utter the words, 'Does anybody want this last piece.' It's curious. Nobody ever says, 'yes.'

(g) Finally, there is the 'Please go ahead' technique -- This is an amazingly easy technique. It takes only one polite person at the table to say to another diner, 'Please go ahead and serve yourself first.' When it was executed I noticed and I knew I was in the company of a true lady or gentleman.

She’s a savvy diner in China...

  • Don't love foodIf you do not want more tea, leave some in your cup.
  • It is considered rude to tap your chopsticks on the table.
  • Sauces are for dipping. Do not pour them into your rice bowl
  • Dropping your chopsticks is considered bad luck.
  • Do not place your chopstick parallel on the top of your bowl. This, too, is considered bad luck.
  • Always use the serving spoons or chopsticks to take your food from the communal plates served family style.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: She eats great Chinese food in Beijing. Click here

    (Source: Raise Your Cultural IQ, Louisa Nedkov, ISBN0-9684413-0-0)






    Back to GirlTalk China...



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