The Chinese dining etiquette is teeming with significant traditions that reflects life, family and respect. Even the most mundane act of pouring tea has certain meanings that could spell the difference between respect and outright rudeness.
If you think that you need to catch up, here are some of those dining customs you must be familiar with:
Tap the tea
Tea tapping is an old Chinese custom for the Cantonese which originated with Emperor Qian Long who used to travel in disguise so he could experience how everyday people go about their lives. In one occasion, he went to a restaurant with one of his servants and poured him a cup of tea – a practice unheard of at that time. As a way of showing his gratefulness without compromising the Emperor’s cover, the servant tapped his fingers on the table to show gratitude and respect.
In modern practice, where a tea cup should never be allowed to dry up, the host or members of the dinner party regularly refills it. Instead of the usual “thank you,” a tap would be a more practical response. Imagine having to say thank you everytime your cup is refilled (which could be more than twice), and you’re caught in deep conversation.
How you arrange your chopsticks also has meanings in Chinese culture, and you ought to be aware of it if you don’t want to offend people. For instance, arranging your chopsticks vertically in your rice can mean “a harbinger of death”. Sticking these upright on your rice is also reminiscent of incense sticks which the Chinese traditionally burn for deceased loved ones.
While waiting for the next course, simply arrange your chopsticks on the rest and avoid crossing them over.
Enjoy the Full Course
If you find yourself in one of those Chinese banquets, expect to partake in about 12 to 20 courses which could last for hours. You cannot simply excuse yourself because dinner is over only when the host stands up to offer the final toast.
What some culture may find rude, the Chinese considers it a sign of good luck. Slurping a bowl of noodles is essential when a young boy or girl celebrates their birthday. Slurping noodles instead of cutting them with your teeth is a metaphor for longevity. In regular meals, slurping your noodles also mean that you enjoyed it. So, if you are ever invited in a Chinese table and served with a steaming and fragrant bowl of noodles, feel free to slurp away!
No Fish Flipping
A whole fish is always a staple in a Chinese meal spread, and you might be amused to know that there is also a method to eating it. It is their practice not to turn the fish over but rather remove the bone in the middle to proceed enjoying the meat. This tradition stems from the fisherfolk to whom fish also symbolizes boat. The word for fish also sound like the word for surplus, so turning it over is just like capsizing your luck.
Service Over Self
If you are invited by a friend, or if you happen to treat someone for a Chinese meal, the one who made the invitation should be the one to serve. This a testament to how the Chinese makes sure that their guests are made to feel welcome.
Tip the Sticks
If there are no serving utensils available, tip your chopsticks to pick morsels of food. Surprisingly, this doesn’t symbolize anything, but simply a practice of hygiene.
Even numbers often have auspicious meanings for the Chinese. So, when you are out with a considerably large crowd be sure that you order enough food. Etiquette dictates that you order dishes equivalent to the number of people in your party, plus an additional dish. However, if you are an even-numbered group you might have to add two more dishes because odd numbers symbolize death.
Finish All Your Rice
Rice plays a significant role in Chinese culture, and it is also important that you finish all of it if you don’t want your future spouse to have as many pockmarks in his/her face. Yes, it is rather amusing, but if you are the cautious kind, finish every kernel!
Battle for the Bill
Splitting the bill does not exist in Chinese customs because when it arrives, you’ve got to prepare for battle. It is customary that even as a guest it is impolite not to offer to foot the bill. No matter how you settle it, the point here is to offer to pay for it, at the least.
The Chinese dining tradition is as colorful as the meal prepared. Get your own feast at Tak Po today and enjoy one of Singapore’s authentic handmade dim sum. Reserve a table now and avoid the long lines!