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Eating out in China – 5 tips you need to know

Eating out in China can be a bit disconcerting. New flavors and textures to discover, menus full of unknown Chinese characters and dishes…
And then there’s having the right, Chinese, table manners. Get used to it though, because with mom-and-pop restaurants in China usually being extremely affordable, trust us, you’ll be eating out a lot.

Here’s the deal: we’ll let you explore the unknown dishes on your own (this time!) but we’ll help you figure out how to behave properly in a restaurant. Our first piece of advice when you go eating out in China: unlearn what you’ve learned before, table etiquette-wise.  And follow these five small but extremely handy tips. Ready?

Eating out in china Tip #1: Get handy with chopsticks

Learning how to use chopsticks is a given if you’re hoping to eat in China. Western cutlery is seldom seen in Chinese restaurants. Check out this article to read up about one particular chopstick no-no. Also, make sure to remember not to cross them (impolite!), drop them (bad luck! But waiters will come replace them in a minute so don’t worry), suck on them (rude!) or play with them (remember you’ll be eating with them so don’t go sticking them up your nose first).

In case you need a crash course in chopstick handling, here’s how:

Eating out in china Tip #2: Pick up your bowl and slurp

As a child, you may have been taught that you’re supposed to bring your fork to your mouth and not the other way around. Also, that you’re not supposed to pick up your plate to eat out of it. Well, time to forget your manners a bit.

First, you’ll often be eating out of a bowl, instead of a plate. This makes it easier to gather up the food with your chopsticks. Then, get used to lifting up your bowl to bring it close to your mouth. Truth is, once you start doing this, it’s hard to stop. Such a convenient way to eat rice! And don’t forget to slurp noisily to show you’re enjoying your meal.

Eating out in china bowl slurp

Now, this is how you should eat your noodles. Photo credit: Klardrommar via photopin

Eating out in china Tip #3: Want service? Yell!

In China, it’s considered a good sign if the restaurant is crowded and incredibly noisy. Odds are the food is good in there so don’t let the noise stop you from going in. Before long, you’ll be contributing to this noise yourself, partly because you might be drinking a bit (see tip #5) and also because you’ll have to (make noise). If you want to get service that is. In the Western Hemisphere it may be considered polite to silently wave over a waiter or waitress but in China, this is certainly not the norm and, most likely, will be completely inefficient. The best way to attract a waiter’s attention? Yell! The idea is to yell 服务员 (fúwùyuán – waiteruntil someone comes over. A bit puzzling at first but something you actually come to miss when you go home afterwards!

It’s fun doing this in Chinese restaurants abroad, especially the ones we go to, because they always turn to see who called them and never stop to think that one of the foreigners might have called them that.

Eating out in china service

Crowded and noisy? These outdoor restaurants must be yummy! photo credit: !/_PeacePlusOne

Eating out in china Tip #4: Show you need more water for your tea

As everybody knows, tea is a really big thing in China. It’s pretty much customary to have a (full) tea pot waiting for you at your table, the same way you’d be served complimentary ice water in the US. Need more water for your tea? Either call (see #3) the waiter/waitress or, more simply, rest the lid of the teapot on the edge of the teapot. Like this:

Eating out in china tea

This lets waiters know you need more hot water for your tea.

Eating out in china Tip #5: Don’t stop at a glass or a pint of beer. Go bigger!

Speaking of beverages, with beer being really cheap in China (cheaper than a bottle of soda!), what’s the point of ordering just a glass of beer? Go bigger! Not to encourage drinking or anything (you should drink responsibly), but ordering big quantities of beer is kind of the norm in China. (Besides, the beer is so weak there it won’t do that much harm, at  least compared to deadly Belgian beers). True, that’s because beer is usually ordered for the whole table but we won’t tell if you do that for just you and your friend.

You can order it by the (big, 75 cl) bottle if you want: ask for 一瓶啤酒  (Yī píng píjiǔ).

But, if you really want to do it the Chinese way, order beer directly by the case.

In that case, say 一箱啤酒  (Yī xiāng píjiǔ).

This is what you could be drinking during your next meal (Beer is evil. Always drink responsibly. And take a taxi.)

This is what you could be drinking during your next meal (Beer is evil. Always drink responsibly. And take a taxi.)

At the end of the meal, if there are any unopened bottles left, you simply return them and only pay for those you drank. Nice, no?

There are plenty more things to know, but these five tips are a good start for your adventures eating out!

Have your own Chinese restaurant tips or stories you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!

Happy eating!

The Nincha Team

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