Chinese dining 101: tap your tea and slurp noodles like it's your birthday
January 28th, 2011
03:45 PM ET
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No doubt you once thought that as soon as your skills were honed, you’d become the chopstick-wielding version of Edward Scissorhands, embarking on a masterful two-pronged exploration of China’s culinary culture.

Well, not quite.

Chinese dining etiquette is built on tradition, not dexterity.

We asked Lawrence Lo, founder of LHY Etiquette Consultancy Limited, to explain the enigmatic cultural origins of some common table manners, just in time for your Chinese New Year banquet.

Read the rest of "5 Chinese eating habits explained" on CNNGo.

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Filed under: Asia • Asian • Bite • Chinese • Chinese New Year • Cuisines • Etiquette • Holidays • Travel


soundoff (73 Responses)
  1. Christian Farthing

    Lovely Post, I was searching from last 1 hour to get these details info and finally got it on your blog, thanks for sharing this valuable post.

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    September 13, 2013 at 6:13 am |
  2. Lucy

    The Atlantic ran a piece with a similar theme a few months ago: http://www.theatlantic.com/food/archive/2010/07/the-dos-and-donts-of-ordering-chinese/60324/. That article focused more on how to get authentic Chinese food than the etiquette aspect, but the themes sort of go hand in hand.

    The best part is not the article but the comments that follow it. One in particular, from someone who posted under the name "Dustin L," resonates in my head, so I had to reproduce it here:

    "I'm all for Americans enjoying authentic Chinese cuisine, but this piece is total bourgeois orientalist crap. If you want good food (or authentic food- contrary to American foodie delusions, they're only sometimes the same thing), try having a conversation with your server about what sort of food you want! Don't play-act your conception of Chinese behavior in the hopes that they decide to make you an honorary Chinese person. Jesus christ. This article could not be more 'stuff white people like.'

    I find this elitist white American quest for 'authenticity' troubling in general. I managed a Chinese restaurant for a long time, and few things annoyed me more than Americans who ordered authentic Chinese dishes (a wish we were happy to accommodate) and then talked openly about how everything else we served was crap, and seemed to think we shouldn’t be offended because they liked the “real stuff” so much."

    I LOVE IT!

    February 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  3. Mark

    It's funny to see the words dining etiquette and Chinese in the same sentence. I've spent some a good amount of time in China and they are probably the most unsophisticated around. For the, it's OK to spit anything onto the table, next to your plate. Things like bones, shells, something you don't like, etc, etc. They will also smoke while you eat, and burp and slurp their food. Restaurants can also be really, really loud, even the upscale ones. Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love real Chinese food (not the fake, Western imitations). It's by far my favorite type of food on earth, but the Chinese don't have too much "etiquette" when it comes to eating.

    January 31, 2011 at 6:56 am |
    • Albeebee

      As sad as it it, those unsightly behaviors are unfortunately the result of wars, politics (e.g. old traditional things were all declared bad when Mao took over), and the resulting poverty for the last 200 years. You can't imagine what prolong poverty and political turmoil can do to people; they were too busy surviving and who cared about etiquette and teaching it to children.

      If you went to place that had been relatively peaceful like Hong Kong, Taiwan or Singapore, or simply ancient China if possible, things would have been very different.

      January 31, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Albeebee

      But just to be fair I don't think we eat burger, hotdogs and pizza with lots of etiquette either with all the dripping and finger licking. History aside, when the occasion does not call for it, Chinese food is still eaten fast food and party style.

      January 31, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  4. Anita Souschef

    And I like mountain oysters.

    January 30, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  5. Anita Souschef

    I love me some Pekin Duck! We went out for Christmas dinner – just like in A Christmas Story. We had the most delicious Pekin Duck with pancakes and duck sauce and crispy skin and all that. They took the bones and made soup while we ate the duck and then had it after. It was so gelatinous and soothing. Leftovers in fried rice the next day. Stirred some in some scramble eggs for egg foo yung. Now it's the Year of the Rabbit. I love me some rabbit! Fried, stewed, roasted, whatever. It's easy to butcher. Legs like a chicken. Trunk like a pig. Good butcher training. We raised rabbits when I was a kid. They are NOT fluffy bunnies! They hiss and will claw you like a Sabre Tooth Tiger. Just bop them upside the head with a baseball bat, skin them and hand them on a clothes line by the ears. Breaded and fried for breakfast they are great. Not unlike chicken livers and/or gizzards. Make good pate.

    January 30, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  6. Quackles

    There is a donkey trying to kick me in the genitals.

    January 30, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  7. jdoe

    Not to sound insensitive, but the Chinese don't have any dining etiquette. Except maybe for one: They feel extremely insulted if you don't sample whatever delicacy they want you to try. I'm very open minded about food and willing to try almost anything, but I don't like people forcing food in my face.

    January 30, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • Albeebee

      Jee isn't that why it's called Chinese etiquette? If it was the same as that of the west, shouldn't it be called western etiquette in China?

      Chinese etiquette evolved a long the line of happiness, prosperity, bonding, continuity, appreciation and in particular "togetherness", hence the round table and the sharing, party-like format, and not the set of knives for butter, salad, entrees or which glass for white and red wine which I doubt all american know.

      Since togetherness and completeness is of most importance, they socialize, try all dishes and comment on them continuously, and grab good pieces and offer them to each other. It is then probably not the fact that you did not want to eat certain dishes, but rather your face of perhaps disgust, or unhappiness.

      However, it does not mean there are no rules at all. If one has to be withdrawn to feel comfortable, s/he may as well take the desired pieces from each plate (selfish and not sharing) into his/her own plate all at once and eat them quietly which would be very rude, or take that plate full of all "desired" pieces and sit somewhere else.

      January 31, 2011 at 4:45 am |
  8. dislike Asians

    ASIANS ARE IGNORANT AHHOls WHEN DEALING WITH WESTEREN CULTURES BUT COULD CARE LESS

    January 30, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  9. deeppenetratingaction

    Not too sure about proper chinese etiquette, but mmm i love the sexy chinese girls who work at my local China Buffet...yummy! :p

    January 30, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  10. Albeebee

    The etiquette applies to serious dinner occations and upscale restaurants only, while others are no different from burger, pizza, and street food manners in America. Since traditional chinese food did not have the distiction between fast food and dinning, its the occasion that dictates manners, not the food or utensils.

    January 30, 2011 at 5:07 am |
    • Albeebee

      And in proper occasions, don't slurp your noodles; that is Japanese. Do not eat with an open mouth or make chewing noises. Otherwise, most chinese eating habits are in fast food and party format.

      January 30, 2011 at 6:05 am |
    • Albeebee

      Oh, and do not suck on your chopsticks, and poke around the pieces, or pick up a piece on the other people sides of the plate. Do not rest your left arm on the table or on the chair, and use your left hand to hold your own bowl, plate or a spoon to help hold food. Do not use your hands, unless you are eating crabs.

      No sharp objects on the table, cuz that's the job of the chef. It was considered uncivilized before western exposure. When there are bones, do not use the chopsticks to take the bones from your mouths as you use them to take food from shared dishes. Instead, just gently spit (hence the misunderstanding of spitting) them out onto a seperate plate, usually underneath your rice bowl. Jee I am way more helpful than the author.

      January 30, 2011 at 6:25 am |
  11. English Teacher

    I just returned from teaching English in China for the last term. My students explained a similar set of rules for dining etiquette but said that as a foreigner, any mistakes would be overlooked and not taken as bad manners. It WAS, however, difficult to adjust to Chinese table manners that contradict Western ones i.e. hocking loogies and shooting snot rockets in restaurants, spitting bones and gristle directly onto the table, and waitresses doing everything from brushing their hair to clipping their fingernails at empty tables. I had to keep reminding myself that the cultural differences between our countries don't make either if our table manners better than the other – on a regular basis. (To be fair, I taught English in Chongqing where this behavior was much more prevalent. In Beijing and shanghai, table manners seemed to mirror that of western culture)

    January 30, 2011 at 2:18 am |
    • Albeebee

      The etiquette applies to serious dinner occations and upscale restaurants only, while others are no different from burger, pizza, and street food manners in America. Since traditional chinese food did not have the distiction between fast food and dinning, its the occasion that dictates manners, not the food or utensils.

      January 30, 2011 at 5:09 am |
  12. Andrew

    What etiquette? The Chinese eat dogs and cats, living animals, and eat with their mouth open.

    January 30, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Rog

      And how do you manage to put food in your mouth when it's closed....idiot.

      January 30, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Mark

      You're confused. Eating cats and dogs has nothing to do with etiquette. That's simply a different taste in the types of foods we choose to eat. The Chinese are the best chefs on earth. They know what they are doing. They can make anything taste great.

      January 31, 2011 at 7:00 am |
  13. verylatenight

    Living in China and married to a Chinese wife I have never seen any of these "rules". If you ask people in Shanghai about a lot of rule of etiquette Americans read about there are simply ignored or never heard of. May apply to the older generations over 30 or more. The only real etiquette I see much of is concerning drinking and toasting.

    January 29, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  14. Bobz

    "I didn't even know Chinese have dinning etiquette" : the reason is you are ignorant, and because of that, you become arrogant! That makes people resent you! You never seriously learn to know the Chinese cultures and traditions before you and your likes pour out ignorant remarks

    January 29, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  15. AHarris

    Wow! I didn't even know Chinese have dining etiquette. You go to a local Chinese resto and you'll experience the loud, unapologetic servers and waiters, dropping of plates on mid-air and mouthful conversations. Don't even think about looking at the kitchen.

    But that's how they are, bottomline is, their food is good.

    January 29, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Rastafareye

      In most kitchens there are Mexicans making the food. I'm so looking forward to the Mexican -Asian Fusion restaurant!

      January 30, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  16. dumbcrap

    Most Asians I met while travelling in the Orient eat with their hands/fingers This is Asian etiquette crap

    January 29, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • cchan

      Orient? Really? What century are we living in again?

      And fyi, not all Asians eat with their fingers... ESPECIALLY those that live "in the Orient". Get your facts straight. Ignorance is bliss, ain't it?

      January 29, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
      • dont care

        Havent been around much? cchan???

        January 30, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  17. Dizzyd

    That's non-white people for ya – always lumping together white people.:)

    January 29, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Mhouston

      That is more true than you might think...

      January 29, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • Mhouston

      I agree. You white people are lumpy. Maybe you should cut back on the fast food.

      January 29, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  18. SHIREY RICHARDSON

    THERE'S NO GOOD PLACE TO GO TO TO EAT CHINESE ANYMORE

    January 29, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  19. SHIREY RICHARDSON

    WHAT HAPPENED TO THE OWNERS OF GOLDEN CHOPSTICKS ON THE BEACHFRONT IN DURBAN , KWA ZULU NATAL SOUTH AFRICA. I THINK HE'S NAME WAS ANDREW

    January 29, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  20. Tam

    Sorry - Chinese dining and etiquette - oxymoron?

    January 29, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • patrick

      I agree! It's not unusual to see people spitting on the floor of a restaurant in China!

      January 29, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • patrick

      Come to think of it. . .I guess it's no sicker than seeing ballplayers spitting on the field or rednecks spitting chew.

      January 29, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  21. gsperson

    The Chinese are a bunch of backwater hockus pockus cretons. The same thinking that dictates the aforementioned eating customs also induces the killing of tigers for their genitalia and the killing of bears for their gall bladder. The Chinese are godless trash.

    January 29, 2011 at 7:06 am |
    • gspersonfocker

      They will eat your genitalia too if you have any left. What kind of trash are you? You kill holy cows every day for their meats, and kill peoples everyday at home and around the world for nothing. Bury your head and think before you speak.

      January 29, 2011 at 7:36 am |
      • Mhouston

        @gspersonfocker Take your head out of your ass and bury it in your ricebowl...or would that just
        be normal eating practice for you. Cows are no more "holy" than tigers or bears...They certainly
        aren't endangered species...

        January 29, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
      • Mhouston

        Sorry, gspersonfocker. I am a redneck and a moron.

        January 29, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Mhouston

      @ gsperson The Chinese are not "Cretons" nor are they "trash". If by "hokus pokus" you mean superstitious, I'd say
      a great many of them are. I'd also say a great many of them are damn sloppy eaters regardless of how they want to
      rationalize it...Good luck, bad luck, no luck...who cares?...Sloppy is sloppy at anybody's table! And rude is rude no
      matter which gods you, or they, believe in.

      January 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  22. travis fisher

    I eat rice with chopstix but everytime i do my pen*is gets shorter....odd

    January 29, 2011 at 1:43 am |
    • Guy

      Thats why white chicks date black guys. They all know that white guys are insecure about their small pen*is size.

      January 29, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  23. Litterboxrox

    I'm starving.

    January 28, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  24. Julia

    God I'm glad other people noticed the Japanese plate, I thought I was the only nitpicky one in the crowd...but really, how hard could it be for CNN to figure out Japanese from Chinese for this little article? Is the whole place run by 12 year olds now?

    January 28, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • 12 year old@Julia

      Diiss was de only plate pikture I culd find in da CNN lyberry of chopstiks.

      January 29, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • 12 year old @Julia

      Sorry, I am a moron

      January 29, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  25. chito bi

    i think your photo shows a japanese plate. i dont think chinese use square plates.

    January 28, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • AGeek

      Absolutely correct – the shape isn't the problem, it's the color/pattern. That is distinctly a Japanese plate.

      January 28, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Rational

      That's white people for ya, always lumping every race into one big stereotype

      January 29, 2011 at 12:57 am |
      • Mhouston

        @Rational "...white people for ya...". Tell me again. who's the racist here?? If you're not being sarcastic, I think
        you're it. Change your name to IRrational, you idiot!

        January 29, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
      • leroy jenkins

        it ain't my fault man, they all look the same to me.

        January 30, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • HeadTax Chink

      You are correct ! Most non-asian american can't tell the difference between japanses and chinese anyway !

      January 30, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
      • RichardHead@HeadTax Chink

        So are Japanses Gay or do they wear pink underwear?

        January 30, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
      • Mark

        LOL! It's so true.

        January 31, 2011 at 7:02 am |
  26. wendy

    i love eating with chopsticks! my friends look at me weird when i whip them out over noodles and sauce at my house. stirfry? clickety click click! eating is more fun that way!

    January 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  27. Lenroq

    The tea tapping is a Cantonese thing only.

    January 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  28. Erin

    Interesting read. I'm attending my first Chinese banquet in a few weeks for a friend's wedding. She did assure me though that she requested no food surprises like chicken feet.

    January 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Randy Fromm

      I had Chicken feet when I visited Taiwan. They were absolutely delicious and I thoroughly enjoyed the gelatinous, sticky goodness of them. Perhaps you should try to channel your inner Andrew Zimmern.

      January 28, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • oldguy

      I actually HAVE chicken feet...

      January 29, 2011 at 1:01 am |
    • cchan

      Hope you have fun! Chinese cuisine is very vast and differs region to region. You'll probably crave for authentic Chinese food after this... Just remember, there's still many, many different kinds of Chinese food you have yet to try besides what you've experienced at your local takeout.

      January 29, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  29. Truth@Jdizz, RichHead

    The other thing that you NEVER want to do is stick your chopsticks into the rice and leave it. It looks A LOT like how they leave incense at a gravesite. You can literally get thrown out of a house for that.

    January 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • RichardHead@Truth

      Thanks for the tip. Never have figured those things out so I use my fingers.

      January 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
      • Truth@Jdizz, RichHead

        We use at home all the time. Actually have a placesetting for either in stainless. Just watch out in the dishwasher and they will fall through the rack...

        January 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
      • Truth@Jdizz, RichHead

        either should be "eight"...

        January 28, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
      • Juni

        2 billion Asian people use them every day, and you can't figure out how to use two sticks? How rude.

        January 29, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  30. RichardHead

    I'd rather tap and slurp my girlfriend.

    January 28, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • NextInLine

      You'll have to go to the end of the line (and it's LOOOOOONG)!

      January 29, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  31. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    You want I should put some Reese's peanut butter cups in your eggs?

    January 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • JCizzle

      Shawks, they only bite when you touch their private parts.

      January 29, 2011 at 3:49 am |
    • Jesus

      This article presents a whole new slant on eating.

      January 29, 2011 at 10:40 am |
      • Jasmo

        So, you think you're funny?

        January 29, 2011 at 11:47 am |
      • Jesus

        No, I'm just a moron.

        January 29, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
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